"Pera kettalay summa adurudhulla..."
(A mere mention of my name will trigger tremors.)
This was Superstar Rajinikanth's famous dialogue in Shivaji. Though this dialogue was introduced to the people of Tamil Nadu only in 2007, for almost three decades, the name Rajinikanth has created ripples in Tamil Nadu politics.
Speculation about Rajinikanth's political entry is two decades old, but still it makes headlines at the drop of a hat.
Controversies in real life are not new to this man. In the past, Rajinikanth was caught in the political crossfire, and at times he has been a reason for disruption in Tamil Nadu politics.
But the recent controversy surrounding Rajinikanth's visit to Sri Lanka is of a different kind.
The visit was fiercely opposed by Tamil politicians. Though the major parties like AIADMK and DMK were mum about it, smaller parties like PMK, VCK, TVK, MMK and other pro-Tamil groups were up in arms. So much so that the Tamil politicians accused the actor of using the already troubled Sri Lankan Tamils for his upcoming movie 2.0's promotion.
The bone of contention was not his visit to Sri Lanka, but participating in Lyca Group's charity event. Tamil politicians allege that the group is close to Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the event by Lyca's NGO Gnanam Foundation was nothing but an attempt to gloss over the humanitarian crisis prevailing in the island nation.
If it was any other person or actor, the controversy would have passed as a non-issue. But since it was Superstar Rajinikanth at the centre of it, the issue was blown out of proportion.
Though Rajinikanth has called off his visit to the northern parts of Sri Lanka, he has also categorically made it clear that he wanted to visit Sri Lanka only to fulfil his desire of interacting with Sri Lankan Tamils, and to witness the land that saw the struggle for self-determination.
So why are pro-Tamil groups up in arms?
Two reasons. One: Some of the Tamil leaders feel that Rajinikanth is being used as a tool by Lyca group and the government of Sri Lanka for its massive PR exercise.
Two: It’s believed that a platform is being created for Rajinikanth to portray himself as the champion of Tamils ahead of the 2019 General elections - and as a CM face for the Assembly elections.
Tamil politicians feel that the BJP is actively involved in positioning the Superstar in Tamil Nadu's political landscape, which is witnessing a huge leadership vacuum after the demise of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa.
If Rajinikanth is positioned and projected as the saviour of Tamils, that will be a huge threat to the other politicians in the State. That's why Tamil leaders are suspicious about this move and the intentions behind it.
Though Rajinikanth has not spoken much about the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, except on one occasion, it's not a difficult task to build a pro-Tamil narrative for the actor as anything about the Superstar will be a trending topic.
BJP’s attempts to woo Rajini
It’s an open secret that the Superstar is being wooed by the BJP. Prime Minister Modi's personal visit to Rajinikanth's Poes Garden residence in 2014 set the tone for it years ago.
The first attempt was made when BJP leaders sensed a political opportunity in Tamil Nadu after late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was convicted in the disproportionate assets case in 2014. Several of the party's leaders from Tamil Nadu turned their attention towards roping in Rajinikanth after that conviction.
Navaratri was used as a reason for TN BJP Chief Tamilisai Soundararajan to visit Rajinikanth's residence, where she mooted the idea of the matinee idol supporting the party to Lata Rajinikanth. But their hopes were dashed as Jayalalithaa made a dramatic come back with the Karnataka High Court acquitting her in 2015.
But following the demise of Jayalalithaa, BJP's efforts to rope in Rajinikanth have intensified. If sources are to be believed, 'Mission Superstar' has also got a green signal from party supremo Amit Shah. A blueprint for Tamil Nadu is ready, and the BJP is desperate to have Rajinikanth on its cover.
One thing is evident: The BJP high command seems to have realised that Tamil Nadu is not Uttar Pradesh where the party can face elections without a Chief Ministerial candidate. The present leaders of the BJP are more a liability than an asset.
Tamil Nadu is a complex state and here, personality matters more than politics or ideology. That is the reason why covert and overt efforts are being made to woo Rajinikanth into BJP's fold.
The path set by the Congress
In 1996, the tiff between Jayalalithaa and Rajinikanth saw the popular star actively taking sides and backing the DMK-TMC combine to ensure Jayalalithaa's defeat. The outrage was natural because at multiple levels, Rajinikanth's entry into politics was crushed by the Tamil Nadu netas as they saw him as a threat.
At that time, the positioning of Rajinikanth was planned by the grand old party - Congress.
Today, the BJP has taken over from where the Congress left off. With the State facing a leadership deficit, Rajinikanth has been advised by many to finally take the political plunge.
There is, however, no indication from Rajinikanth's side as to what decision he’s likely to take. But if he does take the plunge into politics, will Rajinikanth have the same impact he a decade or two ago?