After a meeting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Home Minister Amit Shah announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution ending the special status and relative autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. and the division of the territory into two. While his friend and fellow traveller in movie stardom and in politics, Kamal Haasan has criticized this BJP policy as an assault on democracy, Rajnikanth has, sadly, approved. Taking the spiritual allegory of the Mahabharata, quite literal, to the contemporary battlefield, the fledgling politician is reported to have said that Modi and Amit Shah were like Krishna and Arjuna.
In my own view, this is an epic political fail for Thalaiva. I was, from some of his earlier pronouncements on religious and cast politics, envisioning a more humanistic and inclusive application of the traditional Hindu ethos in contemporary Indian Politics. Indeed Rajinikanth should be wary that he does not become a ‘wooden’ politician, particularly in the sense of becoming the Trojan horse that secrets BJP’s RSS/Arya Samaj saffron remix into the black atheist heart of the Dravida polity. Such an autocratic gesture from this second term Hindutva government bodes ill for the diversity that has characterized Indian politics since independence in 1947.
As far as Thalaiva’s entry into Tamil Nadu politics is concerned, I had hopes that Thalaiva would usher in a fresh spiritually motivated universalism to the tired atheist and ethnocentric Dravidianism that has shaped the modern state. I regret to note that, as his star glows with an increasingly saffron hue, my hope of Thalaiva becoming an exemplary post-traditional politician is fast reducing to just another fan-boy’s fantasy! Come on La … Thalaiva!!!
With days to go till the worldwide release of Kaala, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth gets asked the metaphysical question of his life – While on a visit to the victims of what a UN working group has called a police atrocity in the context of the 100 day environmental protest in Thoothukudi, a young man among the injured asked him – Yaar Nee Ayah? or Who are you sir? In my reading, the perfectly pitched question interrogates the capacity in which the Rajinikanth visit was being made – that of the Kollywood hero, the renowned philanthropist or, indeed, the newly minted politician!
This question, which should have come as no surprise as it was foreshadowed in celluloid, as represented in the image above, seems to have sent out Thalaivar into a tailspin. In subsequent interactions with the media Rajinikanth revealed a highly conservative streak … contrary to the image that the meticilous marketing campaign has built-up for the release of Kaala, whose revolutionary protagonist leads a ghetto uprising of the downtrodden, Rajinikanth seems to have a highly reactionary core. He blamed ‘anti-social elements’ amongst the protestors for the state violence – police shootings that left 13 protesters dead. He even seems to have said that continous uprisings will turn Tamil Nadu into a graveyard … Yikes!
In this double whammy of self-infliction, Rajinikanth seems to have squandered his capital in mass perception – the a unity of person and persona, that he has painstakingly built up over decades of cinematic imagineering … and as a consequence, film Kaala and his character in it, which have been promising great heft, suddenly seem hollow and feather light … more significantly Rajinikanth has revealed his so-called ‘Spiritual Politics’ to be, on this matter at least, fully aligned with the State AIADMK goverment and the BJP Federal government. Sadly Rajni also lost his temper with reporters breaking yet another invaluable image asset – that of the unworldly and unperturbed sage. How will the upcoming film, the Kaala character, the aspiring politician and the man recover from this … I for one will be following closely!
As Rajinikanth invests his SUPERSTAR capital in the Tamil Nadu political arena, there is a lot of speculation about his future allegiances and alignments. For those, who like me lament the rise of Hindu Nationalism in Indian politics, the concern is that the waning post-independence secularism in Tamil Nadu politics will finally be dissolved in an alliance between our Thalaivar and Narendra Modhi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In his speech announcing his entry into politics, Rajnikanth is reported to have said, “We have to create a spiritual politics with no caste and religion barrier. My cornerstones would be honesty, transparency, secularity and spiritual politics. Spiritual politics according to me means fair and just politics.” This statement seems wide open in its possible interpretations. Rajnikanth could indeed end up being , wittingly or otherwise, a Trojan Horse bearing Hindutva cadres into the hitherto atheistic milieu of Tamil Nadu politics. On the other hand, it is possible that his statement carries within it the promise of a new post-atheistic post-traditional polity – one that sets the Tamil peoples inherent sacral tendencies within a trans-communal and multi-religious ethos. It might seem be too much to ask of a mere movie star, but in the story of Tamil Nadu there have been no leaders as powerful as Annadurai, MGR, Karunanithi and Jayalalitha …..movie people all!