Ten years ago…
I remember that day (April/May 1996), and that televised speech vividly. My grandfather was in hospital, and I was at my cousins. There was buzz all round that Rajnikanth might appear on TV to support the then recently formed DMK-TMC alliance. And appear he did. Rajnikanth, who had just had the biggest hit of his life yet (Baasha), was the toast of Tamil Nadu, and people were certain that he would mince no words about the unpopular ADMK government. He didn’t disappoint. The statement was made, and the DMK-TMC combine got a great boost. Not that they were on a sticky wicket before, but the support of a man of Rajni’s charisma does sway many.
Subsequent Rajni movies were huge hits and were sprinkled with generous amounts of anti-JJisms. No one was in any doubt who the inspiration behind Neelambari in Padayappa was. Padayappa was then the biggest grosser in the history of Tamil cinema. That was the moment. He had to decide. He missed the moment.
Doubts, doubts and doubts
For all his studied pragmatism on-screen, Rajnikanth failed to carry it into his real life. “Will he? Won’t he?” filled the air. Some said he would float a party and forge an alliance with the DMK. Others wished he would go it alone. Rajnikanth missed the boat at that moment. His doubts were compounded by the fact that the parties he placed faith in shifted alliances and allegiances at the drop of the hat.
The last blow came when the BJP and the DMK split, and Dr. Ramadoss’ PMK aligned itself with the DMK. The BJP sided with the ADMK. Rajnikanth’s friends were on either side, and in an uncalculated move, he released a statement that he would vote for the BJP, and that his supporters would work for the downfall of the PMK. Seasoned political watchers knew then that this man had gone to a point of no return. The BJP lost, and the DMK alliance romped home 40-nil.
What went wrong?
Rajnikanth became a victim of his own indecision. A man who spends 30 minutes of a two-and-a-half-hour movie deriding his political rivals would not be doing it just for fun. Thus, one cannot believe that he did things just to please his audience. There was a calculation behind his moves. Where he failed was to capitalise on the right moment to launch himself into the political arena.
In politics, survival demands a high degree of ruthlessness. As the strategists at Toyota will tell you, “Plan carefully, and implement rapidly.” The plan was careful, but the implementation never happened. The iron wasn’t struck when hot, and hence the man failed to strike gold!
Budding politicians should see a clear lesson in this. Charisma goes only half the way. It is like the business card. Unless it is backed by solid planning, flawless calculation and well-timed manoeuvres, it is of no use. It is sad that Rajnikanth, who might be one of the main characters in a book on Tamil cinema, will only be a forgotten footnote in a book on Tamil Nadu’s politics.
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