Tamil superstars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan may make any amount of noise over perceived degeneration in governance due to a ruthless and all-pervading corrupt system and announce grand entry into the big bad world of politics.
But here in Tamil Nadu, they may not get a chance to do an NTR as the days of a superstar-turning-politician to eject a well-entrenched political party from power and politics seem to be over. And this at a time when there is seemingly a vacuum in political sphere after an era dominated by film personalities–Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi–is over.
An ailing Karunanidhi has been out of active politics for the past several months and Jayalalithaa passed away in December 2016. These two tall leaders of Tamil Nadu politics, in between them, ruled the state for over three decades. Their styles may have differed, but their impact was the same on their respective parties and control over cadres – as the unquestioned leader.
Cut to the present
Ruling AIADMK, headed jointly by Chief Minister E Palaniswami and deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, may be tottering on the popularity front, considerably weakened too in the absence of a vote-puller like Jayalalithaa, but it still remains a dominant force in Tamil Nadu politics.
And then the challenger in DMK, under a new (old) leader MK Stalin, the political heir to Karunanidhi, is poised to cash in on discontentment of the voters, as evidenced by the plethora of protests of people belonging to different walks of life.
The ruling AIADMK will earn more anti-incumbency ire of the people, who are already up in arms over an assortment of issues – from price rise to law and order to livelihood issues to health and welfare.
But current day political situation in Tamil Nadu, despite a vacuum, does not guarantee success for new entrants who are at best political novices. While Haasan has started a political party, Rajinikanth said he would at the appropriate time.
Clearly, Rajinikanth and Haasan eye the political vacuum and have jumped into the “cesspool of politics,” as once described by Bollywood living legend Amitabh Bachchan just before he left politics after a cameo appearance as Congress MP from Allahabad.
Changing political scenario in Tamil Nadu
The times, they have changed, ever since when MGR became the chief minister and AIADMK face, or Jayalalithaa followed suit later. Prevailing political culture is vastly different today than when cinema was used as a tool of social churn and change.
In the scripts that Karunanidhi churned out and roles that MGR portrayed, they had espoused the cause of the downtrodden, the common man and their work was a telling commentary against the evils in the society.
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Yes, the superstar status of the two gives them a head start at the entry level, but only just about. Everyone is drawing crowds in Tamil Nadu, whether it is the CM and Deputy CM, or the breakaway AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran or DMK working president MK Stalin.
The Dravidian parties are not unduly perturbed over the entry of these two superstars.
“While democracy was a sky common to all, many birds can hardly make the distance,” Stalin commented on the two-some without naming them. A senior Tamil Nadu state minister was also contemptuous when Kamal Haasan made his announcement and said, “Let them come into electoral politics and everyone will see the outcome.”
Lessons from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh from their colleague in the film world, mega star Chiranjeevi who is as big as a Rajinikanth or a Kamal Haasan in Telugu-speaking states, hold out a message to the movie stars here. Chiranjeevi was beaten to pulp by professional politicians and later surrendered and merged his fledgling party with the Congress and slowly faded out along with the Congress.
Cautionary Warning for Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan
In Tamil Nadu, the case of Vijayakanth, known as Karuppu MGR (Black MGR), can be a cautionary warning for the two superstars. Their appeal is pan-Tamil Nadu and they are bigger stars with greater mass appeal, but in politics the route to success is through votes.
Vijayakanth had built up an individual vote base of 8 per cent over the years. When he teamed up with Jayalalithaa, both gained and he more so – winning more seats than the DMK in 2011. After he parted ways with Jayalalithaa and contested alone in 2016, he drew a blank and is nowhere to be seen.
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“Vijayakanth’s rise and fall should be kept in mind by the two superstars,” opines a political analyst who firmly believes that in Tamil Nadu, the battle will be between the two Dravidian formations. Even the national parties like the Congress and the BJP will have to piggy ride on these two parties, as their presence and relevance in local politics is very low.
Entering the political arena on the star power and hoping to bulldoze the two Dravidian parties, like what NTR did to Congress in the early 80s, is something just not possible in present day political situation. The conditions that propelled NTR to an upset victory over a well-entrenched Congress party are not present now in Tamil Nadu for either of the superstars to exploit.
Having a fan following alone is not enough. Being a politician is a 24X7 daily grind. Plus, time is running out as general elections are now less than 10 months away. Meanwhile, the two superstars are now busy with what they are very good at – film projects.
In the political arena, it is still not clear if the superstars would go solo or will have an ensemble cast.
While Rajinikanth has made it known that he would want to float a party and may go it alone, there are some of his supporters who want him to have an understanding with the BJP. Kamal Haasan too is making moves that can be construed as wanting to team up with some other players – he has been calling on other key political players on secular side and was seen with the team that stood along with Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy at his swearing-in function in Bangalore recently.