Rajinikanth's decision pushes BJP back to square one

Rajinikanth's decision to not enter politics pushes BJP back to square one in Tamil Nadu

With all earlier Tamil Nadu strategies failing, BJP had bet heavily on Rajinikanth

Tamil superstar Rajinikanth's decision to bid adieu to his long-cherished dream of donning a politician's hat would certainly make the BJP crestfallen.

It is no secret that the BJP was hoping to piggyback on the popular star to make inroads into Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian state that has so far kept the saffron party at arm's length. With all their earlier strategies for Tamil Nadu failing big time, the BJP had bet heavily on Rajinikanth.

Though the BJP scoffs at suggestions that they were behind Rajinikanth's political plans, party leaders went out of their way to welcome the actor's announcement on Dec. 3 about launching a party. The leaders failed to hide their glee and that gave away the secret.

Also, the BJP's rhetoric against their ally the AIADMK sharpened in the days and weeks after Rajinikanth's announcement. The national party refused to categorically acknowledge Edappadi K Palaniswami, the AIADMK's pick for the Chief Minister's post, as the alliance's nominee. The developments led to intense speculations that the BJP might ally with the superstar's party and ditch their ally or even try to break the AIADMK before the election.  

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Rajinikanth's call to appoint Ra Arjunamurthy, a BJP office-bearer, as his adviser made things even more clear as to who was behind the actor's political plunge.

As if these were not enough, RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy let the cat out of the bag when he appeared on television channels and welcomed Rajinikanth's announcement. He also likened the superstar's entry into politics to that of the legendary M G Ramachandran, the matinee idol who went on to become three-time chief minister of the state.

That MGR was an established politician – who worked for the DMK for 20 years and was a two-time MLA – when he launched the AIADMK was a fact that every 'change agent' or their proponents in Tamil Nadu like to forget conveniently.

The BJP believed that Rajinikanth's promise to practice "spiritual politics" would bring anti-DMK and Hindu votes into his fold and an alliance with his party could lay the groundwork for the party's "grand entry" into Tamil Nadu. This is because all the BJP strategies have simply failed to make inroads into what the party believes is a "leaderless" state after the deaths of M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa in the past few years.

"With a limited cadre base and voter support in the Dravidian land, the BJP was hoping to ride on the shoulders of Rajinikanth to mark its significant presence in the Tamil Nadu Assembly this election," senior journalist R Bhagwan Singh told DH. "That dream has now collapsed. Rajinikanth may have thought it was time to stop the pendulum play and keep his fans and supporters waiting for eternity. The hospital stay seems to have made Rajinikanth wiser to reality."

In a state where personality and cult politics have mattered for over half a century, the BJP thought that Rajinikanth's immense popularity would catapult him to the position of kingmaker, if not the king, thereby indirectly helping the party.

Rajinikanth's decision takes the BJP back to the drawing board and they will have to revise their strategy yet again for a state whose politics they barely understand. They are also placed at the mercy of their ally, the AIADMK. For the BJP, contesting alone would not be the best option, politically speaking, given their disastrous performance in the last Assembly elections where they drew a blank.

However, the BJP would still try to seek their pound of flesh not just because they rule at the Centre, but also due to the AIADMK's vulnerability to political pressure.

"Now it is back to the status quo," said political analyst P Ramajayam. "The BJP does not have any new options rather than sticking with the AIADMK. The alliances that existed during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls will more or less remain the same. It will be a bipolar fight yet again."