Tamil superstar Rajinikanth has been busy with his acting career after asking his fans to get ready for battle, whenever an election falls due in Tamil Nadu. Now it is the turn of contemporary Kamal Haasan to warn his critics, mainly State Ministers, “Don’t force me to enter politics”. Both are delightfully vague as is their wont.
The larger question is whether they will make a difference, if and when they decide to take the plunge and whether they qualify to lead the people.
The reason why the two stars, Rajini for over two decades and Kamal recently, have dithered whether to enter active politics or not is because their fans cut across party lines. That was why when Rajini said a couple of months ago that he would take the plunge, Kamal warned him not to convert his fans into votes.
Now Kamal has changed his mind following vicious, personal attacks on him launched by Ministers, cut to the quick by his remark that corruption has become all-pervasive under the present AIADMK regime.
Rajini said much the same thing in 1996 that if Jayalalitha was voted back to power, not even God could save Tamil Nadu. He walked away with the credit for the downfall of Jaya then, though the groundwork was done for five long years by the then Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, for it was his private complaint on her disproportionate assets, which 18 years later led to her conviction.
Spiritual Rajini vs Periarist Kamal
The state BJP is all for Rajini and opposed to Kamal. This is because Rajini is “spiritual” by which they mean he is “God-fearing”, whereas Kamal is a self-proclaimed Periarist like DMK patriarch Karunanidhi and in addition a non-conformist who does not believe in the institution of marriage or family.
The pronouncements of the two undoubtedly popular stars had some relevance when it looked that the Edappadi Palaniswami government would fall under the weight of its own contradictions and battle lines had to be drawn with the BJP aligning with AIADMK and, with the support of Rajini take on the DMK-Congress alliance.
Now the situation has changed since the Presidential Election. The latest reports say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to induct the AIADMK into his government as it has 37 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 13 in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP is in a minority. In other words, Modi is concentrating on the 2019 Lok Sabha election. What relevance Kamal or Rajini will have in a national election is a moot a question.
What have they done for TN?
Even if they prepare themselves in the next two years, the most important question that will be asked is what they have done for Tamil Nadu.
That is exactly what Finance Minister D Jayakumar, Kamal’s main tormentor, has asked.
Where was Kamal when thousands were marooned in the December 2015 deluge in Chennai, or during Cyclone Vardah or the December 2004 tsunami? The same question applies to Rajini also.
Jayakumar also has asked whether Kamal has ever spoken on issues of vital concern to Tamil Nadu like Cauvery and Mullaiperiyar.
Kamal was not in the scene when the Tamil film fraternity took protest fasts and marches in the crisis year of 2003 when Karnataka refused to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. Rajini observed his own separate fast and announced at the end of it that he would give Rs 1 crore if the states started interlinking of peninsular rivers.
He knew that it would not be possible because inter-state rivers like Cauvery and Mullaiperiyar are mired in dispute over sharing, preventing even the World Bank to fund a massive scheme for modernisation of the delta region in Tamil Nadu.
During the December 2015 deluge when the Jayalalitha government was in coma, it was the NGOs and students who formed volunteer forces to help the distressed people of Chennai. While Rajini felt it was enough to keep quiet, Kamal shot off his mouth by saying that he felt guilty about staying at home when thousands had been left homeless.
What prevented him from getting down to work when PMK leader and former Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss could come with small boats to get across swirling Adyar river to reach the marooned?
As Subramanian Swamy put it, both the stars know precious politics and administration and the Tamil Nadu people should be lured away from this cinema craze.
This is the facile assumption that when MGR and Jaya could succeed in politics, why not others from the tinsel world? MGR was associated with the DMK even when he pursued his film career while Jaya was mentored by him. Neither had it easy. MGR had to face repression from Karunanidhi when he broke away from the DMK and formed the AIADMK, while Jaya had to wait for eight years to come to power.
More important, MGR gave back to the people of Tamil Nadu whatever he earned. That was the reason for his enduring legacy, a legacy even Jaya does not have as she gave freebies only from the tax payers’ money.
Neither Kamal nor Rajini is known for acts of charity. The Ashram, a school run by Latha Rajinikanth is for elitists. Kamal has not donated for any public cause.
Both want to shoot from the shoulders of their fans.
Let them feel the heat and dust of politics. Let the people decide whether Tamil Nadu’s fate is going to be decided by film fans.
Note: Views expressed are author's own.