On the face of it, superstar Rajinikanth’s announcement that he has dropped the idea of joining politics appears like an anticlimax after a dramatic build-up over the launch date for his new political party; a classic U-turn by the matinee idol developing cold feet after coming tantalisingly close to donning a new role. However, a closer look at his mystic persona reveals that he has been a reluctant groom all along when it came to marrying his superstardom with electoral politics. After allowing himself to be projected as a suitable boy, he withdrew himself into his shell several times in the past, resembling someone who has a ‘commitment phobia’. There was always an element of practised evasiveness towards the idea of embracing politics. The occasional loaded one-liners and calls for a new brand of politics left millions of his fans asking for more. Even after making a definite announcement in December 2017 that he would take the political plunge to clean up the system and usher in change, there was no follow-up in terms of building an organisational structure or unveiling any alternative agenda. As months passed by, all that happened were non-committal press conferences that kept up suspense, delayed responses to public events, and wading into the controversy surrounding public protests against expansion of Sterlite copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi which, however, backfired. It was becoming increasingly clear that the superstar was at best a reluctant politician.
Rajinikanth may have attained the status of a demi-god in the eyes of his countless fans but he remains as vulnerable and as troubled by self-doubt as any other mortal. The fear of failure can be crushing for someone like Rajinikanth who has a larger-than-life image and is unprepared for the rough and tumble of politics. While his followers may look up to him as a messiah who can bring transformation with the wave of a hand, the self-made star with extraordinary humility knows his limitations. More than the health reasons that the 70-year-old cited for not taking the political plunge, it is the tentativeness of his approach and obscure aloofness that make him unsuitable to electoral politics. In a State that is dominated by Dravidian politics, Rajinikanth is a rank outsider in terms of linguistic and ideological identity. Unlike many other superstars who used propagandist scripts as a vehicle to enter politics, he courted an unaffiliated form of entertainment that was more cathartic than ideological. He can neither fit into the Dravidian brand of politics nor can he completely allow himself to be used by the BJP seeking to make inroads into Tamil Nadu. As one satirical social media post puts it, “Only Rajinikanth can exit politics without entering it.”
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