Opinion divided on Rajinikanth’s mass appeal, political heft
Despite actor Rajinikanth enjoying sky-high popularity as a movie star in Tamil Nadu and the existence of a major political vacuum, political observers feel that he might not be able to leave a lasting impact on the State’s political scene without commitment and strong ideological content.
Criticising the actor’s lack of political commitment, D. Ravi Kumar, general secretary, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, said that his speech shows that he considers politics as some sort of a game to be won. “He thinks politics is something like a film. You have to make it a success. What is his political commitment? What are his views on social inequalities and issues?” he asked.
Ramu Manivannan, head, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, said that Mr. Rajinikanth will be the “biggest loser”. “What ideology does he have? Is he a nationalist or a Dravidian? While he could sway certain votes, he is untested in elections. He is definitely not politician material,” he said.
However, arguing that a popular actor such as Mr. Rajinikanth, who is not ‘Tamil’ and is deeply religious, will have an advantage and he cannot be underestimated, writer Stalin Rajangam said, “His major advantage is that he is extremely popular and he doesn’t belong to a dominant Tamil backward caste. He is also a devout Hindu. With these ‘identities’, he can appeal to significant number of non-Tamil voters who are feeling insecure with leaders such as Naam Tamilar Katchi’s Seeman and he will not be outmanoeuvred by other Tamil dominant castes.”
Asked if Mr. Rajinikanth could challenge the Dravidian political discourse in the State, Mr. Stalin Rajangam said that the former could do what the DMDK leader failed to do. “When Vijayakant started DMDK, he represented a certain continuity in the Dravidian political discourse. Rajinikanth can break that and offer a non-Dravidian platform in the State. It would be something new,” he said. However, he said that Mr. Rajinikanth’s apparent closeness to the BJP is likely to push the minorities away.
Will Mr. Rajinikanth’s entry inspire large-scale exodus from other parties? Disqualified MLA Thanga Tamilselvan, who is now backing T.T.V. Dhinakaran, said that “it is too late” for him to herald a change. “The expectation has gone down. There was a time when there was enormous expectation among people that he would show the way; but now, they don’t care about it anymore. Moreover, if he goes with the BJP, his image will take a beating,” he said.
Mr. Ravikumar agreed with this assessment. “Many of his fans will not be first-time voters. They would be supporting a political party already. They are unlikely to change their mind. Only those who are aspiring politicians will go behind him for party posts,” he said.