In their long movie careers Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have acted together only in 13 films, the last many years ago. In many of them they have played adversaries; when they chose to chart their own paths as icons of Tamil cinema competing for the box office pie, they emerged as friendly rivals. Again, when they decided, separately, to take the political plunge, they consulted each other. But, recently, the two hinted that they might, after all, join hands in their political battle with the two Dravidian majors in the state. “If there is a need Rajini and I shall join hands for the welfare of the people of the state,” Kamal said recently, something that was readily endorsed by Rajinikanth.
Both cited a political vacuum in the state after the demise of Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi as the reason for their political entry, which had riled the two successors—chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and DMK leader M.K. Stalin. While DMK leaders and its allies claimed that Stalin had successfully filled the void and swept the Lok Sabha elections, EPS hit out, recalling how even a great actor like Sivaji Ganesan failed to make a mark in politics. “Not everyone can be an MGR or a Jayalalitha to be successful in both films and politics,” Palaniswami remarked.
But an undeterred Rajinikanth retorted that just as an EPS had miraculously emerged as the chief minister in 2017 and remained in power for over two years, similar political miracles would happen in the state—meaning his own likely emergence as chief minister shortly after launching his party. Clearly, the possibility of Rajini and Kamal striking a political alliance has unnerved the AIADMK and DMK. “If the two stars really come together it could create a new kind of political momentum that would upset the calculations of the two Dravidian parties who are used to facing off against each other at the expense of a third force. If these two stars actually join hands they could mount a serious challenge as a viable alternative to the DMK and AIADMK,” says film historian G. Dhananjayan.
Kamal, who was first off the blocks to launch his party, the Makkal Needhi Mayiam, and contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, might need Rajinikanth’s mass appeal to be relevant in the assembly elections. Though Kamal’s party failed to win any seat it emerged third in 13 seats, notching up over 10 per cent votes in four of them. Overall, it polled just about five per cent votes, which would not suffice to make a mark. Rajinikanth is expected to launch his own party sometime in 2020, ahead of the assembly elections in 2021. Though he has declared that he would contest all 234 seats he would be amenable to accommodate allies if that would give him a better shot at power.
Of course, a few issues need to be sorted out. Ideologically, the two are like chalk and cheese. Kamal is a rationalist while Rajinikanth is avowedly spiritual. Kamal’s politics is centrist while Rajini proposes a new kind of ‘spiritual politics’ rooted in ethical values. Kamal has to accept a secondary role in the alliance at the cost of his chief ministerial ambitions. “At 70, Rajinikanth would be a one-election player and so has to extract the maximum mileage out of his political journey. For the same reason, Kamal needs to be the number two, hoping to step into Rajini’s shoes when he leaves the political stage. Also, in spite of being an early mover, Kamal’s party cannot go beyond 10 per cent and needs the Rajini magic to propel it further,” says political observer Rangaraj Pandey.
But Karate Thiagarajan, former deputy mayor of Chennai feels that Kamal would become irrelevant once Rajinikanth enters the fray and emerges as the main challenger to the DMK. “Since Rajini would also cut into the anti-incumbency votes that would otherwise go to the DMK, it would like to woo Kamal, hoping he can bolster their voteshare in urban sssembly seats. Ideologically too, Kamal would find it easier to fit into the DMK-led alliance of the Congress and Communists,” he said.
But a Rajini-Kamal combo would create a buzz that could upset the Dravidian parties’ traditional ways of electioneering and even neutralise their cash-for-vote methods. No wonder, AIADMK ministers are volubly criticising the two stars, saying that they would be no match for the nuances of electoral politics that the AIADMK had learnt from MGR and Jayalalitha. But their response is a tell-tale sign of a fear that the absence of a charismatic leader like Jayalalitha could make them vulnerable against the star power of Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.
By G.C. Shekhar in Chennai