Fans protest after Rajinikanth abandons political plans

BANGALORE – Mr Rajan RS, a 49-year-old real estate dealer and superfan of Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, wants to make one thing clear: Only true fans, not troublemakers, are protesting the actor’s announcement withdrawing his plans to enter politics.

Mr Rajan was boarding a bus to Chennai from Kanyakumari where he was the district organiser for the Rajini Makkal Mandram, the actor’s official fan club.

He was going to join thousands in the capital city on Monday to demand that their beloved actor contest elections as planned.

Fans of the superstar known for his swashbuckling style and firecracker delivery have long wanted him to contest elections in Tamil Nadu. But from making big political statements in his movies, occasionally voicing his preference for candidates, to claiming he was too spiritual for politics, Mr Rajinikanth himself has blown hot and cold about running for office.

In 2017, however, the 70-year-old actor promised to launch a political party. On Dec 31 last year, he was to announce the party’s name.

Then, days before, he changed his mind. Admitted to hospital for high blood pressure while shooting a film, Mr Rajinikanth cited his failing health as a “warning from god” to quit politics.

“I know that I might upset a lot of my fans… with this decision but I don’t want to ruin the lives of thousands by picking up something I cannot fulfil. Despite the upcoming (Covid-19) vaccine, it is still not the right time to be out in public and put many lives in danger,” he wrote in a statement.

With that, the superstar brought 30 years of speculation about this political career to an abrupt end.

Mr Rajan was heartbroken. Like many other fans, he felt a loss of purpose.

“The day Rajini sir said he would launch a party and herald clean politics in Tamil Nadu, we burst crackers. I quit my senior role in the state Congress party and dedicated myself to making him the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 2021,” said Mr Rajan.

Tamil Nadu has long voted its cinema heroes to political power. With the death of both Mr M Karunanidhi and Ms J Jayalalithaa, the warring iconic leaders that ruled the state by turn for decades, political observers believed that there was no better time than the upcoming 2021 state legislature polls for Mr Rajinikanth to try his luck.

For one thing, he is wildly popular. There are 50,000 registered Rajinikanth fan clubs. “There might be an equal number of unofficial fan clubs,” said Chennai-based Mr Ramki, a fan and a writer.

In the past three years, his fans have tried to build an electoral infrastructure to support him.

“We built booth-level election committees in almost all 234 constituencies in the state. If Rajinikanth enters politics, he has to win,” said Mr Subramaniam R, a fan from Chennai.

The actor’s close associate and Tamil scholar Tamilaruvi Manian said that the party bylaws, policies and draft manifesto were ready in Dec 2019. Last year, the Rajini fan club renamed itself the Rajini People’s Forum, signalling a changed ambition.

Mr Rajinikanth also appointed a chief coordinator for his yet-to-be-launched party, a former state functionary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. All that was left was to announce the party’s name.

“The fan associations had expanded their routine charitable activities to strengthening their political base, especially in the past six months under the pandemic, to show his seriousness about politics,” said Mr Ramki.

But the actor’s overnight announcement only confirmed that he, ultimately, was reluctant about politics.

When some fans announced a massive protest, others called such behaviour disobedient.

“The views expressed by such individuals do not reflect our official position in such matters,” Mr VM Sudhakar, administrator of the All India Rajinikanth Fans Association said in a press release.

But, “it is not anger or arrogance but affection and hope that is making us do this peaceful protest,” said Mr Rajan.

Hundreds of fans from all 38 districts are now on buses and trains to Chennai, hoping to get their star to once again change his mind.

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