Tamil Nadu politics back to square one after Rajinikanth’s exit
Setback for BJP; shot in the arm for AIADMK
By P. K. Balachandran
Tamil superstar Rajinikanth’s declaration on Tuesday (29) that he is opting out of electoral politics in view of his delicate health, has brought Tamil Nadu politics back to square one.
The South India State will remain a bastion on Dravidianism, Tamil nationalism, secularism and social justice, with the main contestants being the two Tamil nationalist parties, namely, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
The prospect of the Hindu nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) getting into Tamil Nadu politics in the April-May 2021 State Assembly elections, with Rajinikanth splitting the votes of the ruling AIADMK, no longer exists.
The BJP had been trying to prop the popular actor in the hope that, through his brand of ‘spiritual politics’, he would pave the way for its rule. Tamil Nadu has so far been stubbornly resistant to the BJP’s aggressive Hindu-nationalism.
On November 30, Rajinikanth had announced his “determination” to enter electoral politics, saying he would not mind dying in the process of cleaning up Tamil Nadu politics and making it “spiritual”. But at the same time, he kept referring to the kidney transplant he had undergone recently and his doctors’ advice not to strain himself. However, his parting shot was that he would announce the launch of his yet unnamed political party on December 31.
But during the shooting of his latest film ‘Annaththe’ in Hyderabad, last week, four members of the 120-strong film crew tested positive for COVID-19 and Rajinikanth himself was down with high fever, though he had tested negative for COVID-19. But while in hospital his blood pressure varied widely causing concern. Doctors discharged him with a warning that he should not undertake any strenuous activity, especially since he had undergone a kidney transplant.
On returning to Chennai, Rajinikanth issued a three-page statement on Tuesday excusing himself from active political work and abandoning his plan to launch a political party to contest the coming elections.
This should dampen the spirits of the BJP, which had been pinning high hopes on him to Hinduize Tamil Nadu politics and make it more amenable to political and cultural influences from North India. The BJP was of the view that Rajinikanth, although a non-Tamil, would become an M. G. Ramachandran (MGR), a non-Tamil Malayali actor who successfully converted his Tamil fan following into voters.
But unlike Rajinkanth, MGR had been an actor-politician and a stalwart of the Tamil nationalist Dravidian movement decades before he launched the AIADMK in the 1970s. In contrast, Rajinikanth has been apolitical. And whenever the Tamil film fraternity spoke out for Tamils on issues of vital importance to them, Rajinikanth would remain non-committal, leading to criticism his silence stemmed from the fact that he was not a Tamil but a Maharashtrian (Shivaji Rao Gaekwad being his given name).
However, in the view of BJP supporters, in 2020, space had arisen in Tamil Nadu for an alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK. S. Gurumurthy, a pro-BJP political commentator and economist based in Chennai, said in an interview with The Hindu: “Three important changes have taken place – fatigue with both the parties, absence of towering leaders and the presence of a force, led by a towering leader, who can cause the same disturbance as caused by MGR in 1973.
“Rajinikanth is not seen as a simple cinema star. In films and outside, he has the enormous reputation of being helpful to people. His personal acceptability is very high. He is certainly an alternative to Dravidian exclusivism and separatism. This advantage was not there for MGR. They [MGR and Rajinikanth] are not the same. They are not even similar. But their impact can be the same.”
Of course, the BJP had not put all its eggs in the Rajinikanth basket. It had struck (or forced?) an alliance with the AIADMK in November with the announcement being made in Chennai by the top BJP leader and India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah. The BJP was hoping to get a substantial number of seats in the State Assembly riding on the back of the AIADMK and then forcing the latter (by now weakened by Rajinikanth’s party) to give it key portfolios in the State government. A few days ago, BJP’s Tamil Nadu leaders had said there would be a coalition government and the question of naming a Chief Minister would be addressed after the elections.
AIADMK leaders and cadre were livid. How could the BJP, which counted for nothing in Tamil Nadu, dictate terms to an established and major local party like the AIADMK? Though the AIADMK has not been averse to forming an electoral alliance with BJP or any other party for that matter, sharing power (especially with the BJP) is anathema. The AIADMK is still wedded to Dravidianism and Tamil nationalism. Sharing power with the BJP would in fact result in boosting the profile of the rival DMK in competitive Dravidian politics.
Sure enough, the AIADMK rejected the idea of sharing power with the BJP when it kicked off its election campaign recently. The party announced that Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami will be its candidate for the top post and that there will be no power-sharing.
“Whether national or regional parties come in, the government will be headed by the AIADMK,” said K. P. Munusamy, AIADMK’s deputy coordinator and MP, at the campaign meeting. “There is no scope for a coalition government and there is no need for it. If any party comes to us with that intention, I urge you to rethink,” he added.
Munusamy said some parties were attempting to discredit Dravidian rule in Tamil Nadu. “Since 1967 when Anna (C. N. Annadurai, founder of the DMK) formed the government, Dravidian rule has ensured that no national party enters Tamil Nadu,” Munusamy said.
-P K. Balachandran is a senior Colombo-based journalist who in the past two decades, has reported for The Hindustan Times, The New Indian Express and the Economist