Much as actor Rajinikanth tries to cover up his BJP tag, the issue keeps cropping up every now and then, blocking the growth of his political party. His statement a few days ago indirectly praising PM Narendra Modi is the latest in the saga of the actor taking one step forward but two steps back while trying to build an independent party in Tamil Nadu.
Time was when BJP leaders right from Vajpayee, Advani and Modi wooed Rajinikanth and tried to get him to join the BJP. The actor, who wears Hindutva on his sleeve, was seen by the saffron party as an ideal mascot for the BJP to improve its fortunes in southern India, where he has a large number of fans, especially in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Having been close to writer Cho, known for his proximity to the RSS, Rajni had been nurtured on Hindutva lines. His support to the DMK-TMC combine from 1996 to 1998 was apparently in response to Cho’s strategy of defeating the Congress in Tamil Nadu. At the time of the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, Rajni’s pro-BJP tilt came into the open, with his pre-election appeal to voters to cast votes in favour of the BJP. He made a similar appeal to the voters before the 2014 elections, and said Advani should and would become the next PM.
However, the BJP-AIADMK combine suffered a massive defeat in the 2004 elections, failing to win even a single seat in Tamil Nadu. Rajni was shattered by this defeat, prompting him to beat a hasty retreat from politics altogether. Prior to the 2014 elections, Modi visited Rajni’s residence but that as was far as Rajni would go to support the saffron party as he was not willing to antagonize AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa who was going it alone in 2014.
In the last few months too, the BJP has been mounting pressure on Rajni to join the BJP. However, the actor is keen on having his own party, as he is aware that the BJP has only limited presence in Tamil Nadu.
Some of his advisers have been suggesting that he would be better off running a separate party, and try to get leaders and workers from other parties to join his organization.
A BJP tag could cost him dearly, they have been telling him.
However, every now and then Rajni makes a statement indicating that he is close to the saffron party. When mediapersons asked him about the alliance of several parties against the BJP, Modi came out with a shocker that when ten persons opposed an individual, it showed who was stronger. He thereby indicated his support for Modi and the BJP.
This statement was immediately pounced upon by various parties to raise questions about his so-called independence and warned the people of Rajni’s pro-BJP designs.
Matters were made worse when Rajni claimed ignorance of the issue relating to “seven persons”, when a mediaperson asked him about his stand regarding release of seven persons in jail in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Political parties lashed out at Rajni for his “ignorance”.
The next day, State BJP president Tamizhisai told mediapersons that they should pose the same question again to Rajni and that they would get a better reply now. This indicated that Rajni had been tutored, probably by a BJP leader, on what he should say on the subject. That very day, Rajni called a for a press conference to give his views on the subject. All this further cemented the suspicion that Rajni was being operated by the BJP.
The actor could ill-afford the perception that he was a pawn of the BJP. His statement last week about Modi further accentuated his pro-BJP image and caused considerable demand to his plan to carve out a separate identity for himself.
Kamal Haasan, on the other hand, has been more focused in maintaining an independent profile, even though he began with sharp anti-BJP rhetoric. He, however, scaled down his anti-BJP stand to settle for a more acceptable centrist position. Traditionally, a slight left-of-centre position as opposed to an ultra left or ultra right stand, had generally worked for parties in India. It is a safer position to take. Kamal Haasan seems to have gone in for a course correction to settle down for this kind of a stand.
Rajni is not able to shake off the BJP colours, try as he might.