While he is yet to launch a political party, Rajinikanth has worked to strengthen the structure of his political outfit. However, political watchers say the star needs to be more politically active.

A year of Rajinikanth in politics highs lows and the path ahead
news Politics Tuesday, January 01, 2019 - 18:37

Over a year ago, the speculation in the political landscape of Tamil Nadu touched fever pitch. Superstar Rajinikanth had met hundreds of fans and well wishers at his Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam in Kodambakkam for a week. Clad in a white kurta-pyjama, he took to the podium on December 31 even as hundreds of cameras were trained on one of the biggest film stars in the country.

“Romba build up aiduchila?” he laughed, in Rajini style. Putting to rest decades of speculation, he went onto announce, “My entry into politics is certain.”

While some veteran politicians maintained the ‘people are free to enter politics, this is a democracy’ line at least officially, others cautioned that his ‘spiritual politics’ was merely neo-saffron politics, a front for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Over the last year, Rajinikanth’s political statements, silences and gestures have come under intense scrutiny.

With no political party yet, where does Rajinikanth stand, after a year of dabbling in politics? And with just a few months to go for the 2019 General Elections, what lies ahead for the star?

People

While the actor turned politician certainly had high points, with massive crowds at meetings and a loyal ‘Rajini army’ online, the last year also saw the fledgling politician encounter jarring lows. For example, his pro-police speech after the Thoothukudi shootings that killed 13 civilians during the anti-Sterlite protest was widely slammed for its insensitivity. Detractors latched onto his comments, whipping into public memory, and using it to denounce the actor as a ‘BJP puppet.’

A senior reporter from an English media house who has been closely following Rajinikanth’s political journey over the past year says that Rajinikanth is missing the people connect, the crucial aspect to politics.

“Once you announce your entry into politics, people will expect you to do something. They will expect you to become a leader, speak about their issues and be politically active. But Rajinikanth seems to be retreating into a cocoon when it is inconvenient for him to speak up. This will not help in the long run. Politics is about perception. And Rajinikanth has done a lot of work to turn his fan clubs into Rajini Makkal Mandram. But people still see him as a star, not a politician. In waiting for an opportunity to arise, he comes across as confused,” observes the journalist.

Party

While Rajinikanth is yet to announce a political party, he has converted his fan clubs into the Rajini Makkal Mandram, a political outfit which has been instrumental in putting together a structure for what could ultimately be a party closer to elections.

Mandram members say that this is no mean feat.

“Structurally we have strengthened ourselves. We have established a hierarchy. There are nearly 68,000 electoral booths in Tamil Nadu. We have done ground work here that is on par with mainstream parties. Parties like the DMK and the AIADMK have, over the years, installed functionaries at the booth level. We have done this in just one year with over 30 members per booth. Being intimidated by us only AMMK’s TTV Dhinakaran has started booth committee work. We have even taken action on irregularities but those who believe in Thalaivar come and apologise and we take them back,” says a source.

The party member also points out that the relief work undertaken by the party was welcomed by many in Cyclone Gaja-affected areas, at a time when Ministers were chased away by angry members of the public.

When asked about his repeated movie commitments, the source points out, “At the end of the day, any political outfit needs money when it comes to elections. That is the reason for signing movies.”

Politics

While references to ‘spiritual politics’ gradually declined over the year, in December, Rajinikanth made headlines after he asked journalists outside his Poes Garden home, “If 10 people unite for war against one, who is more powerful? You decide.”

This was perceived as the actor extolling the strength of the BJP. However, the actor’s ideology has undoubtedly pointed right of centre.

Critiquing the star’s commitment to the world of politics, veteran journalist Kavitha Muralidharan argues that Rajinikanth has begun exercising caution in recent months.

“I think he is more right wing. Even before he announced his political intentions people knew he was right leaning. I will not be surprised if he endorses the BJP but I don’t know if that will happen. He would have gauged the popularity of the BJP in Tamil Nadu. If he is serious about politics, he will exercise caution and wait till he starts his party to make any moves,” she says.

Who Rajinikanth allies with will determine his future in politics, but with elections coming up in less than five months, the time has come for the actor to make the decision.

While the decades-long wait for Rajinikanth’s political entry ended in 2017, the coming weeks and months may well be the most crucial for the superstar.

 

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