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On the edge of destiny: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

On the Edge of Destiny: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

On the edge of destiny: what does Rajinikanth’s politics entail?  Rajinikanth stands at a crossroads for Tamil Nadu, but can he define what his political rescue act entails?

It had been more than 20 years in the making, and finally Tamil cinema superstar Rajinikanth delivered on innumerable past overtures when he plunged into the troubled waters of Tamil Nadu politics. The big question on everyone’s mind is this: will he be a force to reckon with after he cobbles together a party apparatus with aspirations of political mobilization, or will his democratic dream simply fade away after this foray comes a cropper against the jagged edges of the Dravidian parties’ electoral juggernauts? Hard to tell with any certainty, but an analysis of his entry in the context of Tamil Nadu’s colourful political past, its frustrating, dysfunctional present, or its ominously cloudy future yields some clues.

Past: fish out of water

Tamil Nadu has always been a standout State. It was home to a unique social movement that was also one of India’s most successful experiments in populist mobilisation and pioneering social welfare policies. Dravidian politics surged to the fore in 1967, when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) unseated the incumbent Indian National Congress and in doing so, forever altered the State’s political terrain. Few Indian States have so purposefully used the motifs of ethnic identity, so adroitly deployed them through the silver screen, and so rigorously converted caste politics into a practical class mobilisation. Over time the social radicalism of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi, under the aegis of the anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindi campaigns of the DMK, gave way to a more inclusive style of governance under the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) founder M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), and later his protégé Jayalalithaa. Against this arc of Dravidianist-mobilisation history, Mr. Rajinikanth’s entry in some sense reduces him to a fish out of water, an aspiring wild card entrant seeking to make a lateral move despite lacking direct participation in the defining political movement of the State. This matters considerably, not only because he now faces enormous pressure to define his politics, but also because, sans party association, he must embark on the unenviable task of building an organisation structure that is robust enough to take on the muscle of the AIADMK and the DMK. It is true that he will not be building it from scratch, the way Periyar and Annadurai did, in the mid-20th century. According to some estimates, Mr. Rajinikanth enjoys the unflinching support of at least 50,000 fan clubs scattered across the cities and towns of Tamil Nadu, with each having at least 25 die-hard admirers of their “Thalaivar”. Yet it is an open question as to whether the millions of his fans are at all inclined towards hard-nosed political campaigning and mass mobilisation. All they may care about are his movies! This brings us to another dimension of Tamil political history that poses uncomfortable questions for Mr. Rajinikanth: is he capable of being the sort of “benevolent” autocrat, the patronage-inclined “soft-authoritarian” like others before him, including Jayalalithaa, MGR and Mr. Karunanidhi? Mr. Rajinikanth certainly commands attention based on his legendary charisma, yet on the flip side he has been painfully publicity-shy over the four decades that he has spent in the cinema world. Thus, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he will smoothly transition into an aggressive leader capable of marshalling party members and resources towards orderly execution of campaigning, fundraising, lobbying efforts and much more.

Present: politics in ferment

Coming to the present scenario in Tamil Nadu, among the most widely touted reason for betting on Mr. Rajinikanth as the cure to what ails State politics is the fact that both Dravidian parties have faced an untimely loss of leadership capacity, the AIADMK owing to Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016 and the DMK owing to Mr. Karunanidhi stepping back from an active role after his health declined in recent years. In the context of this power vacuum, the State may be Mr. Rajinikanth’s to lose. The vacuum, however, holds lessons for any aspiring entrant. First, the AIADMK has imploded in spectacular fashion since Jayalalithaa’s death because it is being torn asunderby bitter factional squabbling. That was a natural consequence of the weak-kneed leadership that has been thrust into the hot seat overnight, after decades of rule by an iron-fisted politician who degraded four rungs of leadership within her party to nix all potential challengers. The second lesson for Mr. Rajinikanth is the fumbling of the DMK. The AIADMK clearly stole a march on its older rival since 1977 (the AIADMK has ruled for 26 years and counting, the DMK only for 12 years, of the past 40) owing to a more durable party ideology and broader social base, both of which geared its agenda towards mass distribution of welfare goods. While these are derided by some as “freebies,” social scientists consider them factors contributing to Tamil Nadu’s relative outperformance on human development and poverty reduction indices. When will Mr. Rajinikanth delve into these complex socioeconomic and policy questions?

