Can Rajinikanth’s entry into politics diminish the hold of Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu?

Superstar Rajinikanth has announced his decision to form a political party finally after two decades of dilly-dally. ‘Thalaivar’, as he is popularly known as, has announced that his party will be contesting the upcoming 2021 state elections to ‘change the fate of Tamil Nadu’.

He will be announcing the outfit’s name and providing a political roadmap of his party on December 31, 2020. On the same day in 2017, he had formally announced that he would be entering politics, however, he decided to sit out of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Rajini’s fans celebrated across the state the announcement of the superstar.

Why now?

This is the first election in more than three decades when the main parties, AIADMK and DMK will be contesting without their patriarchs, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, at the helm.

Tamil Nadu has been witness to personality cult politics and Rajinikanth hopes to fill the vacuum created by the death of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. Neither the current Chief Minister Palaniswami nor DMK chief M K Stalin have the same aura or charisma nor do they enjoy similar support.

What works in his favour?

Tamil film industry superstars are worshipped and their cult following is unmatchable. People perform aarti when Thalaivar comes on stage. His followers are mad about him and could do anything for him.

He has over the years built an image of a simple and honest man who has the development of Tamil Nadu and welfare very close to his heart. He has cautiously adopted a non-partisan approach so far, except in 1996.

In 1996, he called out ‘even god cannot save Tamil Nadu’ if Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK is voted back to power. DMK won the elections. Since then he hasn’t officially backed either of the parties and has been an onlooker.

The non-AIADMK/non-DMK led alliance vote share is in the range of 20%-25% in the state which he could eye.

Ramadoss’s caste based party PMK has consistently bagged 5% vote share. Vijayakanth’s DMDK emerged as runner up in 2006 Assembly polls with 10% vote share but failed to sustain the momentum.

If AIADMK loses, as initial polls and trends suggest, and loses big, there is a fear of disintegration of the party into Palanisami, Paneersevalam and Dhinakaran factions, thus creating a space for a party to take on DMK.

What may not work in his favour?

Politics is a very different ball game compared to cinema. Stardom is no guarantee of success in Tamil Nadu. His peer Kamal Hasan floated a party, his candidates lost deposit in all 39 seats in 2019 general elections.

Rajinikanth is already 70 and suffers from ill health after his kidney transplant in 2016. This could be a stumbling block in wooing the young voters who may be aspiring for a change in the state or for the end to Dravidian politics.

It takes time to establish a party. There have been rare examples like that of Aam Aadmi Party which was able to form government within a year of its launch.

Even if a party becomes a force to reckon with by the next elections (optimistic case scenario), by that time he would be 75 years of age. Has he taken a very long time to take the plunge?

The Road Ahead

People will be closely watching what is the vision of his party, what does it stand for and what blueprint he provides to prepare Tami Nadu to meet the challenges of the next decade.

People will be keenly watching if he declares himself as the chief ministerial candidate or nominates someone else. In March 2019, he had said he would not be a chief ministerial candidate. How people react if he announces someone else as the CM candidate will be a key factor.

Another key question is whether he joins hands with the BJP (which has been the rumour for ages now) or goes alone in the polls or floats a Third Front of smaller parties. If you thought Bihar had many parties in the fray, take a look at the number of parties contesting in Tamil Nadu.

While the AIADMK has given the green light for an alliance with the BJP for the upcoming polls, the BJP is likely to finalize the deal at its Parliamentary Party meeting soon.

Will Rajini’s announcement force the BJP to have second thoughts?

With age not on his side and battling health issues, Rajini may wish to force his entry and make a significant impact in this election.

Will he be a hit or a flop in his political stint? As Viju Cherian aptly sums it up in his piece, “Much will depend on the team Rajinikanth chooses, and how he builds the party.”

This article was first published here.

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