The Rajinikanth factor in Tamil Nadu politics

“Naan eppo varuven eppadi varuvennu, yarukkum theriyathu. Eppo varunumo appo correct varuven.”

Coming a year before he cracked the real political punch, this punch dialogue from Rajinikanth’s 1995 film Muthu, was political like never before. It left the Tamil Nadu audience tantalisingly poised, asking will Rajini, won’t Rajini. Translated into English it said, “When I will come, how I will come, nobody knows. But when I need to come, I will be there.”

Please note the timing of the release of the movie. This was said a year before he made that famous statement about even God will not be able to save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa comes back to power. That blunt condemnation of the then Tamil Nadu chief minister played a significant part in the DMK-TMC coming to power in 1996. 

Cut to 2019 and Rajini is still in the business of delivering punch dialogues. 

“In 2021, people of Tamil Nadu will 100 per cent create a big wonder and miracle in politics.” This is what he said yesterday.

In fact, “wonder” seems to be a favorite word with Rajinikanth these days because just the other day, he had called Edappadi Palaniswami coming to the top post and retaining it for so many months, a wonder. He followed it up by saying “wonders can happen in politics”.

What does one make of Rajini-speak and the manner in which the rest of Tamil nadu’s political theatre is reacting to it?

Here are our five takeaways : 

1. Rajini is most likely to announce his party and plans for 2021 sometime in the middle of 2020. That is after he wraps up his next film project – his 188th – that he has signed with Sun Pictures. But if his recent utterances – especially the one where he said the efforts to saffronise him won’t succeed – are anything to go by, he won’t be having a truck with the BJP, as was earlier believed.

2. Instead Rajini and Kamal Haasan have spoken in terms of a possible political callsheet. We do not know what form it will take but if it Happens – and It is still an IF as in if circumstances warrant – what could happen is that the two could actually become the third axis of TN politics. On paper, Kamal’s pull in the urban centres will be complemented by Rajini’s draw in rural Tamil Nadu. But for it to succeed, the two actors need a robust political machine and MNM is still a work in progress. Moreover, how will Rajini’s brand of spiritual politics gel with Kamal’s rationalist outlook, no one knows. 

3. The AIADMK has been pretty upset with the talk of a political vacuum by Rajinikanth and description of EPS as a wonder. So to the latest prophecy by Rajini that a wonder and a miracle will happen in 2021, the EPS camp has retorted saying ADMK will return to power and that will be the miracle.

There is a reason why the ADMK does not take kindly to Rajini. the party knows the power of his utterances. After all, they were at the receiving end in 1996. Even if Rajini of 2021 is not the same as the Rajini of 1996, the AIADMK knows he is likely to cut into their voteshare instead of the DMK.

In fact, as a political journalist friend from Chennai with his ear to the ground reminded me this morning, in 2006 when Vijaykanth entered the fray, Jayalalithaa was quick to attack him because she realised his DMDK would hurt the AIADMK.  

4. The DMK will be only too happy with the Superstar in the fray. It will see 2021 as its best chance to get to power at Fort St George if the anti-DMK vote gets split. 

5. What does the BJP do now? By now it would have realised that Rajinikanth won’t accept the AIADMK or EPS as the senior partner nor would a combative EPS accede to the leadership of a political greenhorn like Rajini. Its best bet is to try and improve its own score with PM Modi emphasising on his Tamil connect, both in Chennai and abroad. 

Things are bound to be fluid especially with Sasikala likely to be released ahead of the 2021 polls. How would that impact Palaniswami’s leadership within the ADMK, will be seen closely. 

So Tamil Nadu 2021 promises to be a cracker of a contest. Not very different from a Rajinikanth first day first show. 

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