Is Covid a route for Rajini to shelve political plunge?

Is Covid-19 an exit route for Rajini to shelve political plunge?

Rajini may have realised that it is impossible to bring people to voting stations with his flamboyance, following the departure of Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa

Tamil superstar Rajinikanth. Credit: PTI Photo

As a superstar, Rajinikanth has been extremely successful in creating a hype around him, be it his movie release or his entry into politics, a topic of intense debate since early 1990s, though intermittently.

Almost three years after a definite announcement that he would launch his own political party to contest the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, due in the first half of 2021, the actor seems to have backed out, albeit for now.  

But, he does not want to openly admit that politics may not be his cup of tea for he wants the attention of his fans and public towards him, albeit for the next few months as the state goes into poll mode. His admission that a “fake letter” doing rounds in his name is partially true also raises more questions than answering some of them that have been thrown at him. And Rajinikanth should remember that the “fake letter” was printed on his letterhead.

Through his latest statement, Rajinikanth has yet again proved that he lacks clarity on his long-cherished dream of a career in politics. From the "open declaration" that "my entry into politics is certain" and that his party would contest all 234 assembly constituencies on the last day of 2017 to putting the onus on the people for him to launch the party in March to now citing his health to "wriggle out.”

Covid-19 scare, which has confined him to his palatial bungalow in upscale Poes Garden, is just the last straw. To be fair to Rajinikanth, he is not in the best of health and he has, for the first time, admitted to having undergone a renal transplant in 2016. He suggests that it would be very difficult to keep himself immune from Covid-19 if he takes the political plunge and meets people.

But the fact is Rajinikanth had enough time to galvanise the people if he was really serious about his political entry. From 2018 to October 2020, he had almost three years to build his party, spell out his ideology, hold rallies, and demonstrate his seriousness.

Rajinikanth did none of this – he planned to launch the party just months ahead of the polls as his supporters were hoping for a repeat of the N T Ramarao or M G Ramachandran miracle. Little did they realise 2020 is not 1980s and Rajinikanth's popularity as an actor alone was not enough to catapult him to Fort. St. George, the seat of power of Tamil Nadu Government.  

Instead of using the three years for transitioning into a politician from a superstar, Rajinikanth concentrated more on his movies – three films were released since 2018 and one more is in the making – and he consciously avoided commenting on crucial issues that were of real concern to people.  

"Rajinikanth has now shrunk his responding audience from people to office-bearers of his association. They are very small in number and they will sign on the dotted line. They will blindly listen to their Thalaivar and accept his decision. It is safe to assume that Rajinikanth has backed out of politics," senior journalist R Bhagwan Singh told DH. Another political analyst put it simply. "Rajinikanth is revisiting a closed chapter."

The first hint that politics may not be Rajinikanth's cup of tea came in March this year when he put the onus on the people of Tamil Nadu to “show the resurgence towards a political change” for him to take the formal plunge. The altered political situation in the state today, when compared to the 2017 scenario, may have brought the change in Rajinikanth's mind.

Though many still claim the "leadership vacuum" created due to the absence of M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa has not been filled, Rajinikanth might have understood that it would be almost impossible to bring people to the polling stations just through his flamboyance and acting skills.

Three years down the line, the AIADMK has remained united, and the DMK-led alliance bucked the national trend by winning 38 of the 39 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, thereby cementing DMK President M K Stalin's position within the party and in Tamil Nadu politics.

Though there is a leadership tussle in AIADMK, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has managed to keep the flock united for four years and is on course to complete his term. And Rajinikanth realised first-hand the intense scrutiny that politicians are subjected to in times of social media. The very people who gave him the stardom began questioning many of his statements, and even advising him to continue to entertain them.

He was heavily criticised for his comments on anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi, his support for the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, remarks on Periyar, and his infatuation towards the BJP. In the latest statement on Thursday, Rajinikanth said he will take a decision on his “political stand” at an appropriate time.

The decision at an “appropriate time” as announced by Rajinikanth may take a few months. But the decision seems to have been taken.