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Can superhero Rajinikanth be BJP?s lucky charm in Tamil Nadu?

Rajnikanth to enter into politics Photograph: (Others)

Delhi, India Jun 21, 2017, 05.25 AM (IST) Kavitha Muralidharan

Guessing games were probably his favourite. Actor Rajinikanth has been playing one for over two decades now. When on May 15 he declared – once again – that God-willing he would join politics – the actor might have had his fans excited but most certainly left the ordinary people of Tamil Nadu exasperated.

Rajinikanth’s imminent entry into politics has kept doing rounds every time there was an election in the state.
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Since 1996 when Rajinikanth had voiced his opinion against the ‘autocratic’ Jayalalithaa regime and urged the electorate to vote it out of power, speculation about Rajinikanth’s imminent entry into politics has kept doing rounds every time there was an election in the state. Even if the entry wouldn’t happen, cadres hoped that Rajini would atleast lend his voice in favour or against a particular party indicating which way to go. So even when hashtag was a still new concept in Tamil Nadu, Rajinivoice was becoming a trend.

Whether the trend was in any way reflective of the larger public opinion in the state is anybody’s guess. There has been a running dispute over the magic of Rajini voice in 1996. Some observers say that the voice worked only because it complemented the already-existing overwhelming sentiment against Jayalalithaa’s misrule between 1991 to1996. The sentiment was so strong it led to split in Tamil Nadu Congress Committee when the party decided to align with Jayalalithaa. The newly launched Tamil Maanila Congress in alliance with the DMK swept the polls in 1996.

In 2004, Rajinikanth ‘voiced’ his opinion yet again. This time it was against Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) which had earlier campaigned against his smoking scenes on screen. PMK was contesting in five Parliamentary constituencies and Rajinikanth not just gave his voice but exhorted his cadres to work in the five constituencies against the PMK. Ironically, PMK won in all the constituencies.

Despite the snub, Rajinikanth’s voice or the absence of it, Rajinikanth’s entry into politics or the indecisiveness of it has never failed to generate huge interest across the state. When Rajinikanth met his cadres in May, several Tamil channels went live with it and broke news about his ‘hinting at entering politics.’ Only it was not the first time that he was dropping such a hint.

While he had always maintained that God-willing, he would ‘don any role’ his ardent supporters think the time is just ripe for him to make his political entry.

For over three decades, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi have dominated the Tamil Nadu’s politics so emphatically that their absence has led the state’s politics to chaos and in a state of flux.
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Many opine Rajinikanth could fill the political vacuum created by Jayalalithaa’s death and M Karunanidhi’s inactivity. For over three decades, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi have dominated the Tamil Nadu’s politics so emphatically that their absence has led the state’s politics to chaos and in a state of flux.

With the kind of charisma and following that Rajinikanth enjoys in the state, he could effortlessly step into their shoes. Or so they think. But there are others who think Rajinikanth has lost his chance in 1996 when the state was looking for a powerful alternative to Jayalalithaa. Rajinikanth might just have clicked if he had taken the plunge back then.

It probably would not even matter that Rajinikanth might choose his own new outfit as long as he is willing to endorse the BJP in the State by way of alliances.
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But now, at least for the BJP, Rajinikanth could be their lucky charm to crack the tough Tamil Nadu nut. When the Modi wave swept the country in 2014 elections, Tamil Nadu gave just one representative to the Parliament. The party has since doubled up its efforts to gain a foothold in the state. The local BJP leaders hope that Raijnikanth’s entry into politics will give BJP the much needed breakthrough in the state. It probably would not even matter that Rajinikanth might choose his own new outfit as long as he is willing to endorse the BJP in the state by way of alliances.

At the moment, Rajinikanth does seem inclined. Since May, the actor has been meeting leaders and personalities from different walks of life. When he met Ayya Kannu, the farmer who headed the Tamil Nadu farmer’s protest at Jantar Mantar recently, Rajinikanth had apparently promised him to take up the issue of interlinking of rivers with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Several years ago, the actor had promised to make a donation of Rs 1 crore towards interlinking of rivers. For very evident reasons, it remains a promise on paper.

Rajinikanth had also met Hindu Makkal Katchi leader Arjun Sampath recently, giving greater room to speculations about his inching closer to the Hindutva brigade. At least two people Rajinikanth met recently including Sampath confirmed that he was seriously ‘considering entry into politics.’ But when reporters raised a query recently, he sounded tired. He only had a terse one-line response to them: “I do not want to discuss politics.” This vacillation perhaps best defines Rajinikanth. Whether he will be able to break his over two decade long uncertainty to become BJP’s face in the state is still a tall order. But for someone who has reached dizzying heights from being Kollywood’s ‘extra actor’, it might not be all that impossible.

Kavitha Muralidharan

Kavitha Muralidharan is an independent journalist based out of Chennai with over 18 years of experience in covering Tamil Nadu politics.

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