Politics is not a ‘First Day, First Show’ affair but an arduous long haul. The electoral battle field is not quite a box office. Movie punchlines may have recall value but are not the same as manifesto slogans. And getting people to press that button on the EVM is not the same as drawing frenzied crowds to the movie theatres. But the contrast ends there. The politics of today requires no qualification. On the other hand, it suits those with what, in a democracy, ought to be disqualifications – scams, not very high IQ, criminal cases, muscle and money power and an insatiable urge to amass wealth to probably fund the next corrupt election. Where does this leave Tamil ‘superstar’ Rajinikanth as he seems all set to take the much hyped, contemplated and debated political plunge? I’d stick my neck out and say that Rajini, if he changes some of his stripes, has it in him to make a blockbuster entry into politics. Here’s why:
When was the last time we had a down to earth political leader? Simplicity and humility are in Rajini’s DNA. Having interviewed him in the past in my previous avatar as a television journalist and having even accompanied him from Chennai to Delhi for an award function, I can vouch for the man’s unassuming nature. With a humble bus conductor background, the actor can effortlessly relate to the people, especially the poor, who constitute the biggest chunk of voters. For this to happen, he must beware of a coterie that inevitably forms around power centres and takes on the coveted mantle of access control. If the common man can reach him through a whatsapp message, facebook post or tweet, without having to network and pull strings, half the battle is won. Rationing public appearances to create that hysteria worked in films. It will not work in politics.
The catchphrase in most debates on Rajini today is ‘vaccum’. Post Jayalalithaa and in the context of a split in the ruling AIADMK, observers believe the political vaccum provides the ripe opportunity for Rajini to answer his own cryptic punchline in his film ‘Muthu’ on the “correct” time to make a grand entry in the people’s court. A political scenario minus the two dravidian juggernauts – with Jayalalithaa no more and Karunanidhi not active, may be a red carpet to convert the massive fan following into a political force. And votes. If he doesn’t do it now, it may be hard to deflect criticism that it’s a strategy to garner publicity before film releases.
More than a vaccum, you need a big push to succeed in politics. Whether it is a prod or a prop or a Godfather, it has come, albeit indirectly at this stage, in the form of the BJP. With two more years in office at the Centre and the opposition in no shape to mount a challenge in 2019, patronage from the capital can translate into a protective veneer, media boost, mentoring and all that comes under the broad rubric of ‘establishment support’.
The thousands of fan clubs can be effectively converted into organisational bench strength for Rajini’s political activities. However, the metamorphosis of ‘fans’ into ‘cadre’ needs to be executed with dexterity. Ensuring that new found political power does not go to their heads, that they fall in line and channelising their energy towards social service related activities will be a challenge. If nothing succeeds like success, nothing fails like excess. Rajini’s “naan oru vaati sonna, nooru vaati sonna madhiri” (what I say once is like what is said a hundred times) must evoke the obedience of a soldier.
Everybody loves an achiever. Rajini’s popularity, his pro poor and ‘good guy taking on the bad guys’ image assiduously built through his film roles and punchlines like “panri thaan kootamama varum. Singham single ala varum” (Only pigs come in packs.The lion comes alone) is bound to pass muster with the masses who are disenchanted with the system and yearn for that breath of fresh air.
A ‘politically correct’ stance on a slew of contentious issues, from Cauvery to Eelam, make Rajini a relatively safe bet for all sections. Known to be quite image conscious, he has the knack for quickly gauging public sentiment and adapting to changes, without courting controversies. Unlike a Kamal Haasan who is known to be more candid than ‘candied’!
Flexible and never intransigent, Rajini is far from arrogant. That’s a big plus in politics where rigid stands can wreak havoc. Remember the time when the PMK’s Dr.Anbumani Ramadoss, as Union Health Minister, wrote a letter to the superstar to quit smoking in films and how he readily obliged? Such gestures can win brownie points with the people.
Spiritual, yet secular, Rajini can gel with just about any political combine. While the BJP may seem like a natural ally, don’t overlook his long time friendship with Congress leaders from Tamil Nadu like P.Chidambaram. Note how he recently praised DMK Working President M.K. Stalin and a few other regional satraps and even regretted harsh statements against late Ms.Jayalalithaa in the past. Keen to mend fences and build bridges, the superstar can script his own version of Dale Carnegie’s bestseller ‘How To Win Friends & Influence People’ with ‘How To Win Alliances & Influence Voters’! That makes him capable of holding a political swayamvara at will!
Rajini’s movies are lapped up by everyone, including the B and C audiences. In politics, B and C stand for Black Money and Corruption.The actor was among the first to endorse the crackdown on black money that demonetisation sought to achieve, striking a chord with Team Modi. I often quip that if Steven Spielberg were to make a film on Corruption in India, he can title it: ‘Swindlers List’! An early and recent disclaimer: “If you want to enter politics to earn money, then forget it” augurs well for a Mr. Clean aspirant.
All along, Tamil Nadu, as indeed, most other States in India, has been plagued by the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor. Either the Two Leaves would scorch the Rising Sun or the Rising Sun would eclipse the Two Leaves. Not anymore. Rajinikanth can herald a new Rainbow Coalition. As his one time ‘co-star'(!), actually a cameo player in his film ‘Enthiran’, I wish him well in what may well become ‘Yen Vazhi, Thanee Vazhi’! (My way is unique, for those North of the Vindhyas)
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)