Star Wars of the real kind is being played out in this southern state of Tamil Nadu with its two superstars – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan slugging it out, livening and spicing up the political space with their stage presence, dialogue delivery and punches, thrown at each other and the political establishment that they seek to replace.
Both, contemporaries and competitors alike in the South Indian film industry, fancy themselves as the potential chief minister of Tamil Nadu, a state that has seen three film personalities as chief ministers – megastar MG Ramachandran his protégé J Jayalalithaa and script writer par excellence M Karunanidhi.
Both have declared intentions to join electoral politics and are ranged on the opposite sides of the political spectrum – while Rajinikanth is perceived to be ideologically closer to the ruling party at the centre, the BJP, Kamal Haasan has declared that he will never have anything to do with the Sangh Parivar and hobnobs with Left and left of the centre forces.
Rajinikanth, who has friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is expected to go along with the BJP at the right time during the general elections, Kamal Haasan has made it clear that he was plunging into politics to offer an alternative to the two Dravidian parties that have ruled Tamil Nadu since 1967 when national party, Congress was ejected from the state.
If Rajinikanth dubbed Sterlite protesters as anti-social elements, sparking off an outrage across Tamil Nadu, Kamal Haasan hit back at his competitor that “if the Sterlite protesters, among whom 13 were shot dead by police, were anti-social elements I am also anti-social.” Rajinikanth for the present is facing trouble from people in Tamil Nadu for his comments on protesters and in Karnataka his film is being opposed for his views on Cauvery.
Haasan was in Bangalore on Monday to call on Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, for a courtesy call, but refrained from making any intervention on behalf of his “good friend” Rajinikanth for his film. When media persons pressed him for comments on the protests against Rajinikanth starrer Kaala in Karnataka, he chose to keep mum.
Clearly, both the superstars are aiming at the same political space and clearly have chosen different political ideology to achieve their objective – of being the alternative to the Dravidian parties. But how realistic are their chances?
Even in film-crazed Tamil Nadu, the days of film heroes and heroines turning super successful politicians seem to be over. Rajinikanth may have mass following and Kamal Haasan an equally popular and accomplished actor with great fan following, their sudden entry into the political arena at the fag-end of their film career does not cut much ice with the voters.
Yes, they come and watch the tamasha, but surely people of Tamil Nadu are not fools to elect film stars just like. If you take the case of an MGR or Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa, they cut their teeth in politics, stayed in politics for a long time, serving the party in different capacities and leveraged their popularity with hard core political activity on the ground.
This cannot be said about both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, who are living in a bubble of their own making.
Rajinikanth flirted on the side lines of politics and tried to “influence” it for two decades before taking the plunge last December. Kamal Haasan on the other hand just one fine day got up and began to make noises about entering politics. Film stars down south always felt powerful and take to politics as their stardom gives easy entry to politics. But in case of Rajinikanth, he is an outsider and will have to overcome this identity crisis, which most pro-Tamil organisations will not allow people to forget.
Whether it was MGR or Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa, they all worked in politics for a long time before becoming successful in politics. Associated with Dravidian politics for a long time, Karunanidhi was extremely popular as a scriptwriter and was responsible for some of the onscreen persona as a do-gooder of MGR. His protégé Jayalalithaa, had to wage a bitter war against his widow, Janaki, to become MGR’s successor.
Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are para-trooping into politics without sufficient experience in the field. Look at Vijayankanth, another film hero who worked hard for five years before launching his party and worked for five more to become leader of opposition. And today, he is nowhere.
Tamil Nadu still continues to be dominated by the two Dravidian parties, the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK and the fight will be between these two. The two superstars could end up as zeros after their first electoral test, opines Bharat Bhushan, a political analyst who follows Tamil Nadu closely. “Look at Chiranjeevi’s plight. He is no lesser star than Rajinikanth in AP. He cut a sorry figure, merged party with the Congress and has bowed out, along with the Congress.
Prof. Ramu Manivannan of Madras University is harsher on Rajinikanth. He has no political future at all, especially since the perception is gaining ground that he is fronting for the BJP.