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'Rajinikanth is certainly stirring the pot'

December 04, 2020 10:24 IST
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'There will be significant political traction for him. But how much, we don't know yet.'

IMAGE: Rajinikanth shows the Apana Mudra during a press conference to announce the launch of his political party in Chennai, December 3, 2020. The actor had used the mudra extensively in his 2002 film, Baba. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo

The Tamil Nadu assembly election slated for May 2021 will be keenly watched for many reasons.

For one, it will be the first time in decades that neither of the two main contenders, the ruling All India Munnetra Kazhagam and the Opposition DMK, will be facing an assembly election without their iconic leadership.

Consequently, it will also be the first time that the electorate will be voting more on ideology and policy than personalities.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's determined bid to improve its position in the state adds an extra dimension to the election.

Home Minister Amit Amilchandra Shah's recent foray into the state when the AIADMK leadership announced alliance with the BJP for the assembly election, has put an extra spring in the step of BJP supporters in the state.

This week, in fact, has seen three developments that are bound to have an impact on the election.

One, Madurai-based M K Azhagiri, DMK president M K Stalin's estranged brother who was exiled by their father M Karunanidhi, announced his intention to float a political party.

Two, former chief minister J Jayalalithaa's confidante VK Sasikala, who was jailed for corruption, moved the court for remission of her pending prison term and if accepted, she could be free any time now.

The third, and the biggest, development has to be movie superstar Rajinikanth's announcement on Thursday that he will set up a political party in January 2021 and fight the assembly elections.

Analysing these developments is Dr Sumanth Raman. a seasoned observer of Tamil Nadu politics.

In an interview to A Ganesh Nadar/, Dr Raman says, "If the AIADMK-BJP wants to win, they will have to split the minority vote (15%) which goes almost in toto to the DMK-Congress alliance."

So, Rajinikanth has finally ended his decades of suspense, and said he will launch a party, contest the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.
A case of too little, too late, you think?

No, I think he will make an impact. How big an impact depends on what his party's stand will be on various issues.

Depends on whether he is going to go alone or end up aligning with one of the two fronts.

A newbie launching a new party, with new office-bearers, none of who will probably have any political experience. Unless you count running a nadigar mandram (actor's fan club) makes up for running a political party, isn't it?

Maybe experienced politicians from other parties will join him. We don't know yet. We have some time to see who will join him.

The biggest muhurtham (auspicious days) dates in January are on 25th and 27th, but he might not wait that long. He might launch earlier, and only after he launches will we know who is in the party with what experience.

Rajnikanth's last few films didn't exactly set the Cauvery on fire. Do you think he is reading too much into his political adulation?

He will definitely make a big impact if he plays his cards right. We will have to wait and see.

Tamilaruvi Manian, his closest advisor, is known to be a person of integrity.

‘Honest, upright, corruption-free, transparent, secular-spiritual politics’ he said on Twitter. Possible? How long do you think before reality will bite?

So far, no political party has attacked him. Now people will attack him, his party, his friends and family.

We will have to see how he stands up to that.

In a state known for language chauvinism, a non-Tamil is doing the unthinkable, never mind he is Tamil Nadu's beloved superstar. Do you think his origin will become an issue in the heat and dust of electioneering?

No, that will not be an issue. MGR (former chief minister and AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran, a Keralite) and (AIADMK leader) Jayalalithaa (a Kannadiga) did not have that problem, Rajini (born Shivaji Gaekwad, a Maharashtrian from Karnataka) also won't.

His victory or defeat will not be decided by the outsider tag.

Do you think next year's elections will still be a 2-horse race between the AIADMK and DMK, or will these new entrants and smaller parties ruin their party, no pun intended?

Rajinikanth is certainly stirring the pot. There will be significant political traction for him. But how much, we don't know yet.

And what is Azhagiri playing for? At the peak of his power his area of influence was restricted to a few districts around Madurai, so why is he contemplating a political entry? Only to stymie his brother?
Will he weaken the DMK in crucial seats? Will he ally with the NDA?

Azhagiri does not have a large base. Many of his loyalists have shifted to Stalin's side. Don't know how many are still with him.

As a member of the family he may embarrass Stalin. He cannot take away a large chunk of DMK votes.

The NDA will want him to contest alone or with others to split the DMK vote.

What will Sasikala's return impact be on the AIADMK? Will she attempt a coup?

There are rumours that she will not get into politics before the elections. She has many cases still against her. She might not want to take on the Centre now.

The AIADMK is much stronger today than it was two-and-a-half years ago. (Chief Minister) EPS (Edappadi K Palaniswami) has been praised in the last one year.

There is no crisis for her to come and solve.

Do you think Kamal Haasan's party, the Makkal Needhi Maiam, has seen any significant growth in the last couple of years?

I don't think so. He has continued in his frame. He has continued with his work.

In an assembly election people vote for the winner, and apart from the two major fronts other players will get very few votes.

Kamal Haasan will get some votes in urban areas, but not enough to win a seat.

Will the three-language formula that the Centre insists on and Tamil Nadu rejects play a major role in the elections?

The Centre will not insist on the three-language policy.

Even in the NEP (new education policy), Tamil Nadu has already rejected the three-language formula.

That will not be an issue.

Religious mobilisation has never worked in Tamil Nadu, so why did the BJP embark on the Vel Yatra?

They will get some votes, if it takes them from 3.5% to a little more. In a close fight they might make a difference.

They can make a difference in some areas like western Tamil Nadu. With the AIADMK, they plan to get a sizeable number of seats there.

Considering how the Congress pulled down the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, do you think the DMK will give fewer seats to it in Tamil Nadu?

The Congress will not settle for anything less than 25 or 30 seats.

The Congress might ask for power-sharing in a coalition government if offered less than that.

For the Congress the advantage is that for the DMK it is a very important election as they have been out of power for 10 years.

Do you think the handling of the pandemic is a plus point for the AIADMK?

It is a plus point, definitely. In an India Today survey Tamil Nadu was second best in handling the crisis. Even the prime minister has praised them.

After the initial faltering they have handled it well.

The government's performance in the last one-and-a-half years has been very impressive in investment and in handling Cyclone Nivar.

Will the mobilising of votes be different this time because of the pandemic?

Already small political rallies are happening. I expect a relatively normal campaign.

Will the pandemic and restrictions affect the voting percentage?

I don't think so. Elders will get postal votes. Over 70% voting will take place.

Distributing money is part of Tamil Nadu elections for the past few years, will the pandemic affect that?

I don't this pandemic or any other pandemic can affect money distribution in Tamil Nadu.

They will seize large amounts of cash, but they will not be able to stop local distribution.

Has the situation in Tamil Nadu changed since the Lok Sabha election when the DMK overwhelmed the AIADMK?

Most certainly, the situation has changed. At that time T T V Dhinakaran had taken away a chunk of votes, which must have now returned to the AIADMK.

Anti-incumbency against the state government is much less now.

What is the key to the assembly election in 2021?

If the AIADMK-BJP wants to win, they will have to split the minority vote (15%) which goes almost in toto to the DMK-Congress alliance.

That is the key to this election.

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