The BJP has been accused of propping up superstar Rajinikanth for its own gain.

Collage of PM Narendra Modi with his palms together and Rajinikanth with his hands folded
news Politics Tuesday, December 29, 2020 - 18:28

Three years ago, parties in Tamil Nadu watched from the sidelines as superstar Rajinikanth made his political war cry - some nervously, some in anticipation and some with skepticism. But perhaps no party more so than the BJP watched Rajini with keen interest, after all the actor’s ‘spiritual politics’ was closely aligned with that of the national party. In the past too, Rajini has expressed support for BJP’s politics whether it’s the inter-linking of rivers, demonetisation or even the passive support for the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The superstar even went so far as to compare Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to Krishna and Arjuna.  

But with Rajinikanth now bowing out of electoral politics even before formally launching his party, his withdrawal will affect the game plan of the BJP, which has been accused by the opposition of propping up the actor for its own gains.

RK Radhakrishnan, Associate Editor of Frontline, says that Rajini choosing to opt out of politics would be BJP’s loss. “Rajini Makkal Mandram is not disappointed, nor is Tamilaruvi Manian (who was appointed as supervisor of Rajinikanth’s party). The people disappointed are the BJP, the BJP in Tamil Nadu particularly and those who forced him into politics, such as (Thuglaq editor) Gurumurthy who has been with him on a daily basis trying to tell him that he has to come into politics. The only people who have met him ever since this started in December 2017, when he was forced to make this announcement have been the right-wing people. They are the ones disappointed,” says Radhakrishnan. 

BJP’s 2021 and long-term plan

The senior journalist explains that the BJP’s game plan in 2021 was to use Rajini to split the votes of the DMK alliance just as the Makkal Nala Kootani or the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) in 2016. In the previous Assembly Election, the PWF, which comprised the Left parties, the VCK, MDMK together with the DMDK had garnered a combined vote share of 6%. This, Radhakrishnan says, ensured an AIADMK victory. “The difference between (AIADMK) winning and (DMK) losing was just 1% votes,” he observes, “The exact thing they wanted Rajini to do but with a higher percentage. Because if Jayalalithaa is not there, obviously DMK might get more votes than AIADMK. They wanted to take away the neutral votes from the people who were possibly voting for the DMK.” 

However, another senior journalist, who did not wish to be named, told TNM that BJP was not eyeing 2021 but was playing a long-term game in Tamil Nadu.  “BJP was hoping to consolidate the soft Hindutva vote bank for 2024 and 2026,” says the journalist, who points to a story by Tamil magazine Nakkheeran which states that the BJP was aiming to split the AIADMK following the expected release of Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala from prison in January. The article goes on to state that the BJP would rope in Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who rebelled against Sasikala, while also retaining NDA allies like the PMK and the DMDK. “The BJP’s plans to bring together a lot of common forces will not work now,” points out the journalist. Many analysts believe that the BJP clearly knew that it was not going to taste victory in 2021, but they hoped that the vote bank for Rajinikanth, would eventually be transferred to their kitty.

Radhakrishnan says that the BJP’s reluctance to endorse Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami as the alliance’s CM face stems from Rajinikanth and his political plans. “It is because Rajini was part of this big grand scheme of things that the BJP found it very difficult to announce someone else as CM because they seem to have already had this conversation that somebody of Rajini’s choice will be CM in Tamil Nadu. And that may well have been the case had he stayed on. You take away a part of the PMK, you take away a part of the AIADMK led by OPS, and then you bring BJP together, and then you have a viable coalition.” 

However, the BJP denies attempting to prop up Rajinikanth, with party spokesperson and actor Khushbu Sundar calling it a bizarre claim of the opposition. “We never spoke on those lines. We maintained that Rajinikanth was most welcome to join BJP, so we have never claimed him. We are not pushing Mr Rajinikanth. We have said anyone is welcome to join the BJP, if Rajini wanted to join the BJP we would have been happy to have him on board,” says Khushbu. She adds that Rajini’s health was most important and that his exit from the political stage would be a disappointment for all of Tamil Nadu.


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