"Now or never" — With this declaration resonating his "punch" dialogues in films, Tamil film Industry's super star Rajinikanth has at last confirmed his decision to enter politics. He has kept his fans and the people of the state guessing too long, for more than 25 years, through his dialogues and films about his entering the fray.
It all started in 1996 when he bitterly criticized the late Jayalalitha who faced around 20 corruption charges and lost people's support because of her high handed authoritarian rule. Political observers felt that time was ripe for Rajinikanth to enter politics, and even late Prime minister PV Narasimha Rao invited him to join the Congress to strengthen the party in Tamil Nadu. But Rajinikanth dithered probably because he rightly felt that he had many more years of film career.
For more than two decades he was oscillating, giving hints through his film dialogues to keep his fans guessing. He delivered what is now known as "punch" dialogues like “I may be late, but will be the latest", "I will not tell you when I will come, but I will certainly come", and in one of his latest movies he said, "tell them that I have arrived".
His fans almost lost their patience and even started to believe that such periodical indications by the super star, which usually coincided with the release of his new movie, were meant to promote his films which have of late started to be less successful at the box office.
Now, he has decided. His party will be launched in January 2021 and will contest all the 234 seats in the state elections due in May next year. He said his party's aim was to give a transparent, honest, corruption-free government that is free from caste or religious bias. His politics, he said, would be "spiritual politics".
With the death of charismatic leaders, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, Rajinikanth might have thought that time was ripe to launch his party which might provide an alternative to the two Dravidian parties.
His "spiritual politics" may, some say, will bring in the BJP which is making all efforts to find a footing in Tamil Nadu. As expected, BJP leaders of the state have welcomed his announcement. Amit Shah during his visit to Chennai last week was expected to meet Rajinikath but the meeting did not take place.
One of the things that made him hesitant was perhaps the thought that a pro-BJP image would adversely affect his party in Tamil Nadu where the BJP is perceived as a north Indian party, pro rich and anti-minorities and anti-Dalit, trying to impose Hindi and Sanskrit in the state. Already some fringe groups are up in arms against Rajinikanth, a non-Tamil, occupying the top post in the state. But his supporters point out that the Tamils are least bothered and point out that MG Ramachandran was a Malayali who was ruling the state as an undisputed leader till his death. Jayalalithaa was a Brahmin heading a Dravidian party.
His new party has to fight against the two formidable Dravidian parties, well structured with a strong cadre base. With years of being in power, both the parties have enough money and resources to fight the elections. Now it is a known secret that of late, most of the voters in Tamil Nadu have been made corrupt and political parties need to buy the votes. Will Rajinikanth be able to wean away the people from this evil? The 70-year-old superstar is already ill and has undergone a kidney transplant couple of years ago which will be an obstacle during elections that requires rigorous campaigning.
With no recognised second line leader, one is not sure whether his fans will vote for his party if he is going to stick to his declaration that he would not be the chief minister. He has appointed Tamilaruvi Manian, a Gandhian, as the overseer of the party's affairs, while Arjunamurthy, who till yesterday was with the BJP, as the convener and coordinator. Arjunamurthy's BJP connection is quoted by the opposition leaders as an indication that eventually the party is set to align or merge with the BJP.
There is also another scenario: After the poor show in Bihar elections, Congress is perceived as a dead-weight ally by the DMK, which is desperate to come back to power. DMK strategists as well as the senior leaders in the party have been advising DMK head MK Stalin not to yield more seats to the Congress in the May elections.
The Congress along with the other disgruntled allies of the Dravidian parties may consider joining Rajinikanth to form a third front. Film actor Kamal Haasan, who heads political party Makkal Needhi Maiam, has already indicated he may not be averse to joining hands with Rajinikanth. Many political observers say Rajinikanth's new party will impact and erode the vote bank of the DMK which is facing strong campaign as an anti-Hindu party, though many of its leaders and cadres still visit temples to disprove this image.
A political theorist says, "If you start a party, first election is to contest and lose, second to observe and the third to contest and win." But Rajinikanth is old, not keeping good health and has no second line of leaders to carry on after him. His fans have become older and more mature. How big is his vote bank? Let us wait and watch.