Rajini, Kamal: will they, won't they?

On December 12 this year, Rajinikanth's 68th birthday, expectations were sky high that the superstar would announce his entry into politics. Nothing happened. Just as media speculation began dying down, Rajinikanth has now asserted that he will finally declare his intent on December 31.

Earlier, on November 7, Tamil Nadu's other iconic actor, Kamal Haasan, had announced his decision to plunge into politics, although it is unclear in what form, on his 63rd birthday. On the one hand, he had a much-publicised meeting with AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal in September. On the other, he had also shared the stage with DMK big-wigs in August. He's also been vocal on several issues throughout 2017.

Indeed, if 'Thalaivar' Rajinikanth does don the mantle of a politician on December 31, then there is expectation that 2018 would witness an exciting political contest between him and Kamal Haasan. Will it really turn out that way?

South India, especially Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, has a long history of film stars becoming politicians. M G Ramachandran (MGR), Jayalalithaa, Capt Vijaykanth in Tamil Nadu and N T Rama Rao (NTR), Chiranjeevi and Jayaprada (although elected from UP) in Andhra Pradesh are examples.

Moreover, unlike their Bollywood counterparts, southern stars have made a mark in politics. The late MGR was active in politics starting from his forties, and rose to become Tamil Nadu chief minister in 1977 when he turned 60. Jayalalithaa made her political debut in her mid-thirties and became the youngest ever chief minister of the state
in 1991 at the age of 43. When she passed away in 2016, she had been a politician for 34 years. N T Rama Rao was 59 when he launched the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982 and served as Andhra CM thrice till 1995.

Chiranjeevi was tourism minister in UPA-2 after merging his Praja Rajyam Party, formed in 2008, with the Congress, while Jayaprada, who started her political career with TDP in 1994, served two terms as Samajwadi Party Lok Sabha MP, from 2004-2014.

The point to be noted is that all these South Indian film-personalities, especially MGR, Jayalalithaa and NTR started their political journeys in middle-age and carved a niche by immersing themselves in the hurly-burly of political struggles right from the grassroots. They went through several electoral ups and downs and in the process earned the right to be considered serious politicians by the masses.

Can the same be said of either Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan? Both are well into their sixties, with no prior background of sustained political work or electoral engagement? Indeed, both of them have spent the last three decades only pursuing their scintillating film careers. So, what are their exact motivations in becoming politicians at this late stage? Are they entering politics to give back to society and serve the people or merely to avail of the privileges and power that come with becoming elected representatives?

Assuming both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are genuinely public spirited and wish to do something substantial in politics, what exactly do they hope to accomplish? It can safely be said that given their stardom and statures, neither of them will accept anything short of the chief minister's post if they fight the state elections.

Alternatively, they might seek to be elected to the Parliament from Tamil Nadu in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Neither has his own independent political outfit currently. So, how are they going to achieve these objectives? Will Rajinikanth, for instance, join the BJP, as has long been hinted? Will Kamal float an independent party or join AAP or DMK?

Next, what exactly are the competing political visions they have, beyond the veiled and ambiguous statements made so far? How do they plan to transform Tamil Nadu or Indian politics?

What lofty ideals of political governance do Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth profess? Since neither of them has spelt out concrete elements or roadmaps of this vision anywhere, anytime earlier, how do people believe in their commitment and sincerity? What exactly are their credentials? How do we know that either Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan will be any different from the typical politician?

Apart from lack of political experience, neither of them has any proven ability for administration. So, on what basis do they consider themselves suitable for the challenging task of governance and to navigate the quicksand of politics? More importantly, why do they want to risk their clean reputations and the affection and esteem in which they are held by millions of fans by entering politics?

Is it boredom or the latent urge to do something historic? Or, is it that old human frailty at work - the vanity of their own 'heroic' screen images, which deludes them into believing they can perform miracles? Whatever it is, one truly wishes that both will avoid the deceptive allure of politics. And if they are unable to resist it, here's earnestly hoping Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan don't end up becoming insipid politicians, who flatter to deceive, like some of their Bollywood contemporaries - Amitabh Bachchan, the late Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Raj Babbar, the late Vinod Khanna, Govinda, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Kirron Kher, Paresh Rawal - to name a few.

(Salil Desai is a Pune-based author and filmmaker)

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