What Rajinikanth can do for Tamil Nadu politics

The Thalaivar must create a constituency different from the current vote banks that have tied up the state into predictable grids.

 |  5-minute read |   07-01-2018
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Rajinikanth is legendary. He belongs not just to the world of movies, but is part of folklore. He is a metaphor for the miracle we call films. His very entry brought a democratic ease to film.

I remember Rajinikanth was a bus conductor. He was once asked by a journalist, “If you had not been a bus conductor-turned-film star, what would you have been?” Quick came the answer, “Oh, a smuggler or a bootlegger.” Rajini was emphasising the fundamental equality of all occupations in the informal economy, from where Kollywood scripts often originate.


That was decades ago. When Rajinikanth announced he is going to join politics, start a new political party, the enthusiasm did not work out like the release of his films. The DMK and the AIADMK felt he was not real enough for politics. Many academic activists were even dismissive, arguing that Rajini had taken no real stands in politics. But the problem is a more complex one.


Rajini is older. Maybe legends do not age, but Tamil Nadu as a society has. The golden age of politics and its creativity, reciprocity to film is over. Annadurai and MGR are gone, the DMK under Stalin appears a bit like a political still life. The DMK-AIADMK battles that dominated the last few decades create little excitement. In fact, the most exciting person in Chennai is Jayalalithaa.

Even as a dead person, she could sweep the election. She has the charisma even as memory to make crowds hysterical and hysteria can flow like a religious current in this city. But what is more obvious than Jayalalithaa’s absence as presence is the emptiness of Tamil politics. Despite being a corrupt prima dona, Jaya had the makings of a Tamil deity. There is a touch of the lukewarm to Rajini’s entry.

Probably English language newspapers are more deadpan about it. They make his entry sound like a benign Rotary club meeting. But once one hears Rajini in Tamil, he seems a different person, more in command, almost prophetic about the new digital constituencies he is planning to create. Rajini still offers the politics of hope Tamil Nadu so desperately needs.


One break on this move reaching a cinematic climax is the political future of another great star, Kamal Haasan. Haasan too wants to enter politics and make a difference. His seems more the voice of the left, but one is not clear whether Haasan is speaking of his sympathisers on the left or of a need for a fully articulated leftist ideology.

While both still stand like Achilles before their tents, Amit Shah and BJP seem busy. They realise the potential of the moment as all the big parties seems dormant. They realise that the creation of a Trojan horse would have a deadly effect, but one wonders whether Tamil Nadu would forgive any one for playing a Trojan horse in a cinematic sense.

Tamil Nadu as a society has always been proud of its autonomy from Delhi. Even Modi at the height of his power cut little ice with Jayalalithaa. Yet it is the emptying of politics that haunts one. Tamil Nadu lacks a Periyaar, a Kamraj, a Rajaji and an Annadurai. Each could have mobilised the imagination. Today’s party leaders stand like Uriah Heaps, their very secondariness is so obvious.

 The very emptiness of political space is begging Rajini to enter. He realises that he has to offer something new and that the newness of his politics has to at least match the enthusiasm Delhi felt for Kejriwal before he became a more domestic figure.

Rajini claims he wants to create a political revolution, the beginning of a spiritual politics. I guess it is his way of saying he wants to initiate an honest politics without invoking a critique of Jaya or DMK.

He talks of a politics devoid of caste and religion. I guess what he is looking for is sociology of a new constituency different from the current vote banks that have tied up politics into predictable rhetorical grids. What he is hoping to trigger is a generational change in livelihood and lifestyle, which could redefine society.

The script as it stands today sounds empty, or at best, well-intentioned. Rajini does not project the ease of politics. He stands like a star waiting for a cue from the director, desperate for the right plot and the right lines. But the moment, in terms of its timing, has tremendous potential. A new generation wants to rewrite society and Rajini has the stature to lead them.

Maybe it is time civil society came to his aide, preparing an ideological programme, and create a new reciprocity between civil society and politics. One is thinking in particular of an attempt to revive the fate of agriculture, marked by epidemics of suicide. What is true of farming is also is also becoming true of fishing.

The recent impact of Cyclone Ockhi revealed that the Tamil Nadu politician had no sense of the travails of deep sea fishing. If livelihood politics, human rights and ecology were to combine once more embedded in a theory of culture and the creativity of language, Tamil Nadu can offer a new politics to a Modi embroiled India.


I do not think this is the time for cynics or for so-called realists to say that Tamil Nadu politics will continue to see-saw between factions of the Dravidian movement. Rajini has the charisma, and civil society, composed of ecologists, feminists, educationalists, can provide the content for a progressive dream.

Like a good actor, Rajini knows how to pick his cues and like a charismatic politician, he can give such ideas a drama, a force which can create a new dream of politics. Society cannot play spectator for long. It has to script the new dream of politics, brushing aside the tiredness and staleness of the old profession politician. It is time for the miracle to happen.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Bhima Koregaon violence: First they came for Muslims, now Dalits 


Shiv Visvanathan Shiv Visvanathan @shivvisvanathan

The writer is a social nomad

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