After ending years of suspense and drama, Rajinikanth has finally arrived at the scene, most cinematically though. For his loyal fans, this has been a big budget movie which has been long time in the making . Those who are overjoyed at Rajini’s historical move will now be remarking his epic punchline: “Late-a vanthalum latest-a varuven” (I will be the latest, even if I come late). Just as Rajini’s movies, his entry into politics will be marked by usual drama and suspense, for it has been 25 years in coming. It looks that the entire South India, not just Tamil Nadu, will now be curious about his next moves and how he will transform into a successful politician from his superstardom.

“It would be foolish to think that one is successful in politics due to one’s sheer capability, experience and hard work. It is all a question of time and circumstances. If the time is not right, nothing can help,” Rajini had said when a fan asked about his entry into politics in 2008. It has taken him 12 more years to believe the time is right now for the giant step. Apparently, many factors have played into Rajini’s foray into politics, prominent of which being Narendra Modi .

Rajinikanth had discussed his political debut in 1996 when Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister. Rao had Rajini on his mind as Congress-AIADMK alliance was planning to contest the 1996 Assembly election. Rajini had met Rao twice in the run-up to the polls in which the former promised the latter that he would campaign on television for the alliance. Rajini’s abrupt departure to the US, however, had upset the plans.

The split in the Tamil Nadu Congress and the formation of Tamil Manila Congress and the victory of the party in alliance with DMK have sabotaged further talks between the two. His famous quote, “If Jayalalithaa is voted back to power, even God cannot save Tamil Nadu,” is reported to have led to the failure of Congress-AIADMK alliance.

Rajini has been silent on the speculations on his political entry for almost six years since his disastrous plan in 1996. In 2002, he had planned to launch ‘People’s Movement’ on Cauvery issue and interlinking of Rivers, which he believed would end the water worries of the farmers in the state. Though it attained enormous political attention, Rajini continued to deny the reports about his political entry.

Rajini made the first public announcement for supporting a political party in 2004. He pledged his vote to BJP-AIADMK alliance in Lok Sabha polls that year, thinking BJP would take forward his demand for interlinking the rivers. He fell silent during the decade-long UPA rule in the Centre. In 2014, the rumour mills started rolling again when Modi visited him at his residence in Chennai. But he refused having any political connection to the visit, in a press meet with Modi.

It was in 2017 that Rajini announced his plans to form a political party. He said the party would contest in all assembly constituencies in the state in the 2021 election. Though he proclaimed his intention to enter politics, he remained silent in the by-election and Lok Sabha election held in 2019. He refrained from any involvement in the Lok Sabha election and warned his fans and political parties against misusing his photo or party symbol for any kind of election propaganda. “The party, which promises to resolve the Cauvery issue permanently, should be the one the people should vote for,” he said.

Rajini’s political entry has been in cold storage until Amit Shah visited Tamil Nadu on November 21. Speculations were rife that Shah would meet Rajini and finally prompt him to declare his entry. However, the meeting did not happen though he conveyed his message to Shah through his friend and RSS ideologue S Gurumurthi.

Now the million-dollar question is whether his party would be act as a tool for BJP to gain advantage on Dravidian soil in the upcoming election or will he stand by his ideologies? The saffron party needs an ‘Enthiran’ to key in and work directly or indirectly to influence the Tamil voters. BJP may use Rajini to influence the Tamil voters with whom BJP is yet to win any favour. Chances are that it may use him either as a star campaigner or as a splitter of Dravidian votes which eventually benefit the BJP-AIADMK alliance.

The vacuum of a charismatic leader is wide open in Tamil Nadu in the upcoming election as it is the first Assembly polls without iconic leaders J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi. While a leader like Rajinikanth can easily win the voters for BJP, it needs to be seen whether he can win the favour of Tamils who history of standing adamantly against BJP ideologies. Going by the current trend, it would be a diffuclt task for BJP to penetrate into the pockets of Dravidian voters.

Tamil politics has more local flavour than politics they have seen in other parts of the country. BJP’s divide and rule formula, Modi effect, Hindu ideologies have not been fruitful in Tamil Nadu. The party now needs a strong alliance to at least ensure its presence in the state. BJP very much understands that AIADMK is toothless without Jayalalithaa and projecting Rajini as BJP’s star campaigner would go a long way to forming BJP voter base.

Though Tamil Nadu has seen stalwarts like M G Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, it is yet to be known whether Rajini has the charisma and emotional bond with Tamil electorate. The state will now be curious whether the larger-than-life figure of Rajini would do magic to win it big for BJP.