Meandering about on the political landscape with vague and occasional attacks on the Dravidian politics, Rajinikanth has, at last, sharpened focus; and in round one, he has taken on the ideological fount of all things Dravidian in Tamil Nadu — Periyar.
Now, with just over a year for Tamil Nadu to go to polls, the actor-politician is reportedly all set to launch his party this year to contest the 2021 elections.
The plans have fired up speculation on whether that is the reason for many a controversial statements by him in recent times.
Compared to his celluloid contemporary Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth has taken his time to arrive on the political scene. While Hassan made it clear that Dravidianism was necessary for Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth introduced a new terminology — spiritual politics.
Back in 2017, speaking before a delirious horde of fans, Rajinikanth said his party would provide an “honest, transparent, secular and spiritual alternative to combat undemocratic and corrupt styles of governance.” This was seen by many as a pro-BJP stance. Ironically, the first to welcome Rajinikanth’s statement was the Tamil Nadu BJP unit. Tamilisai Soundararajan, who was the then President of Tamil Nadu BJP, told reporters that Rajini’s motto of a corrupt-free government was something the BJP shared as well.
Political observer Sathiya Moorthy said: “Even before making political statements since 1995-96, and on films from a couple of years earlier, Rajini has projected himself as a spiritual, more than a religious/ritualistic person.”
Even as the actor is yet to launch his party and chart out his party’s ideologies, Rajinikanth has been seen as someone who will side with the BJP.
RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy, who is close to the actor, said in an interview to CNN News 18 in early 2018 that Rajini will float his own party and will look at an alliance with the BJP at a later stage. Rajinikanth has been criticised for his leanings towards the right-wing but the actor has declared publicly that he is not a ‘BJP man’.
"There is an attempt to saffronise me like there is an attempt to saffronise Thiruvalluvar. Both Thiruvalluvar and I won’t get embroiled in this controversy,” he told reporters with a laugh in November last year.
Rajinikanth has been linked to the BJP on numerous occasions, including one where he praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on dilution of special rights in Jammu and Kashmir. On the Kashmir issue, Rajinikanth referred to Modi and Shah as ‘Krishna’ and ‘Arjuna’.
In January last year, Modi said the BJP’s doors are always open to an alliance with Rajinikanth or the AIADMK.
Rajinikanth so far has revealed that he idolised former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR). In March 2018, the actor said he can give a pro-poor rule like MGR.
"Many say all can't become MGR. Nobody can match MGR even in 1,000 years and that includes me. He's a yuga purush. I know the political journey is not easy. It is a journey through struggles and hurdles but I can give governance which they (MGR) gave to common people and I trust I can do that too," the superstar had then said.
Rajinikanth’s statement on Thoothukudi had also stirred another controversy. His visit to Thoothukudi where 13 were killed and hundreds were injured marked his first political journey. The actor blamed ‘anti-social’ elements behind the violence.
This year will be a significant year for the superstar as he will officially launch his party and even before Rajini’s entry, he is facing stiff opposition.
Rajini’s statement on Periyar, who is regarded as the father of the Dravidian movement, is significant and observers say this is reiterating his position on ‘spiritual politics’.
In Sathiya Moorthy’s opinion, by reiterating his position on the 1971 Salem episode and thus Periyar now, Rajinikanth may have “revived the religion-centric aspects of the Dravidian political debate”.
“In doing so, he has cited later-year media reports (1971/2017), while critics on the issue have mostly given their own versions as participants or contemporaries (of whom there should have been no dearth in numbers to second Rajini, otherwise),” Moorthy said.
He points out that religious planks have never been successful in Dravidian politics “Since 2017, Rajinikanth has also been hinting at 'dharmic politics' for him, and this renders itself to interpretations of (Hindu) religious kind. His strategists, however, need to remember that in electoral terms pro-god/pro-Hindu planks alone have not worked in 'Draviduan' Tamil Nadu for over a hundred years, including the twin-polls of 1971.”
“Compared to the DMK, the ruling AIADMK is being more religious and leaders like MGR and Jayalalithaa were also ritualistic. But there electoral victories did not owe it to those aspects. Instead, the BJP with its tone and tenor more than any other party in Tamil Nadu, too, has not crossed a committed three-per cent vote-share, some of which again had gone the AIADMK way in assembly polls,” Moorthy added.
As for the two big players in TN politics, both the AIADMK and the DMK are playing the silent by-standers. The DMK has decided not to comment on Rajinikanth’s political statements made in the last few months, whereas the AIADMK is being soft on the superstar. Rajinikanth has lashed out at both the Dravidian parties in the past and said there is a vacuum in the state.
RK Radhakrishnan, associate editor, Frontline, said: “The actor-politician is trying to create a constituency that is against Periyar and that includes forward caste, ADMK and a lot of them who were at the receiving end of the DMK regime. It's very interesting to note that he is against Periyar and the DMK as many leaders till date swear by Periyar. It is this that Rajini is trying to capitalise on. He is not just against Periyar but is against what the DMK stands for today.”