Yet another person from the tinseltown from Tamil Nadu has entered the political theatre. Rajnikanth had waited for long before taking the plunge. Kamal Hassan too had recently decided to join politics.
What is it with actors in that they want to “serve the people”? We had a very good chief minister in MG Ramachandran who became the first actor chief minister in India, and even before Ronald Reagan, to hold a constitutional post. MGR’s stint as chief minister was known for its welfare measures done to the people of Tamil Nadu. However the same was not the case when Jayalalithaa succeeded MGR. Her tenure as chief minister would be remembered more for corruption and nepotism than anything else although there is no denying the fact that she was an able administrator and astute politician.
MGR was no accidental chief minister. His joining politics was preceded by playing a revolutionary leader in several movies where the script was written by his then colleague and member of the Dravidian movement, Karunanidhi. When Karunanidhi was chief minister, MGR had a fallout with him and it was after this that he founded his own party, the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. It would be natural to conclude that MGR was giving it back to Karunanidhi by forming his own party, becoming it's boss and defeating the DMK in electoral politics.
To come back to Rajinikanth, he first showed interest in politics in 1996. At that point, he joined hands with the DMK and Moopanar’s Tamil Maanila Congress to campaign against Jayalalithaa’s ADMK which was facing several charges of corruption. However what happened later seems to have disillusioned Rajnikanth. For two decades, he remained focused in making blockbusters. However, with the advent of Narendra Modi as PM and after the death of Jayalalithaa, Rajnikanth seems to have overcome his reluctance to join politics. The BJP, which has almost no roots in Tamil Nadu, thought of co-opting Rajnikanth after it could not win even 10% of votes in the last assembly elections despite forming an alliance with several parties. When co-opting failed, the BJP decided to coerce Rajnikant. According to people close to the actor, the Union government tried to use clearances for his movies as a bargaining chip. It is alleged that BJP wanted Rajinikanth to enter politics and be its partner.
Soon after announcing his new party, Rajnikanth talked about spiritualism. The very next day, he had to clarify he meant his party would be above religion and caste and work for the welfare and unity of all people. If this is what he aims for, then it indicates he has overcome the BJP pressure even as he decided to enter active politics.
Ideals are almost contradictory to politics and what politicians do. People who support Rajnikanth would soon discover that the dream of having a perfect hero leader in real life was just a dream. One leader cannot make a successful party or government. They depend on the way each individual associated with the party and government, including paid servants called officials, would behave and implement policies. This is what has seen many well-intentioned people failing to live up to the promises when they assume power. Rajnikanth and his team would not be any different even if they manage to win an election. I would not hesitate to say that his high point would be winning the election. From there onwards, it would be downhill.
It's just not successful filmstars who face the pressure of the Narendra Modi government, so it seems. Some days ago, I had visited Delhi's newly opened Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. In the limited space in Connaught Place’s former Regal Theatre, the museum has neatly arranged the wax statues of around 50 famous people. I would not say it is a total disappointment. If the museum is able to expand by covering more floors in surrounding areas, it may be able to accommodate many more famous sports, political and film heroes. At the moment the collection is not that good. However, the most striking feature was the political section where one got to see Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel and the one and only Narendra Modi. How he fitted along with the freedom fighters makes for no sense.
Of course, the museum authorities will tell you that the icons were selected based on a variety of factors, of which popularity is an important criterion. But what is jarring is the presence of a living individual among people who died before he was born. More striking is the absence of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He and his daughter Indira Gandhi can by no stretch of imagination be among less popular leaders of the whole world and certainly of India. It seems clear to anyone who has a faint idea about the current political happenings that Madame Tussaud has been advised not to include Jawaharlal Nehru in its list of icons to be displayed at the Museum in New Delhi. If an international organisation can be influenced in this way, it takes very little imagination to know about the pressure business establishments and even non government organisations face while trying to operate in India.
In the beginning of 2018, I took a trip to Puducherry. The journey by car from Chennai to Puducherry was quite revealing. From the few people I met, I was able to understand that the BJP stands very little chance of establishing itself in either Tamil Nadu or even in the union territory. The person who drove me to Puducherry was very sarcastic when I asked him about BJP's prospects. He was reluctant initially to tell me about his political leanings. However, finally he said he was a Jayalalithaa supporter, but now he was Rajnikanth’s. This was on the day Rajnikanth announced the name of his party. When asked whether he would support Rajinikanth if his party tied up with the BJP, my driver, Saravanan, just laughed and said the BJP destroys any party with which it ties up. In the RK Nagar assembly by-elections, the party did not even secure enough votes and lost its deposit. Saravanan was not alone. The Dravidian culture as well as the teachings of Aurobindo seem to have lasting impression on the people of this area. Here you can easily spot a statue of Ganesha next to a crib and it is very common to see a picture of Jesus sharing space with Ganesha and the Kaaba. With the electoral scene not conducive to BJP in West Bengal and Kerala too, BJP's quest for winning 2019 starts off with a hundred seat handicap.
(Published on 15th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 03)