Rajini revives debate on film stars entering politics

Veteran actor Rajinikanth’s just-concluded “meet and greet” session with his fans from across Tamil Nadu has revived once again the debate over whether film artistes should join politics. The development has to be seen in the light of media reports in recent times about the possibility of younger actors like Vijay and Ajith Kumar taking a plunge into politics.

The State has a seven-decade long involvement of film stars in State politics, starting from K.B. Sundarambal and V. Nagaiah, who were used by the Congress in the 1937 elections to the Assembly of the then Madras Presidency.

Captain’s case

If one were to look into the last 15 years of State politics, the case of Vijayakant, as an independent political force, is noteworthy.

In the beginning, the performance of his party — Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam — was quite impressive, as it polled, on its own, 8.38% of votes cast in the 2006 Assembly polls and 10.1% in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Seven years later, however, Mr. Vijayakant has become an insignificant player.

The reactions of some parties including the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) to Mr. Rajinikanth’s programme were on expected lines. The PMK youth wing leader Anbumani Rammadoss had expressed his criticism that the influence of film stars should not, any longer, continue in the State, while Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) general secretary D. Ravikumar has tweeted that a “charismatic authority” should not be allowed to override “rational authority,” as envisaged in the Constitution.

Not surprised about the strong responses of some parties, S. Theodore Baskaran, film historian, says even K. Kamaraj, former Chief Minister and Congress leader, was once dismissive of the role of film stars in politics.

But, the same man had turned to ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan during the 1971 general elections. Mr. Baskaran, however, asserts that through their participation in politics, film artistes, both in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in the country, have used their popularity as stars to gain “respectability and power that goes with that.”

A.Gopanna, long-time member of the Congress, concedes that Kamaraj did not make Sivaji Ganesan a key office-bearer of the Congress despite using the services of the latter for propaganda.

Acknowledging that the State is now suffering from a vacuum in political leadership, Mr. Gopanna feels that no film star can fill it. He is hopeful of the emergence of a leader from the existing political set-up.

Amshan Kumar, Tamil writer and maker of several documentaries, says that even though it appears that Mr. Rajinikanth has not yet made up his mind about joining politics, it will be quite possible for him, in the event of his entry, to cut into the vote base of both the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to some extent. He does not approve of opposition to Mr. Rajinikanth or any other film artiste desiring to take the plunge merely on the ground that they are from the film industry.

R. Thangathurai, an observer of Tamil Nadu politics, says State politics will continue to be dominated by the two principal players — the AIADMK and the DMK.

It would be next to impossible for Mr. Rajinikanth to defeat both and emerge as the major force.

Example from A.P.

Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao, Vijayawada-based political commentator, cites the example of the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP)’s founder Chiranjeevi in undivided Andhra Pradesh. Though the PRP won 18 seats in the 2009 Assembly polls with 16.32% of votes, Mr. Chiranjeevi could barely run the party for a few years. He says the film star had perhaps thought that he could capture power in his first attempt, just as N.T. Rama Rao of the Telugu Desam Party did in 1983. “The possibility of a setback in electoral politics can be one of the reasons for the apparent reluctance of Rajinikanth,” Mr. Rao adds.