Future: New Delhi calling

Finally, on the murky future that awaits any party that the superstar may float, he will have to be nimble on the radioactive subject of Hindutva politics, and in that regard the tactical question whether to align with the BJP, for several reasons. First, Hindutva politics as such never made headway in India’s southernmost State given the Tamil people’s consistent record of rejecting the Hindu-North Indian-Brahmin matrix as a single, unwanted political package. They considered this matrix a product of north Indian hegemony, one that the Nehruvian state and then other dispensations in a distant New Delhi sought to thrust upon the “Tamizhan,” the quintessential Tamil man (or woman). That feeling of “Tamil-ness” is still very much alive. Second, Mr. Rajinikanth may have struck a chord with some voters when he spoke of “spiritual” politics – yet he has more to clarify on whether he intended that phraseology to convey the anti-thesis of corruption, or whether it was an overture to Hindus and Hindutvavadis across the State and in New Delhi. If it is the former, it would be most welcome at this nadir of democratic politics in Tamil Nadu, a dark period of grand larceny and covert institutional looting of the public coffers. If Mr. Rajinikanth went out on a limb to take on politically connected corruption, shadow corporations and the massive rent-seeking network that has permeated every corner of the government and has led to capital flight to neighbouring States, the people of Tamil Nadu would flock to him. Third, he may do well to give thought to whether his political foray would simply end up playing spoiler for either Dravidian party and prevent both from forming a strong, stable government. In such a scenario, wouldn’t his efforts only delay the long-awaited return of good governance?

Real-life hero?

Like many heroes of the silver screen, Mr. Rajinikanth’s entry into politics is a test of fire. He lacks many vital political appurtenances and a living link to an important historical chapter of this State. His very announcement of entry has spurred vicious attacks on his purported intentions, his character and his personal life. Yet he stands – humbly, one must grant – at what might turn out to be a momentous crossroads for Tamil Nadu: its past political glory depleted in the gradual decline of the AIADMK and DMK, its people now pray for a political renaissance. Thalaivar to the rescue, perhaps?

