By Papri Sri Raman
It is poll time in Tamil Nadu and it is natural that some answers are sought about the land, where people are known to be star-crazy, and this is the State that has elected film stars as leaders for more than half a century.
So, let us try to understand why the BJP does not quite understand Tamil Nadu.
Why remaining diverse is important for the southern States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, with just 2 per cent Brahmins, almost 7 per cent Christians and about 8 per cent Muslims and 80 per cent literate?
Why Rajinikanth is not MGR?
Why BJP is not fielding Hema Malini, a blue-blooded daughter of Tamil Nadu, to campaign in Tamil in the State, if not as its CM face in lieu of Jayalalithaa. Why the actor Khushbu Sundar (Nakhat Khan), who joined the BJP after moving from party to party, is not the party’s face, though she claims she was inspired by Jayalalithaa to join politics.
If the BJP can resurrect the aging hotelier Mithun Chakraborty from the hills of the Nilgiris and Shibani Bagchi’s daughter Smriti Irani to speak Bangla in the Bengal campaigns, why are the feisty Vaijayanthimalas and beautiful Rekhas not on its side? Why are stars like Vijay, Surya, Madhavan, Dhanush not on its side? Why did it bank on 71-year-old Rajinikanth? Why did the party not promote any of his talented daughters?
Till the 2016 assembly polls, when Jayalalithaa was alive, the AIADMK refused to ally actively with the BJP, which will now contest 20 MLA seats and the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seats. (The AIADMK had 124 seats and DMK 97, not a huge difference and it was clear the vote had been for Jayalalithaa both in 2015 and 2016.) In the 2019 LS polls the DMK won 38 seats out of 39. Pon Radhakrishnan, a BJP points person in Tamil Nadu, has been trying to keep one seat warm for the party since 1991 but won the Nagercoli seat only after the Advani visit and communal riots in the textile town of Coimbatore, when he had fifty per cent of votes. In 2014, he won from Kanyakumari but his vote share was down to 37 per cent and he lost the seat in the 2019 LS polls.
Every politician needs to be viewed in perspective. No politician is a one-off entity. A writer’s job is to excavate the context, the times, and the political atmosphere and from that debris build the edifice. To understand Tamil Nadu, one must first look at MGR, its first star CM.
MG Ramachandran was Sri Lanka born, to a Malayali Nair family from the border district of Palakkad, where people are naturally bilingual. Brought up by a single mother, he started acting in plays at school. The poor and lower middle-class in Tamil Nadu empathised with single mothers, single women and their struggles in the 1970s, ’80s and 1990s, when the battle against poverty touched every household. MGR and Jayalalithaa were both products of patriarch-less households.
MGR joined the Congress party in the 1930s, infused by Gandhian ideals. Periyar, EV Ramasamy Naicker, was also a Congressman to begin with. MGR’s first film in 1936 was Sathi Leelavathi. He had been active in Tamil Nadu politics for a decade and was a witness to the first anti-Hindi struggle. By 1940s, he was the heartthrob of millions of women viewers, delivering heart-wrenching dialogues written by his friend M Karunanidhi. To understand their relationship, one needs to watch Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar (1997, Iddaru in Telugu) which maps the Dravidian Movement with its lead players MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. (Malyalam actor Mohanlal played MGR and Prakash Raj, Karunanidhi. Aisharya Rai played the young Jayalalithaa and Pushpa, MGR’s first wife. The BJP has not even brought in Kangana Ranaut who plays Jayalalithaa in the latest biopic as campaigner.)
When MGR joined the DMK in 1953, the DMK had begun to pitch the Tamil language, regional autonomy, voice of the global Tamil diaspora role for itself. Karunanidhi was already C N Annadurai’s protégé. It was no surprise that for the second and third anti-Hindi agitations, the key players were the script writer and actor who propelled the DMK to power in 1965. All players in TN politics should keenly study why regional politics need to be respected. Just speaking Tamil from a teleprompt lesson can never be enough where CM Jayalalithaa spoke seven languages, including Hindi and English. MGR was still the top star (only 50 at the time). And his leading lady by 1967 was Jayalalithaa, an impressionable teenager.
Shot by M R Radha, a fellow actor, MGR lost his voice, but contested the State election from his hospital bed, his fans and the DMK playing his films for thousands of viewers. This is how charisma entered the legislative assembly.
Once Karunandhi became the chief minister, MGR realised, he was the DMK’s star attraction. He accused Karunanidhi of corruption in 1972 and formed his own party, the AIADMK. He had a huge fan following which he could convert into a votebank. He had been in grassroot politics for more than 25 years, as CM he steered the mid-day meal scheme that UNICEF adopted globally.
Rajinikanth is a Gaekwad from Maharashtra translocated in Bangalore. He has not been in grassroot politics and cannot contest and win constituencies like Bodinakkanur or Kanagayam like MGR or Jayalalithaa could. If you look at his filmography, at least a dozen films are remakes of Bollywood films and his Japanese fans are not voters. The BJP cannot draw voters by showing his films.
Rajinikanth is not politically courageous. Actors like Vijaykanth, Kamalahaasan, Sarathkumar have floated their own parties and criticised Rajinikanth as have parties like the PMK for promoting smoking and drinking in films. Rajinikanth’s first film was in 1975, when Jayalalithaa was at the peak of stardom and MGR was Indira Gandhi’s friend. Rajinikanth kept away from politics. His first political statement was in 1996, when he said, ‘Even God cannot save Tamil Nadu if AIADMK returns to power’. This anger against Jayalalithaa had come because Rajinikanth’s cavalcade was stopped in Poes Garden at the time, when CM Jayalalithaa was returning home. That cannot be the reason for political opposition and supporting DMK.
No matter how many convictions in corruption cases, the AIADMK voter also knows that their Amma, Jayalalithaa had been the leading lady of Tamil cinema for 15 years, had her own funds when she joined the AIADMK in 1981, helped AIADMK win the Tiruchendur polls, represented the party in Parliament, made friends with Rajiv Gandhi and was instrumental in getting MGR to the Brooklyn Hospital in New York with the centre’s help. Whether benefits to film industry and artistes, land for blood bank or spastic children, the cradle baby scheme, bicycles for girls, one rupee rice, it was Jayalalithaa who was the social welfare fairy till 2016. Rajini has no such records. He is simply not bankable. (IPA Service)
The writer is the author of the coffee-table book, Jayalalithaa – a journey.