Why people poles apart in Tamil politics are willing to unite?

Hyderabad: Rajinikanth expressed his willingness to join hands with Kamal Haasan indicating a significant twist in Tamil Nadu politics in the days ahead. The BJP was hoping to induct Rajinikanth into its fold, and the latter’s political and ideological moves have strengthened the speculation that he may go the saffron way.

Rajinikanth advocated spiritual politics, an idea, however abstract it may be, is undoubtedly closer to the BJP’s ideology. Rajini’s pro-BJP moves have obviously distanced him from Kamal Haasan who unambiguously declared that his colour is not saffron.

In fact, more recently, Rajinikanth, for the first time since he announced his willingness to plunge into politics, refuted the attempts to paint him saffron. He was perhaps referring to over-enthusiastic manoeuvres of Tamil Nadu BJP leaders to co-opt him. This sudden shift in Rajini’s position is not without any reason.

Significant political currents drove the two famous stars closer in the political arena of Tamil Nadu known for filmic experimentation. In fact, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are ideologically poles apart. While Rajinikanth professes spiritual politics, Kamal is an avowed rationalist. Rajini’s talk of spiritual politics goes contrary to the philosophy of Dravidian politics that mostly comprises of non-believers. Kamal, who has been categorical in demarcating himself from saffron politics, seems to be closer to Dravidian identity politics.

Despite ideological differences, Kamal and Rajini share good personal chemistry spanning decades. Makkal Needhi Maiam President Kamal Haasan said, “There is no need to create a new bond between myself and Rajinikanth. We have been friends for around 44 years. If the need arises, we will come together for the betterment of Tamil Nadu.” An hour later, replying to the media questions, Rajinikanth said, “If circumstances demand, I will join hands with Kamal Haasan.”

The death of two stalwarts — M Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa — created a void in Tamil politics. The state polity is devoid of a charismatic leader who has personal chemistry with the masses. The iconic leaders of the state M Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa, and even the leaders of yesteryears, MG Ramachandran and others too had a filmic backdrop. Therefore, the marriage of films and politics is not strange to Tamil Nadu.

Hoping to cash in on the void created by the demise of AIADMK and DMK’s supremo, Rajinikanth and Kamal announced their formal intention to enter politics. In fact, both these actors have been evincing keen interest in politics much before they made the official announcement.

The political rumblings after the death of Jayalalithaa landed ADMK into a deep crisis. The DMK chief laid down the succession plan while Jayalalithaa died without announcing her political successor. Meanwhile, Sasikala episode came to an abrupt end. With the BJP Kara Seva, the internal politics in ADMK took a curious turn. The BJP until then was hoping to induct Rajinikanth into the fold to fill the gap created by the demise of Jayalalithaa.

There is yet another critical reason for the saffron brigade to look towards Rajinikanth. The Hindi-Hindu saffron political narrative has always been an antithesis to Tamil identity and Dravidian political discourse despite the Tamil regional parties conveniently switching loyalties to the party in power at Centre. The BJP was hoping to overcome this inherent limitation with the help of a charismatic Rajinikanth and traverse through the hostile socio-political terrain. The BJP, which has been hyperactive active in shaping the course of developments in ADMK, saw in Rajinikanth a political trump card.

However, even to the surprise of BJP, the ADMK leadership led by the Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam not only buried their differences but seems to be successful in consolidating the party. The anti-DMK forces thus remain more or less loyal to ADMK. The results of by-elections necessitated by the disqualification of Sasikala loyalists proved that ADMK is far from being written off. Tamil politics continue to be polarised between the two Dravidian parties.

Closely monitoring the politics on the Cauvery coast, the BJP rallied behind ADMK, and the latter joined the NDA bandwagon. On the other, the DMK is firmly under the leadership of Stalin as Karunanidhi consummately executed the leadership succession much before his departure. Thus, the ADMK started viewing Rajinikanth as an adversary rather than an ally. It is evident from the recent outbursts of ADMK leaders, including the Chief Minister at both Rajinikanth and Kamal.

Thus, the BJP, which enthusiastically scouted for Rajinikanth, cannot afford to lose the ADMK in search of greener pastures. It compelled Rajinikanth to look beyond the saffron brigade.

Kamal Haasan’s political course is more defined and determined. Meanwhile, Rajini suddenly moving away from the right turn he previously took is mostly adjusting to the merging political reality in Tamil Nadu after the consolidation of ADMK under the new dispensation.

In fact, expecting a decline of ADMK, Rajinikanth tried to appropriate the legacy of MG Ramachandran. He unveiled the statue of MGR in the campus of an educational institution owned by a BJP leader. Rajinikanth was earlier seen to identify more with DMK. However, his attempts to portray himself as a follower of MGR is a political ploy to win the AIADMK split vote as the DMK vote is relatively unassailable.

Rajinikanth suffers from a fundamental limitation that he is a non-Tamil. Though this may not matter to his fans and following, his commitment to Dravidian culture and politics is certainly questionable. Given this fact, Rajinikanth may be desperate to establish a Dravidian connect by trying to appropriate the legacy of the iconic MGR.

Rajini perhaps, realised that ADMK has come to stay and he has to look for his political legacy rather than stepping into someone’s shoes. Rajinikanth’s earlier statement that there exists a political vacuum drew sharp criticism from the ruling ADMK leaders. The polarised consolidation of competing Dravidian political groups forced Rajinikanth to define his political idiom.

Rajinikanth has hardly taken a firm political stance. He has refrained from taking a position on a host of issues concerning Tamil Nadu and the nation. On the contrary, Kamal Haasan, braving controversies and criticisms, has always articulated his position on a host of issues concerning Tamil Nadu and the country.

No doubt, Rajinikanth is unparalleled for his popularity as an iconic actor. The mammoth mass following he enjoys undoubtedly gives him the much-needed propulsion to accelerate the party’s firm entry into the crowded political landscape of the state. However, the experience of Chiranjeevi, Pawan Kalyan and Vijaykanth indicate that personal charisma is not enough to succeed in politics. In fact, Chiranjeevi, who was in Chennai recently to promote his film Sai Raa Narasimha Reddy, shared his unsolicited piece of wisdom to both Rajini and Kamal. Besides drawing from the experiences of his brother Pawan Kalyan, Chiranjeevi might have advised both Rajini and Kamal against going full steam into politics.

Rajini has a large and structured fan base. However, most of them are over 40 years old. Thus, Rajinikanth seems to be realistic in appreciating his political, ideological and organisational limitations. Therefore, Rajini is now willing to embrace Kamal Haasan in his political journey. Despite ideological clarity and reasonably well established fan following, Kamal Haasan is undoubtedly not as iconic as Rajinikanth. Thus, the unity of two famous film stars is expected to throw a challenge to both ADMK and DMK.

Prof K Nageshwar

Prof K Nageshwar

Prof.K. Nageshwar is India's noted political analyst. He is a former member of the Telangana Legislative Council and currently a professor at the Department of Communication & Journalism, Osmania University. He is the former editor of The Hans India, English Daily and worked as an Editor-in-Chief of Telugu news channel HMTV. He has authored two books- Interpreting Contemporary India and How to win at life.

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