In packed Tamil Nadu arena, Rajinikanth arrives with 'spiritual' politics

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 04, 2018 08:41 hrs

In a press conference in front of his fans, Tamil actor Rajnikanth jumped on board the roller coaster that is Tamil Nadu politics. On Monday he took his first steps by launching the website; which already has over 3 lakh people registered and where his legions of fans can keep up to date on his political journey going forward.

In launching the site, he made a video address in which he stated in part, “It takes honesty, hard work and progress to bring about good governance in Tamil Nadu. Let’s work together to bring about good governance in Tamil Nadu. Long live the people of Tamil Nadu.”

A couple of days earlier, he stated that his political entry was definite and in the next elections his party will contest from all constituencies saying in part, “Tamil Nadu will see spiritual politics. Need a spiritual approach to politics”. He is expected to meet DMK head Karunanidhi.

He faced some criticism for this remark from the newly crowned MLA from RK Nagar, TTV Dhinakaran. As reported by the Tamil news channel Puthiyathalamurai, he said that if you one uses the term spiritual in politics, you can go wrong. Ahead of the announcement, Tamil paper Vikatan conducted a survey in which a little over 51 percent anticipated there would not be any announcement, with 10 percent stating they would support Kamal Haasan.

Journalist Sanjeev Singh in a column for the Times of India writes on the Rajnikanth factor in Tamil Nadu politics –

Whenever the next assembly polls take place, they will be the first without a leading personality from AIADMK or DMK in nearly three decades. The state had witnessed a see-saw battle between two former chief ministers – J Jayalalithaa and MK Karunanidhi – since the late eighties”.

The two most prominent leaders of the past few decades in Tamil Nadu as mentioned in the column have been involved in the entertainment industry. Rajnikanth’s entry isn’t unusual; perhaps it was a matter of when not if.

Given the personality vacuum created in the state, Rajnikanth’s timing could prove to be a political masterstroke. The onus is now on him to fill this vacuum and successfully evolve from a superstar to a mature politician’.

Rajnikanth’s foray into politics will also be an attempt to explore the feasibility of soft Hindutva where religion will find itself back in the spotlight after being pushed to the margins of the Tamil psyche”.

As the Tamil paper Dinamalar states, his use of technology, i.e. the website, mobile app, at the very beginning to launch his political party is similar to how the former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa used it during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where there was an IT team in the AIADMK. This was used to collect information of voters.

The news of him entering politics comes after years of speculation and dodging questions on his political ambitions. Though his announcement has generated much fanfare as expected, there isn’t much to go on in terms of his party’s positions and ideology, symbol, candidates etc. Ramu Manivannan, a Professor and head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, in a column for the Hindustan Times states that his entry has come too late –

Rajinikanth’s decision comes 20 years too late and it comes at a time when Tamil Nadu’s politics is at a low and sinking further into a bottomless pit. He is keeping his cards close to his chest, for now…

Rajinikanth is trapped between his fans’ wanting to reap the fruits of power and the BJP pushing him to the edge with its own desperate strategies to gain a toehold in Tamil Nadu politics”.

The statement on spiritual politics made by him has got some thinking if he and his party will align themselves with the BJP or portray themselves in line with some of the BJP’s Hindutva thinking. Political writer Yamuna Rajendran in an interview with the Tamil paper Vikatan stated there is precedent for the term ‘spiritual politics’ saying in part, “Gandhi is a precedent for the spiritual politics. He spoke strongly about Hindu-Muslim solidarity”.

In a column for the Wire, independent journalists Prathibha Parameswaran and Divya Karthikeyan, ask if Rajnikanth is the really the change needed in Tamil Nadu politics.

There has been, no doubt, a political vacuum in the state after the passing of AIADMK leader and late chief minister J. Jayalalithaa in 2016, especially with DMK chief M.K. Karunanidhi currently out of active politics due to ill health. Rajinikanth appears to be making an attempt to tap into that perceived vacuum”.

Rajini emphasized only two points during his speech. One was that of his not tolerating corruption. The other was a strangely worded phrase – “Jaadhi madham illaadha aanmiga arasiyal” – literally translating into “Spiritual politics without communalism or casteism”.

With the BJP trying to get a foothold in Tamil Nadu, does Rajnikanth’s entry provide them an opening? Will the people of Tamil Nadu go along with “soft Hindutva” as it is characterized and go all in with this new party and/or coalition? The Times of India editorial states that this could be the states new political blockbuster –

BJP has not been able to grow in Tamil Nadu and Rajini is a potential ally. But the actor’s advisers feel he should not be in a hurry to tie up with the saffron brigade. He may do better; they feel, with a few apolitical and influential people supporting him as he tests the waters.”

Not surprisingly, BJP was the first party to welcome Rajini’s decision. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rajinikanth have been in regular touch. Modi calls Rajini “a good friend”, the actor says the PM is his “well-wisher”.

The road forward for Tamil Nadu politics is rocky. The question remains if another veteran of the silver screen Kamal Haasan, who enjoys high popularity, will enter the ring as he’s certainly made comments to indicate in the affirmative. The present Tamil Nadu assembly’s tenure ends in 2021. Will he star out small and build or is it a go big or go home approach.

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