Actor Rajinikanth’s statements on Dravidian icon Periyar E.V. Ramasamy ahead of the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections has evoked sharp reactions from both sides of the spectrum.
On January 14, actor Rajinikanth, speaking at the 50th anniversary function of Thuglak magazine, praised the magazine’s editor Cho Ramasamy for covering the rally led by Periyar in 1971. The actor claimed that the naked images of Ram and Sita were paraded and garlanded with slippers in the rally.
His claims about the 1971 rally by Periyar came under sharp criticism from Dravidian parties in the State and they sought an apology from the actor.
The actor, who has in the past clarified and ‘made good’ his controversial statements, appeared before the media and stood by what he said. He also flashed an English magazine to substantiate his understanding of the 1971 event.
The DMK, which was formed out of the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) founded by Periyar, downplayed the issue and said Rajinikanth was just an actor and not a politician yet. DMK leader M.K. Stalin advised Rajinikanth to ‘think twice’ before speaking out about ‘tall’ leaders like Periyar.
It came as no surprise that the BJP vigorously defended Rajinikanth. There AIADMk but appeared to be a divided house as ministers gave differing statements.
Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam said Rajini should have had a thorough knowledge of Periyar before commenting on him. Minister for Cooperation Sellur K. Raju took a hard stance and said it would not have been possible for the actor to get his daughter married off ‘if there was not a man called Periyar.’
Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar said, “No one is going to give a PhD to the actor for doing his research on the rally of 1971. Jayakumar said Rajnikanth’s statements were aimed at diverting people’s attention. “We will not allow anyone to take on our four leaders, namely, Periyar, Anna, MGR, and Jayalalithaa,” he said.
However, Milk and Dairy Development Minister K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji defended Rajinikanth’s statement and said the actor’s fans should not be calm on this issue.
It was evident that the BJP has been backing the actor to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu, especially after the AIADMK has been maintaining a distance from the national party.
Speaking to The Federal, a senior leader in the AIADMK said they were looking for a chance to abandon BJP.
“We are now forced to face double anti-incumbency. Apart from that the Hindutva rhetoric by the BJP, the party and its ideology is not going well with the people of Tamil Nadu. This could affect our vote banks in the rural areas, as shown by the recent local body polls held,” he said.
An AIADMK minister from the western region said the party would bear with the BJP but not with Rajinikanth.
“Rajinikanth might take away our vote bank in the rural areas. So, we are more cautious with him than the BJP,” the minister said.
On the other hand, it was learnt the Rajinikanth, who pitched ‘spiritual politics’ as his ideology, appears to have made a political leap by targeting Periyar. “But, his family is not very positive on his political moves as they do not want him to lose his image and money,” an office-bearer of the Rajini Makkal Mandram said.
Rajini had asked his fans to remain calm, with regard to his Periyar comment, the office-bearer said. “He said he himself will manage the affair. There would be a high-level meeting in the August to plan for the assembly polls,” he added.
Earlier, Rajini himself cleared the air over his allegiance. He said the people were trying to give him a saffron colour but he would not get caught in it.
Periyarist Suba Veerapandiyan said Rajini was being used by the RSS and Sangh outfits to push their agenda.
Some political observers said Rajini’s intention was to portray DMK as anti-Hindu. Suba Veerapandiyan said the party was past that age and had outgrown such propaganda. “But for Rajini to dig into the 1971 rally and say that a Ram image was paraded without clothes and garlanded in slippers was with an ulterior motive to boost his Hindutva base based on his master’s advice,” he said.