To BJP or not: Rajinikanth’s dilemma over political stance

Rajinikanth, politics, BJP
Rajinikanth’s proximity to late Cho S Ramaswamy and chartered accountant Gurumurthy has given him a pro-BJP tag which he is now trying to get rid of | PTI File

If the Shakespearean play ‘Hamlet’ is made into a Tamil film, superstar Rajinikanth would be most suited to play the principal character. The question that he would pose to himself is not “To be or not to be”, but which way should he go – “To BJP or not to BJP”.

The saffron party is moving heaven and earth to woo the actor and draw him into its fold with a view to gain a firm foothold in Tamil Nadu, the state which rejected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal in 38 of 39 Lok Sabha seats. Smarting under the injury, Modi has been making consistent attempts to reach out to Rajinikanth.

It is no secret that the BJP wants Rajinikanth to head its Tamil Nadu unit in the hope that it could capture power in the state in the 2021 Assembly elections. The party has conveniently moved its state unit president Tamizhisai Soundararajan to Telangana as its governor, leaving the post vacant for Rajinikanth. Former union minister Pon Radhakrishnan is among the several BJP leaders who have reportedly sent feelers to the superstar.

Also read | Rajinikanth clarifies saffronisation remark, says press depicting him as BJP man

The NDA-led government wowed him with the coveted Padma Bhushan, and followed it up last week with the announcement by Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar that the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) will honour Rajinikanth with a special icon of Golden Jubilee award.

The overwhelmed actor has expressed his gratitude to the Centre.

In the past, Modi had visited Rajinikanth’s residence – once prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – ostensibly to seek his support and perhaps elicit an appeal from the actor to vote the BJP to power. However, he refrained from making any political statement, except to convey his good wishes to Modi.

Rajinikanth’s proximity to late Cho S Ramaswamy and chartered accountant Gurumurthy has given him a pro-BJP tag which he is now trying to get rid of, having announced last year that his fans association would contest the 2021 Assembly elections and come to power in order to serve the people of Tamil Nadu.

Also read | BJP betting on Rajinikanth’s stardom to make inroads into Tamil Nadu

Rajinikanth came close to taking the electoral plunge in 1996 when he pinned his faith on former Congress leader GK Moopanar who announced the formation of the Tamil Maanila Congress. Earlier, Moopanar had made efforts to get Rajinikanth’s support to the Congress’s attempts to capture power in the State. He got then prime minister Narasimha Rao to give an appointment to the actor in Delhi. While Rajinikanth expressed his support to the Congress and said he would undertake a campaign in the Assembly elections, Rao was not keen on enlisting his support and seemed to put off Rajinikanth by asking him whether he would formally join the Congress party.

Political observers felt that Rao proved to be a dampener and queered the pitch for Rajinikanth’s entry. When Moopanar launched the TMC and Cho suggested a TMC-DMK pact, Rajinikanth backed the TMC-DMK alliance.

Rajinikanth missed the bus in 1996 as observers felt that the anti-AIADMK wave, carefully nurtured by the actor, would have catapulted a Rajini-TMC alliance to power, and that he could even have become the chief minister.

From 1996 till 1998, Rajinikanth continued to support the TMC-DMK alliance but when the two parties parted ways in 1999, and the DMK joined hands with the BJP, Rajinikanth supported the latter. He appealed to the people to vote Vajpayee to power in 1999 and to usher in an Advani government in 2004. The defeat of the BJP in the 2004 forced Rajinikanth to keep off politics that he maintained till the deaths of AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa and DMK chief M Karunanidhi.

Also read | Hindi imposition will only encounter resistance, says Rajinikanth

Sensing a vacuum in the state now, Rajinikanth’s advisers, including Gurumurthy, have been urging him to enter the political arena. While Rajinikanth obliged by announcing his political plans last year, he has not gone ahead with a formal launch of his party. Even if his party should contest the 2021 assembly elections, he has to get his party organised in every nook and corner of the state, and get it battle-ready to turn goodwill into votes.

Meanwhile, he also has to deal with an aggressive BJP that wants him to spearhead the saffron campaign in its weak state, Tamil Nadu. Responding to a query about attempts to saffronise the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, Rajinikanth remarked on Friday that there were attempts to saffronise him as well. This too indicated that he was not happy being pushed into a decision by the BJP.

At the back of his mind, Rajinikanth is well aware of the BJP’s limitations in a state dominated by regional parties like the DMK and the AIADMK, and other Dravidian forces. Like in Kerala, the minorities have voted in large numbers against the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.

Also read | Tamil parties up in arms against ‘saffronisation’ of Thiruvalluvar

On one hand, Rajinikanth has supported the NDA government’s stand on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and the steps for muscular nationalism. On the other, he has realised that to make a mark in Tamil Nadu politics, he has to distance himself from the BJP, which is more a liability than an asset in the state. Though he is personally attracted towards Hindutva, being a strong believer in Hindu religion and a follower of Hindu saints, he is keener to spread the concept of spirituality than religion per se in his political avatar.

Here is where his contradiction with the BJP emerges. Added to this is the fact that the image of the BJP in Tamil Nadu is not too bright, despite the use of photo optics by Prime Minister Modi.

Rajinikanth has to come out with a clear enunciation of his stand towards the BJP, and politics in general, and chalk out a specific path of action in the face of criticism by his detractors that he sounds confused, and wavers between support to the saffron party and opposition on another day. He has to get his act together quickly if Mission 2021 is to be successful.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Chennai)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)