Aiming for the mass leader’s vote bank

By declaring that he aspired to revive MGR rule in Tamil Nadu, actor Rajinikanth on Monday triggered a debate on whether or not he was seeking to claim the political legacy of M.G. Ramachandran, the charismatic cine star-turned-Chief Minister and founder of the AIADMK.

That his first public function since he announced his political plunge on December 31, 2017, happened to be the unveiling of MGR’s statue, only lent credence to such speculation.

In fact, Mr. Rajinikanth anticipated that his actions could be interpreted as an attempt to cut into the AIADMK vote bank. He made a reference to it in his speech but merely laughed it off in his trademark style without choosing to offer any counter.

Ever since MGR died in December 1987, a number of leaders had made attempts to inherit and appropriate his legacy.

Even DMDK founder Vijayakant, who is also from the film industry, in his formative period as a political leader, sought to project himself as ‘Black MGR’ prompting Jayalalithaa to launch a scathing attack on him. She had declared that she was the sole inheritor of MGR’s legacy and “we can only have instant coffee and not instant leaders”.

So long as Jayalalithaa was alive, no other person could succeed in inheriting the legacy. With her death in December 2016 coupled with the absence of charismatic leaders in the ruling party, the field has again become open to others.

Films as propaganda tool

Commenting on Monday’s development, Vaigaichelvan, former Minister, said people could see through the game of those who were trying to make use of MGR’s reputation for their “selfish, political interests.” He recalled that R.M. Veerappan and Su. Thirunavukkarasar (known as Thirunavukkarasu till late 1990s), who were Ministers in the MGR Cabinet, on quitting the AIADMK, had even named their parties after the former Chief Minister but they could not emerge as major political forces.

C. Ponnaiyan, who was also part of the MGR Cabinet, explained that unlike Mr. Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan, the former Chief Minister had used his film career as a propaganda tool for his political agenda. This was why he could achieve “phenomenal success” after he launched the AIADMK.

However, Mohan Raman, film and television personality, said no great meaning was needed to be attached to the action of Mr. Rajinikanth.

“As a film star, he paid tributes to the one who was a towering figure in the Indian cinema. As a politician, Mr. Rajinikanth is attempting to get the attention of MGR followers, just as he would do in respect of those who emulate B.R. Ambedkar or any other leader.”