For more than two decades Rajinikanth has kept his fans and the people of Tamil Nadu waiting for his entry into politics. He had given the first hint about his interest in politics in 1995 and has since then kept the matter alive but refrained from taking the plunge. He had once supported the DMK against the AIADMK but made up with Jayalalithaa later. He has been wooed by many but for the biggest superstar of Tamil cinema joining another party was out of the question. Being the most eligible candidate for politics in the state he would only form his own party, and that is what Rajini announced on New Year's eve. He will be there at the front leading his own battalions when the next assembly elections will be fought. The elections are not due before 2021, but given the precarious nature of the present government they may be held earlier, too.
Rajinikanth may have thought the time is now right, more than at any time in the recent past, to make an entry. The DMK is in a transition, with long-time supremo M Karunanidhi moving behind the scenes and Stalin taking over. The AIADMK is in the thick of a factional war, with two factions in an uneasy alliance forming a government and TTV Dhinakaran posing a challenge to that already uneasy combine. Other parties do not count for much in the state. Rajini may have calculated that he could gain from the uncertainty and fill the vacuum as he is much more visible and charismatic than any other leader in any field of life in the state. There is not just a crisis of leadership in the state but a mood of disillusionment and cynicism about politics. That makes the milieu right for the arrival of the superman.
The 67-year-old star has the advantage that he has acceptability across castes, communities and classes, and he has a great image and a huge fan following. But there are big challenges, too. A fan following cannot easily be converted into a political party. Politics and governance pose their own demands and difficulties. Film stars have always had an advantage in Tamil politics, but Karunanidhi had a grounding in social struggles and MGR had political and ministerial experience before they gained prominence or formed parties. Another superstar Kamal Haasan is also planning to form a party. More importantly, a party should have an agenda and a platform to project to the people. Rajini is vague about what he stands for. It is too early to say whether his party will click with the people or not, but it is bound to disrupt the state's familiar politics.