Tamil Nadu: Will Rajinikanth succeed in politics? 5 challenges the Superstar will face


January 1, 2018

Actor Rajinikanth greets his supporters after announcing the launch of his political party in Chennai, India, December 31, 2017. – Photo Credit: P. Ravikumar/Reuters

January 1, 2018

Actor Rajinikanth greets his supporters after announcing the launch of his political party in Chennai, India, December 31, 2017. – Photo Credit: P. Ravikumar/Reuters

CHENNAI, INDIA – Rajinikanth made his long-awaited political debut on Sunday morning, confirming his decision to turn neta to the wild acclaim of fans gathered at a wedding hall in Chennai. He could just as well have playing one of his hugely popular characters, and making his first on-screen appearance in a new release.

On what Rajinikanth rasigars feverishly call "FDFS" – first day, first show – their shows of adulation for "Thalaivar" border on the reverential. Not too long ago, another actor-turned-politician, Jayalalithaa, also commanded such devotion from her followers.

It is the void left by Jayalalithaa's death that makes Rajinikanth's entry into the messy world of politics so fascinating. In the past year, the AIADMK split and patched up, watched a court acquit leaders of the DMK in a case that lost the Congress an parliamentary election, and – this is arguably the biggest blow of all – lost Jayalalithaa's assembly seat to a man who is persona non grata in the party.

Can Rajinikanth now rise to the occasion, form an effective team, and win the next assembly election (which a trust vote, if held, could precipitate)? He'll have to face five main challenges first.


The BJP, arguably India's most formidable election-winning machine, relies on a booth committee model. As Uday Mahurkar wrote for our magazine after BJP won in Uttar Pradesh this year, Amit Shah had instructed the state unit to create such committees, each of which consists of "21 members" with a double role: canvassing and getting out the vote.

The lesson? Hard work at the grassroots level matters. The bad news for Rajinikanth: the AIADMK and the DMK, and several other parties, have been in the game for decades.

Rajinikanth may enjoy demi-god status, but will all the euphoria surrounding his debut translate into votes? The actor will need an experienced core team, which can help him consolidate a party at the grassroots level. And even if he hires the right people, will he have time to do enough before Tamil Nadu votes for a new legislature?


Some may wonder if Rajinikanth's health (He is 67) will be a factor when he begins crisscrossing Tamil Nadu to build his party and campaigns. But then again, Prime Minister Modi, a man well-known for his tireless campaigning and international travel, is also 67. In fact, Modi's canvassing blitz in Gujarat ahead of the December vote could very well have shaped the BJP's fortunes in his home state.


Rajinikanth was born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in Bengaluru, in a Marathi family. In May this year, he proclaimed that the was a "pachai Tamizhan," – a true Tamilian.

The Opposition may try to use his non-Tamil origins against him, but he can always turn to the example of Jayalalithaa and MGR. The first was a Tamil Brahmin, but one born in Karnataka. And the second, the chief minister who mentored Jayalalithaa, was a Malayali born in Sri Lanka.


Rajinikanth said today that he would "push for spiritual politics without caste or religious leanings." At least two top BJP leaders from Tamil Nadu congratulated him on his debut. And RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy tweeted this: "Rajni's entry into TN politics will hopefully bring about tectonic changes in the 60 year old frozen Dravidian politics. His spiritual politics is nearer to Mod(i)' s than to any one else in Tamil nadu or outside."

If Rajinikanth's politics begins to acquire a saffron hue, he risks losing minority voters. It remains to be seen whether such a thing happens.


A recent bypoll in Chennai's RK Nagar had to be rescheduled after the Election Commission uncovered evidence of corruption and bribery. Things didn't get any better before the second vote. India Today broadcast an expose on voter fraud just days before the election, which TTV Dhinakaran comfortably won.

Rajinikanth told his supporters today that he wanted "guards" to stop those wielding their influence and power. "In the name of democracy, politicians are robbing us of our own money on our own land," he lamented. And he promised to quit in three years if he couldn't "do justice" to the people of Tamil Nadu.

These lofty words must have gladdened hearts in the wedding hall where Rajinikanth made the biggest political announcement of the year. But what is his game plan? How precisely does Rajinikanth hope to change the way politics is done?

One of his best-loved characters, Muthu, famously said "Nobody knows when I will come, or how. But I will come – at the right time."

Millions of Tamils will hope he can turn those legendary words into transparent politics, and – who knows? – good governance.

Courtesy/Source: India Today