Rajinikanth seems to have realised that there are no short cuts to power

Veteran Tamil actor, Rajinikanth, has again revealed his mercurial character by dropping his plan to float a political party in January 2021. His decision came as an anti-climax to his hyped-up political venture, after his announcement on December 3. Even though his reasons, including his fragile health and the threat of the new COVID-19 strain, are well-known, his supporters had been hoping that the septuagenarian-actor, who has had a kidney transplant, would provide a credible third political force in Tamil Nadu, where duopoly has been the norm for over 40 years. The States political landscape will now continue to be dominated by the two established players, the ruling AIADMK and the DMK, which together cornered around 63% of votes polled in 10 Assembly elections held since 1977. Smaller parties will now be forced to operate within this limited space. The BJP, which was perceived to be the one that was behind Mr. Rajinikanths political venture, is hopeful of getting his endorsement at the time of Assembly election, slated for April-May 2021. But even if he does back any front, it is unlikely to be a decisive factor, as his statement against former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was during the 1996 Assembly election. His support to the BJP-AIADMK front during the 2004 Lok Sabha election failed to convince voters when the DMK-led combine won all the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
The episode is an opportunity for those seeking to build a viable alternative to the Dravidian parties to look beyond the film industry. Cinematic charisma cannot make up for the lack of political acumen and grass-roots work. Any political movement will have to be built up by articulating public grievances and livelihood concerns, and representing popular aspirations and the desire for progressive change. Mr. Rajinikanth had no concrete programme to offer other than a vague promise of spiritual politics and a crusade against corruption. Although Tamil Nadu is well placed on development indicators, it has had its share of chronic issues: inter-district variations in maternal mortality ratio and infant mortality ratio, intra-district inequity in access to health care, a gap in income between districts and a rising urban population. The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the economically weak. These issues, which are being addressed by the established parties, could have been the basis for the politics of a third formation. But, evidently, the actor was hoping to take a short cut to power by riding on the back of his fan clubs, whose members were from different social milieus. Such a strategy was bound to fail. And, Mr. Rajinikanth, looking for power to be handed over to him on a platter, must have realised his years in the film industry had hardly prepared him for the rough and tumble of political life where very little goes according to the script.