BJP Woos A Wary Rajinikanth In Tamil Nadu
NEW DELHI: Even with Amma Jayalalithaa gone, Chinnamma Sasikala in jail, the AIADMK factions on a leash held by Modi Sarkar, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi just about managing to hold together his warring offspring and the Congress party being reduced to irrelevance, the BJP stands little chance of wielding power in its own name in Tamil Nadu. The BJP knows this.
More than the Kazhagams, the people of Tamil Nadu are averse to the BJP. All the power, pomp and show of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have failed to sway the people of the state. To the contrary, the BJP has been alienating itself in Tamil Nadu by its Muslim baiting, futile attempts to rouse Hindus to the potential of Hindutva, the campaign against beef and cow slaughter and, above all, the notorious faux pas over Tamils though “black” being accepted and tolerated. This also the BJP knows.
Tamil superstar Rajinikanth also knows that the BJP can make no headway in Tamil Nadu on its own steam. He is all too aware that his joining the BJP, far from helping the saffron formation, would hurt his image and erode his own popularity among his fans. Hence, the odds are against his joining the BJP.
In the circumstances, the BJP and Rajinikanth, according to informed sources, are said to be working on Rajinikanth floating a new party. On current reckoning, this Rajini-led party, the BJP’s Tamil arm, is expected to be launched sometime in November. If it gathers steam in the months after its launch and the Karnataka assembly elections go in BJP’s favour, then the Modi-Shah duo expect conditions inTamil Nadu to turn ripe for elections.
Rajini is averse to joining the BJP or becoming its acknowledged face in Tamil politics. One, the Tamil voters are unlikely to take to the BJP. Two, the actor has supporters across the political spectrum. By casting his lot with any one party, he may lose the support of his fans in the other parties. The loss of his fans would hit the collections his films make in Tamil Nadu. His first concern is to ensure that his films are a success -- both at the box office and in the way they keep his fans worshipping him. In the event, the only option open to Rajinikanth to help the BJP is to launch his own party for serving the BJP’s interests in Tamil Nadu; and, if post-election conditions permit, then to ally with the BJP.
This plan is on the assumption that the faction-ridden AIADMK can break up any time. It is a full-time job for Modi Sarkar to keep the AIADMK intact – as it is doing now -- for “ensuring political stability” in Tamil Nadu. This situation ensures that all the AIADMK factions side with the BJP in critical situations such as the presidential and vice-presidential elections and voting in Parliament. Beyond that, although under the thumb of Modi Sarkar, it is the AIADMK and its factions, not the BJP, that gain in the process in every way. Thus, the BJP’s efforts benefit the AIADMK and its legislators to keep bargaining and negotiating, including among themselves -- to their advantage and to the detriment of the BJP and its growth in Tamil Nadu.
The BJP wants to end this state of drift as soon as possible, preferably after the Karnataka assembly elections in early 2018, and prepare for elections in Tamil Nadu. When it comes to the electoral crunch, the BJP’s reading is that the AIADMK would split into four: the ruling faction of Chief Minister E Palanisamy, which may remain the largest; the O Panneerselvam faction, now seen as the BJP’s fifth column; the T T V Dhinakaran faction perceived to be controlled by V K Sasikala; and, the faction led by Jayalalithaa’s niece, Deepa. Besides, these large ones, there might be smaller, assorted groups and individual players jockeying for survival.
The opposition DMK is expected to remain united and a force only as long as Karunanidhi remains at the helm. Thereafter, the DMK is also expected to split four-ways, with M K Stalin leading the dominant faction. The split in the two main Kazhagams would see a lot of traffic in many directions and with the DMDK’s Vijaykanth no longer a force to reckon with, Tamil Nadu may be face a leadership vacuum.
The BJP’s reading is that Rajinikanth can fill this political vacuum and mop up the AIADMK and DMK factions and their ground support at the “appropriate time”. In preparation for that, as of now, one window being talked about for Rajinikanth to launch his party is November 2017.
In 1996, Rajinikanth supported the DMK-TMC alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. The alliance won handsomely and Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK was routed. However, Rajinikanth proved to be a political flop in 2004. Vajpayee’s return was taken to be a foregone conclusion, and Rajinikanth jumped in to the fray and rooted for the Vajpayee-led NDA. The BJP not only lost the election but was wiped out in Tamil Nadu.
Of course, the outcome was blamed on the unpopularity of the AIADMK, with which the BJP had struck an alliance. For its part, the AIADMK attributed its defeat to the alliance with the BJP. Both BJP and AIADMK supporters, however, agreed that Rajinikanth was a paper tiger and not the political tide-turner or giant-killer , which he was made out to be.
In the years since then, Rajinikanth has gone on to taste greater success as a superstar. It remains to be seen whether he draws enough water in Tamil politics to break the hold of Dravida politics that has held sway since 1967. That depends on the time and the conditions when he takes the political plunge. Whether he will take the plunge at all depends on a host of other factors, including his health, his film commitments and the state of affairs in his family.
(Shastri Ramachandaran is a senior journalist with extensive experience in India and abroad)