For all those who keep asking - will the real Rajinikanth stand up - Thoothukudi provided the answer. It proved that the real Rajini is way different from the reel Rajini.
On Wednesday, the actor-turned-politician in an attempt to reach out to the families of those killed in the police firing in Thoothukudi, announced for each a compensation amount of Rs 2 lakh each. He also visited the 40-odd people who had been injured at the hospital to give them Rs 10,000 each. It was suitably choreographed to showcase the youngest ‘kid’ on the political block, as a man with his heart in the right place.
Except that it did not quite happen that way. Blame it on confusion in organising the event where the cheques would be personally handed over by the superstar, it ultimately ended in Rajini leaving Thoothukudi without doing so and it was left to his mandram officials to distribute the cheques.
But that is a quibble. It is the subsequent Rajini speak, an uncharacteristic venting of anger, that peeled the grease paint off the actor. Batting for a Jayalalithaa-like approach, he demanded that the anti-social elements be crushed with an iron hand. Makes one wonder if Rajinikanth endorses an all-powerful state that can pummel any protest, by throwing the taint of “anti-social element” on it.
“The protest carried blood stains on it only after anti-social elements infiltrated the agitation'' was his reasoning.
How does Rajini know the vandalisation was the handiwork of anti-social elements, he was subsequently asked at Chennai airport.
“I know it,” he said with a superior and emphatic air before lecturing on how people of Tamil Nadu need to behave.
“If you protest against anything and everything, Tamil Nadu will turn into a graveyard. There were anti-social elements in the Thoothukudi protests which is the reason for the riots. They attacked the policemen in uniform. This is wrong,” argued Rajini.
At the risk of sounding rude, one is tempted to ask if Rajinikanth is for real. He actually frowned upon the protests, without realising that the agitation of over 20 years and more specifically for 99 days was against the Sterlite Copper plant turning their land into a graveyard. The last I checked, India was a democracy where citizens have a right to protest. Sorry, Thalaivar protests make India a vibrant, living entity, not a graveyard. You got your civics lessons completely messed up.
Rajinikanth should in fact be asking the government why not one honourable minister bothered to visit the agitators against Sterlite during their Gandhian protest for 99 days. Instead, he says the resignation of the Chief Minister should not be demanded.
The picture was complete when Namadhu Amma, the mouthpiece of the ruling AIADMK, praised Rajinikanth on Thursday for echoing the sentiments of CM Edappadi Palaniswami. In one stroke, Rajini who spoke big about changing the system and taking on the existing political class, was reduced to a spokesperson of the AIADMK.
Makes one tempted to ask, “Kya re, setting ah?”
And why is Rajinikanth in a tearing hurry to be a one-man commission of inquiry? Yes, no one is denying the march to the Thoothukudi collectorate took a violent turn, resulting in the firing. The vandalising of the Collectorate and assault on some cops is condemnable but to use that to rubbish the protest is demeaning the people of Thoothukudi and their agitation for clean land, clean air, clean water.
At the hospital, a 21-year-old commerce graduate from Thoothukudi, Santhosh Raj gave Rajinikanth a reality check. He asked the actor, “Who are you” and “where have you come from”. It later transpired that Santhosh Raj is one of the active participants in the anti-Sterlite protests.
Rajinikanth did not realise the trap that he was walking into and answered, “I am Rajinikanth, I have come from Chennai.” According to reports, Raj berated Rajini by asking if it took 100 days for him to come to Thoothukudi from Chennai. It was an instant dipstick into the sentiment on the ground for arguably one of the most popular personalities in Tamil Nadu.
“Why should he come to meet us? Did we call him? Where was he when we protested?” asked Santhosh, reacting sharply to Rajinikanth's comment that these protests will affect the industrial climate in Tamil Nadu.
The Rajini show lost credibility especially when just 24 hours ago, the second trailer of his Kaala had seen him imploring his people in Dharavi slum in Mumbai to wage a revolution. Admittedly, that is a script for which Rajinikanth is paid megabucks to mouth heroic dialogues. But it is precisely this image, a friend of the downtrodden, a saviour of the poor, that people associate with Rajini. For many in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth the politician is a mirror image of Rajinikanth the Superstar. The actor's day out in Thoothukudi left that mirror cracked.
It is now clear that the cries of “Poraduvom” (we will protest) in Kaala are only meant to create a frenzy among the front benchers in the theatres, to help rake in the moolah. Unlike Kaala the don of Dharavi, who warns that his detractors have not seen his full rowdyism yet, the real Rajinikanth detests rowdyism in protests.
Rajinikanth made a reference to the jallikattu uprising at the Marina Beach in January 2017, when by the end of seven days of protests, the police forcibly moved the agitators away from the beach in Chennai. Once again, Rajini was quick to point out the role of anti-social elements during the jallikattu protest, even though the judicial commission is yet to finish its probe. This despite video evidence of the police setting vehicles on fire in Chennai on that day to make it seem vandals were at work. Wonder why is Rajini resorting to selective criticism!
In Kaala, Rajinikanth rather poetically tells Nana Patekar the politician that even the dirt in his slum looks colourful. In Thoothukudi, there is no such romanticism. The Sterlite copper smelter is accused of leaving dirt on the land of Thoothukudi and cancer in the bodies. The Rajinikanth Tamil Nadu loves was expected to empathise. Instead, he underlined a complete disconnect between Poes Garden and Thoothukudi.
(Views expressed are author’s own)