Rajinikanth political entry: How will he fare contesting alone or in an alliance?

Some believe Rajini may earn a chunk of the minority and anti-incumbency votes.
Rajinikanth and Tamilaruvi Manian
Rajinikanth and Tamilaruvi Manian
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Politician Rajinikanth has two possibilities – either become Baasha or Thalapathi. In other words, contest alone or join hands with friends to form an alliance. As an actor, Rajinikanth has mostly portrayed himself as Baasha, a one-man army who fights against the system. In Shivaji, he says, “Kanna, panninga than kootama varum, singham single-la than varum” (Only pigs come in groups, a lion always comes alone). Yet in Thalapathi, Rajini tells his friend Mammootty, “Take my life, my life is for you.”

While the Superstar’s fans eagerly await his party launch, others are starting to ponder over the two possibilities to decide on their support.

Rajini contesting alone

Rajinikanth’s announcement about the party launch and portraying himself as an alternative to the “system” has raised eyebrows. If the actor contests alone in the polls, political analysts believe he will eat into the vote bank of the AIADMK and DMK. They say his concept of spiritual politics will definitely get him the staunch Hindu vote bank which is presently with the AIADMK and BJP.

Senior journalist Priyan Kalki says, “Till now it appears like a three-sided election since AIADMK and BJP will form an alliance with Rajini only post-elections. If Rajini joins the AIADMK-BJP alliance before the elections, then he has to bear the black mark prevailing about the alliance. However, as a new entrant he may want to avoid any early negative impressions. All three – AIADMK, BJP and Rajini – bank on Hindutva votes, and they are clear to rule out an alliance with the DMK.”

In terms of DMK vote bank divide, Priyan says, Rajini may earn minority and anti-incumbency votes which may cause trouble for the DMK. Priyan says, “If the anti-incumbency votes go to Rajini, then DMK may lose those constituencies. So it’s likely that DMK will campaign saying that AIADMK-BJP-Rajinikanth belong to the same team. However, Rajini’s entry into politics will definitely affect AIADMK and DMK.”

Reiterating this, social researcher Geetha Narayanan says that Hindu votes will shift to Rajinikanth from the BJP. “If we see the early trends, Rajini’s focus on spirituality politics will swing the BJP vote bank to the actor. But the BJP doesn’t have a sizable vote bank in Tamil Nadu,” she says.

She adds that if Rajini decides to contest alone, he may not end up receiving a good share of the vote.

Rajini forming an alliance

Analysts reason that an alliance between the DMK and Rajini will be detrimental to both since the concept of spiritual politics is against the very core of the self-respect movement. The movement became the basis for the formation of the Dravidian parties such as the DMK, and later the AIADMK. Formed in 1925 by S Ramanathan and later headed by EV Ramasamy Periyar, the self-respect movement was started to put an end to caste prejudice and as a platform for rational thinking. A DMK-Rajini alliance will hurt the foundation of the Dravidian party and the sentiments of both the party cadres. Hence, political analysts rule out the possibility.

Professor Ramu Manivannan, Head of the Political Science Department, Madras University, predicts that Rajinikanth will probably enter into a pre-poll alliance with Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), with only a small chance that he will contest alone. He notes, “Rajinikanth could join hands with MNM chief Kamal Haasan, since contesting alone will not give him a decent vote share. Rajini might get a vote share slightly more than Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi but his vote bank will mostly not cross 4%.”

This projection however is not what DMK or AIADMK intelligence wings predict. They have both given Rajinikanth at least 10% vote share, according to sources. Many of the experts agree that Rajini can attract other smaller parties also into his third front, if he is willing to form one.

Professor Ramu says that there is another possibility where Rajinikanth can be in a shadow alliance with the BJP. “Rajinikanth is viewed as a face of the BJP in Tamil Nadu politics. So even if he doesn’t have a formal alliance, he will definitely favour BJP and their alliance,” he adds.

However, Geetha asserts that Rajini has only two possibilities – either contest in an alliance with AIADMK-BJP or go it alone. She says, “If Rajini aligns with the AIADMK, he can become its crowd-puller, which the party lacks now. Even then it’s unclear if people will vote for his candidates. No one knows any of the office-bearers of Rajini Makkal Mandram. Also, till now he hasn’t been vocal on any of the issues that matter to the public and we haven’t seen any of his contributions.”

However, Priyan raises doubts about Rajini entering into a pre-poll alliance with AIADMK-BJP. He says, “Rajini doesn’t want AIADMK to continue in power, so there lies the first problem. Secondly, he doesn’t want DMK to come to power, so that’s the next problem. He’ll definitely spoil the chances of the AIADMK and DMK in many places. It’s clear that his spiritual politics will eat into the vote share of AIADMK and BJP.”

Priyan further opines that Rajini is being used as a tool by the BJP to dent the vote bank of both the Dravidian parties.

Will Rajini’s entry create a dent in the vote bank?

Political observers are divided over the question. While some say that Rajini will definitely affect the vote bank of the Dravidian parties, others observe that in Tamil Nadu, actors have not always been successful in politics.

While actors like former Chief Ministers MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa had an impressive political career, others, including DMDK chief Vijayakant, Bhagyaraj and TR Rajendar, failed to make a significant mark in the state’s political arena.

Mentioning Vijayakant and others as an example, Geetha opines that Rajinikanth will not make a dent in the vote share and doubts whether his own fans will vote for him.

“Rajinikanth’s core fans are from the previous generation. But in this generation, most support the AIADMK and DMK. So, it’s doubtful whether his own fans will vote for him in the first place. Moreover, people in rural areas are likely to decide between the two Dravidian majors,” she notes.

Reflecting a similar view, poet and social activist Sukirtharani also doubts if the actor’s fans will vote for him but says that he may affect the AIADMK vote bank. She says, “Rajinikanth can only be viewed as a person planted by the BJP, his entry into politics will not affect the vote share of the DMK. The spirituality politics put forth by him can only affect a small share of the AIADMK.”

“The DMK, Left and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) are considered as parties advocating rational thinking so Rajinikanth’s entry cannot affect them. Also considering that the Left and VCK have fought for the people while Rajinikanth was lenient towards the government during the Sterlite and demonetisation issues,” she adds.

Professor Ramu says that Rajini’s entry will slightly affect the DMK vote bank but it will not affect the party’s prospects. “The DMK vote share is significant and Rajini cannot make a dent into it. DMK has floating votes that may go to Rajinikanth or Kamal. So the two actors may create a small impact but they will not affect the vote bank to any great extent,” he says.

Rajinikanth’s vote share will be based on his fan clubs, adds Professor Ramu. He says, “Rajinikanth will get votes from his fan clubs and cinema audiences. While elitist votes will go to Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth will secure the hardcore, middleclass fan base votes. The combine can receive 3-5% of the vote share.”

Stating that caste factor also plays an important role, Geetha says, “Many people vote based on caste. Even in that case, AIADMK will have support from many communities. People also know the district-level party members of Dravidian majors in many places. So Rajini cannot make a dent in the vote bank.”

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