Actor Rajinikanth last week gave ample indications that he was looking for opportunities in the perceived political vacuum in Tamil Nadu. The ongoing factionalism in the ruling party, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi's ill health and the failure of the Vijayakant phenomenon perhaps made him see space for his debut. His pitch for a robust opposition and ushering in systemic change while wrapping up his five-day fans' club meeting were indications in that direction.
Rajini made his first big political intervention in 1996, when he supported the DMK and the Congress rebel group led by G K Moopanar, called the Tamil Maanila Congress, to defeat the then ruling AIADMK. Ever since, the 'will he, won't he' enter politics question has been consuming fans and hacks alike. Addressing it obliquely, he told his fans last Friday that he was a pachai Tamizhan (true Tamilian). By doing so he tried to hit the right buttons in a state known for identity politics that is extremely sensitive to its hoary language. For, born in a Maratha family and brought up in Bengaluru, he shifted base to Chennai and learnt to speak Tamil over four decades ago.
Barbs came immediately from politicos who sought to characterise him as a Karnataka import. It's a perception he won't be able to shake off in a hurry. Among the GenNow political leaders, Rajini named and lauded four DMK's M K Stalin, PMK's Anbumani Ramadoss, VCK's Thol Thirumavalavan and NTK's Seeman—for having good skill sets. Yet, a few of them, though preening, said the state deserved better than a non-Tamilian as its neta.
There are others who point out that Rajini rarely took a stand on issues concerning the state. Would he be able to alter the political discourse? Punch dialogues like in the superhit Baasha, where he said, “If I say it once, it’s as if I’ve said it 100 times” may work well in movies, but in real life people would need a lot more convincing to take his political push seriously.