Rajini’s statement – “Even God can’t save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa returns to power” – is believed to have swung the tide in favour of the DMK-TMC combine.

Rajinikanth once swung an election with one sentence Does Thalaivar still have that clout
news Politics Sunday, December 31, 2017 - 08:43

For over two decades now, every time Rajinikanth and politics is uttered in the same breath, one line stands above the rest.

The superstar’s single statement – “Even God can’t save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa returns to power” – is believed to have swung the tide in favour of the DMK-TMC combine in the 1996Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.

But there was a political storm brewing before the superstar arrived on the political scene. Jayalalithaa was wrapping up her first term as Chief Minister. Public anger was palpable, especially after an ostentatious display of wealth at her foster son Sudhakaran’s wedding in Chennai. Then there were the mounting allegations of corruption and amassing of wealth.

Although Jayalalitha catapulted to power in 1991 in alliance with the Congress, the AIADMK supremo’s relationship with the national party soured soon. Insults were traded with Jayalalithaa even going so far as to say that she didn’t come to power because of a sympathy wave following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

While Union Minister of State for Commerce P Chidambaram led the corruption campaign against her government, state Congress leaders like GK Moopanar were resolutely opposed to an alliance with the AIADMK. Prime Minister and Congress President PV Narasimha Rao, however, was convinced that an alliance with the pro-LTTE leaning DMK would hurt the Congress’ prospects and unilaterally revived the alliance with Jayalalithaa.

Hurt by the Congress high command’s decision, GK Moopanar floated the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) splitting the Congress’ state unit overnight. Those who followed in Moopanar’s footsteps include Union Ministers Chidambaram, M Arunachalam and Jayanthi Natarajan.

Writer and analyst Gnani Sankaran says, “In 1996 when the Tamil Maanila Congress was formed, it wasn’t a split in the Congress. It was virtually the Congress converting itself into TMC. And those who were left behind were very few in number. The state Congress party became TMC at that time.”

The TMC was born on the platform of corruption, as a protest against the AIADMK-Congress alliance.

What is now widely acknowledged, including by DMK chief M Karunanidhi in later years, is that it was, in fact, journalist and political commentator Cho Ramaswamy who helped bring the TMC and DMK together. Cho also managed to keep his promise of bringing in his friend and star Rajini to campaign for the alliance.

The timing and weight of Rajini’s political words appeared to have swayed first-time voters who made up the superstar’s fan base. While the actor’s fans aggressively campaigned for the DMK-TMC alliance, political leaders did not shy away from playing the Rajini card.

Acknowledging Rajini’s star power ahead of the 1996 polls, Chidambaram said, “Voters between 18 and 21 idolise Rajinikanth, and they form around 8% of the electorate. They will prove to be our trump card,” while Karunanidhi proudly proclaimed, “Our alliance has the blessings of my dear younger brother, superstar Rajinikanth,” reported GC Shekhar for India Today.

The result was overwhelming, with the DMK-TMC alliance winning a landslide victory, riding on the anger against Jayalalithaa’s regime, while trumpeting the support of Rajini. AIADMK suffered a humiliating defeat, managing to secure only 4 seats, while arch-rival DMK’s coalition bagged 221 out of the 234 seats.

Fast-forward 21 years. The political stage in Tamil Nadu is no longer what it was in 1996, with the main players no longer alive or active. And although earlier this year Rajinikanth called his decision to publicly declare support the DMK-TMC alliance a “political accident”, the question is whether the superstar’s words have the political weight that it once carried in Tamil Nadu.