Yesterday was one of the most important days in Tamilnadu politics and a game-changer in many ways. Rajnikanth, fondly known as Superstar and Thalaiva, announced his decision to form a political party and fight the next Tamilnadu assembly election due in 2021. It has obviously elicited the expected from various political leaders. We shall analyse Rajnikanth’s speech in a bit but it has surely given a new direction to the ‘Dravidian’ politics. Tamilnadu politicians thrive on dividing the people particularly in the name of ‘Dravidianism’.
Tamilnadu politics and Cinema industry
Tamilnadu politics and film industry share a deep connect. Many leaders from the cine field have made their mark as politicians and an equal number, if not more, have failed as politicians despite being superstars in the film industry. Shivaji Ganesan failed to make an impact as a politician while MGR went to become Tamilnadu’s chief minister. Whether or not filmstars make good politicians is a matter of debate but as citizens of this country they do have the right to contest elections and start their own party.
Rajnikanth’s political entry has surely sent jitters in political circles and this is evident from the reaction of Seeman. I’ve particularly chosen him because his statement contains sentiments that many so called Dravidian leaders and parties share, whether they express it explicitly or not. Seeman, a failed director and leader of ‘Naam Tamilar Katchi’ (NMK) brings up the ‘Maharashtrian’ origin of Rajnikanth and rakes up the issue of ‘outsider’. This is possibly the easiest way to try and discredit one’s opposition. Seeman would do well to remember that many of Tamilnadu’s popular CMs including MG Ramachandran (MGR) aren’t ‘Tamilars’ by birth. In a democratic set up any Indian can fight elections in any part of the country and comparing Rajnikanth with Britishers is downright stupid. Of course, most have welcomed this move while some others have masked their concerns by saying ‘we welcome the move but only time will tell’.
Coming to the crux of Rajnikanth’s speech, we can see intent to not just change the kind of politics being played out in Tamilnadu at present but also a will to do something for the people. Among other things he spoke about the need for change, increasing corruption, death of democracy and need to bring ‘spirituality’ into politics. He did speak of his desire to serve the people and that he was not entering politics for personal gains, money and position/power which he said came to him in the year 1996. ‘If I had no desire for power when I was 45, why would I want it at the age of 68? Will I then be eligible to call myself a spiritual person?’
He asked his fans to begin ground work and prepare for state assembly elections as of now due in 2021. As a first step he said it is important to unite all his registered and unregistered fan clubs and organise them so that these fans could act as foot soldiers after entering the political arena. He said we need to be like soldiers guarding the state’s wealth and called himself a ‘representative of the people’, one who would supervise the elected members to ensure that they were carrying out their duties and serving the people.
Whether or not he succeeds in bringing about the change only time will tell. This move has far reaching implications as far as Tamilnadu politics is concerned. As of today, only one of the two major Dravidian parties, AIADMK and DMK have been ruling the state after Congress lost that space to both of this. There are a number of other parties who thrive on emotional blackmail using the Tamilian card but they’ve not been able to capture power as yet. The experiment to bring about a third front to the exclusion of DMK and AIADMK failed during the 2016 assembly elections. As things stand today, Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan entering Tamilnadu’s political arena is significant. Neither of them has used the Dravidian card but has focussed on issues such as corruption which affect people’s daily lives. While Kamal seems to be left leaning, Rajnikanth’s ideology is possibly centre of right. Another important thing to note, which can give us a clue about Rajnikanth’s political leaning, is his mentioning Cho Ramaswamy saying the latter warned him to be cautious of media persons. Cho Ramaswamy, as we all know, was certainly right leaning. He also stated that Cho’s spirit would be with him and guide him. In the Indian context it is difficult to have a clear dividing line between what constitutes left and right. Nevertheless, Rajnikanth does seem to bring in a fresh narrative in the form of ‘spiritual politics’.
There is no denying that ‘Dravidianism’ still rules the roost as far as Tamilnadu politics is concerned but it is surely high time that the people of the state realise that basic amenities such as food, clothing, shelter, electricity and jobs among others are more important than merely being a ‘Tamilian’.
Rajnikanth ending his speech with ‘Vazhga Tamil makkal, valara Tamilnadu. Jai hind’ (long live Tamilians and may Tamilnadu prosper) was the highlight. Not many Tamil leaders use the phrase ‘Jai Hind’ which also points towards Rajnikanth favouring national identity than a narrow state identity.