The ‘Icon of Golden Jubilee Award’ was awarded to famed actor Rajinikanth on the opening day of the 50th edition of International Film Festival of India (IFFI) being held in Goa. Actor Amitabh Bachchan presented the award in the presence of Union minister for information and broadcasting, the chief minister of Goa and other officials of the festival.
However, apart from Rajinikanth’s contributions to the film industry since 1975, the actor’s political aspirations and inclination toward ‘spiritual politics’ are raising questions over the timing of the award bestowed upon him.
Rajinikanth has long been seen as an individual close to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since his open admiration of certain party leaders, including former prime minister, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The actor has also hailed the BJP’s river linking project and even donated Rs 1 crore to the project when he sat on a one-day fast against the Karnataka government’s decision not to release water to Tamil Nadu in 2002.
In the 2004 general elections, Rajinikanth said that he would personally vote for BJP for the policies followed by the government but refrained from extending support to any party or front. The BJP failed to win any seat in the election from Tamil Nadu, despite what is called a (Narendra) ‘Modi wave’ in the country then.
The BJP state leadership and former Union ministers from the state have often invited the actor to join the saffron party. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, Modi, BJP’s then Prime minister nominee, took time out to meet the actor in Chennai. Speculations were rife about the actor extending support to the party, but he remained non-committal.
The actor was also a strong supporter of demonetisation and abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir and hailed the Modi- (Amit) Shah duo, terming them as Krishna and Arjuna in the function held for the release of a book written by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu in August 2018.
Rajinikanth has carved his career out of style, energy, speed and screen presence rather than on acting skills, say his critics. He has always been a commercially successful actor. His contributions to the film industry on innovative ideas and risks are highly limited compared with his fellow actor, Kamal Haasan, say his critics, adding that the latter has taken Tamil films to international standards but has been not as commercially successful as Rajinikanth.
DELAYED POLITICAL ENTRY?
On December 31, 2017, after over two decades in the making, the famous actor announced his political entry in a meeting addressed to his fans in Ragavendra Marriage Hall. He had been sending signals of his political entry through many films since 1996.
In the run-up to the 1996 Assembly elections, Rajinikanth had openly supported the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) after several accusations came up against the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa and her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK). He went on to state that ‘even god would not save Tamil Nadu if AIADMK comes to power again’. AIADMK lost the election badly, winning only four constituencies with even Jayalalitha losing to a newcomer.
Since then, the actor’s fans have been agonisingly waiting for his entry into politics. For, Rajinikanth’s fans believed that their ‘thalaivar’ (leader) had played a major role in decimating the AIADMK.
‘SPIRITUAL POLITICS’- A NEW STRATEGY
Rajinikanth then came up with a never heard before term -- ‘spiritual politics’ -- as his motto. He also announced that his yet to be formed party would contest in the next Assembly elections (due in May 2021). He, however, did not mention anything about the 2019 general elections or the long-pending local body elections in the state. He has promised to contest alone in all the 234 constituencies in the state.
However, even Rajinikanth’s announcement of contesting alone failed to prevent BJP’s Tamil Nadu leadership from welcoming his decision to enter the electoral fray. The then BJP state president, Tamilisai Soundararajan, found a philosophical correlation between her party’s ideology and the actor’s proclaimed ‘spiritual politics’.
In another strange revelation, the actor in January 2018, said he was taken aback when a journalist asked about the ideology of his party. His exact statement in Tamil, ‘Oru Nimisham Thala Suthidichu’ (One Minute, My Head is Reeling) during the speech went viral in social media and even songs were made on it. Everyone wondered how one could think of starting a political party and even think of ruling the state without an ideology, but hardcore Rajini fans believed that their ‘thalaivar’ is capable of doing everything under the sun, as he does in his films.
SPIRITUALITY = HONESTY + SECULARISM
Within two days of the announcement of ‘spiritual politics’, the actor was forced to clarify his statement. Many political parties and observers claimed that he may move towards BJP since he had shown his inclination towards the party in the past. They also opined that political belief is a personal choice. The actor then clarified that his ‘spiritual politics’ intends to provide honest, transparent and secular governance.
Rajinikanth’s subsequent move of meeting the late DMK leader M Karunanidhi, too, drew criticism, as he had accused both DMK and AIADMK of looting their own people. He also expressed his dismay about happenings in the state during the year preceding his announcement, probably hinting at incidents that followed the death of J Jayalalithaa, triggering infighting within the AIADMK.
KAMAL – RAJINI TO JOIN HANDS?
Once again, at a recent function to commemorate actor Kamal Haasan’s 60 years in the film industry, Rajinikanth said that “unimaginable” things were possible in politics. He was referring to Edappadi K Palaniswami becoming chief minister of the state that even he could not have imagined.
Then, the actor went on to announce his willingness to join hands with Haasan if the need arises. The latter’s atheist principles, and the former reliance on spirituality and his yearly pilgrimages to the Himalayas are well known. The coming together of these two actors would mean the joining of two opposite principles, if at all Rajinikanth starts a party. Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam had contested in the recently concluded general elections and bye-elections to the Assembly but drew a blank.
Political parties, including the Congress in 1995 and DMK, on several occasions have tried hard to take actor Rajinikanth on board, in spite of his confused announcements.
As per his latest announcement, the actor’s plunge into electoral politics seems inevitable. As far as films go, the contribution of Rajinikanth notwithstanding, several observers feel there are better actors who deserved the award in Goa. They, therefore, see the award as BJP’s overture to win over Rajinikanth to join the party. The actor, too, continues to praise BJP leaders and policies. It remains to be seen which way the tide will turn, eventually.