 LEARN VOCABULARY FROM THE HINDU EDITORIAL 

1) Reckon
Meaning: Establish by calculation.
Example: “His debts were reckoned at £300,000”
Synonyms: Calculate, Compute
2) Cobbles
Meaning: Roughly assemble or produce something from available parts or elements.
Example: “The film was imperfectly cobbled together from two separate stories”
Synonyms: Improvise, Devise
3) Cropper
Meaning: A plant which yields a specified crop.
Example: “The white-fleshed varieties are the heaviest croppers”
4) Jagged
Meaning: With rough, sharp points protruding.
Example: “The jagged edges gashed their fingers”
Synonyms: Spiky, Barbed
Antonyms: Smooth
5) Dysfunctional
Meaning: Not operating normally or properly.
Example: “The telephones are dysfunctional”
6) Ominously
Meaning: In a way that suggests that something bad is going to happen.
Example: “Thunderclouds loomed ominously overhead”
7) Incumbent
Meaning: Necessary for (someone) as a duty or responsibility.
Example:”The government realized that it was incumbent on them to act”
Synonyms: Binding, Obligatory
Antonyms: Optional
8) Terrain
Meaning: A stretch of land, especially with regard to its physical features.
Example:”They were delayed by rough terrain”
Synonyms: Ground, Territory
9) Adroitly
Meaning: In a clever or skilful way.
Example: “He managed the evacuation adroitly”
10) Deployed
Meaning: Move (troops or equipment) into position for military action.
Example: “Forces were deployed at strategic locations”
Synonyms: Position, Station
Antonyms: Concentrate
11) Rigorously
Meaning: In an extremely thorough and careful way.
Example: “The court rigorously scrutinises the settlement”
12) Radicalism
Meaning: The beliefs or actions of people who advocate thorough or complete political or social reform.
Example: “His natural rebelliousness found an outlet in political radicalism”
13) Aegis
Meaning: The protection, backing, or support of a particular person or organization.
Example: “The negotiations were conducted under the aegis of the UN”
Synonyms: Patronage, Sponsorship
14) A fish out of water
Meaning: A person in a completely unsuitable environment or situation.
Example:”Senior bankers are fish out of water when it comes to international lending”
15) Aspiring
Meaning: Directing one’s hopes or ambitions towards becoming a specified type of person.
Example: “An aspiring artist”
16) Enormous
Meaning: Very large in size, quantity, or extent.
Example:”Enormous sums of money”
Synonyms: Huge, Vast
Antonyms: Tiny
17) Embark
Meaning: Begin (a course of action).
Example: “She embarked on a new career”
Synonyms: Begin, Start
18) Unflinching
Meaning: Not showing fear or hesitation in the face of danger or difficulty.
Example: “He has shown unflinching determination throughout the campaign”
Synonyms:  Resolute, Determined
Antonyms: Unsteady, Wavering
19) Benevolent
Meaning: Well meaning and kindly.
Example: “He was something of a benevolent despot”
Synonyms: Kind, Kind-hearted
Antonyms: Unkind, Tight-fisted
20) Marshalling
Meaning: Assemble and arrange (a group of people, especially troops) in order.
Example: “The general marshalled his troops”
Synonyms:  Gather, Assemble
Antonyms: Disperse, Scatter
21) Touted
Meaning: Attempt to persuade people of the merits of.
Example: “She was touted as a potential Prime Minister”
Synonyms: Commend, Endorse, praise
22) Imploded
Meaning: Collapse or cause to collapse violently inwards.
Example: “Both the windows had imploded”
23) Asunder
Meaning: Apart.
Example: “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder”
Synonyms: Apart, Up
24) Squabbling
Meaning: Quarrel noisily over a trivial matter.
Example: “The boys were squabbling over a ball”
Synonyms: Quarrel, Row
25) Weak-kneed
Meaning: Weak and shaky as a result of fear or excitement.
Example: “She still felt weak-kneed whenever he came towards her”
26) Fumbling
Meaning: Move clumsily in various directions using the hands to find one’s way.
Example: “He fumbled about in the dark but could not find her”
Synonyms: Stumble, Blunder
27) Derided
Meaning: Express contempt for; ridicule.
Example: “The decision was derided by environmentalists”
Synonyms: Ridicule, Mock
Antonyms: Respect, Praise
28) Murky
Meaning: Dark and gloomy, especially due to thick mist.
Example: “The sky was murky and a thin drizzle was falling”
Synonyms: Dark, Gloomy
Antonyms: Bright, Sunny
29) Nimble
Meaning: Quick and light in movement or action; agile.
Example:”With a deft motion of her nimble fingers”
Synonyms: Agile, Lithe
Antonyms: Stiff, Clumsy
30) Dispensations
Meaning: Exemption from a rule or usual requirement.
Example:”Although she was too young, she was given special dispensation to play before her birthday”
Synonyms: Exemption, Immunity
31) Chord
Meaning: A group of (typically three or more) notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony.
Example: “The triumphal opening chords”
32) Overture
Meaning: An introduction to something more substantial.
Example: “The talks were no more than an overture to a long debate”
Synonyms: Preliminary, Prelude
33) Nadir
Meaning: The lowest or most unsuccessful point in a situation.
Example: “Asking that question was the nadir of my career”
Synonyms:  The lowest point, the all-time low, the lowest level, low-water mark, the bottom, as low as one can get, rock-bottom, the depths; More
Antonyms: Zenith, Acme, Climax
34) Larceny
Meaning: Theft of personal property. In English law larceny was replaced as a statutory crime by theft in 1968.
Synonyms: Theft, Stealing
35) Looting
Meaning: Steal goods from (a place), typically during a war or riot.
Example: “Police confronted the protestors who were looting shops”
Synonyms: Plunder, Pillage
36) Foray
Meaning: A sudden attack or incursion into enemy territory, especially to obtain something; a raid.
Example: “The garrison made a foray against Richard’s camp”
Synonyms: Raid, Attack
37) Appurtenances
Meaning: An accessory or other item associated with a particular activity or style of living.
Example: “The appurtenances of consumer culture”
Synonyms: Accessories, Trappings
38) Purported
Meaning: Appear to be or do something, especially falsely.
Example: “She is not the person she purports to be”
Synonyms: Claim, Lay claim
39) Depleted
Meaning: Use up the supply or resources of.
Example: “Fish stocks are severely depleted”
Synonyms: Exhaust, Use up
Antonyms: Augment, Increase
40) Renaissance
Meaning: The revival of European art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries. The culture and style of art and architecture developed during the Renaissance.
Example:  “Cinema-going is enjoying something of a renaissance”
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