A big star of India’s Tamil-language movies, Rajinikanth, said on Sunday he is launching a political party, adding drama to a heated political scene in a state with a history of film stars becoming chief ministers.
Tamil Nadu, which accounts for the bulk of India’s automobile exports, has been in political limbo since the death of Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa in December 2016. Jayalalithaa was a popular actress before joining politics.
Rajinikanth, called the “superstar” by his fans, enters the political scene at a time Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is looking to make inroads into the southern state that’s been ruled by two south Indian parties for decades.
Over the past five decades, Tamil Nadu has chosen between the two Dravidian parties, both of which claim anti-caste social justice and secularism as their core ideology.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not win a seat in Tamil Nadu’s 2016 elections. The next state election is due in 2021.
“I’ll push for spiritual politics without caste or religious leanings,” Rajinikanth said. “If I come to power and am not able to deliver in three years, I’ll resign. Democracy is in a state of distress in the state.”
In Tamil cinema, Rajinikanth often plays larger-than-life characters that project him as a saviour of the masses. The actor, who has been in a few Hindi movies, has created a frenzy among fans ahead of every release.
But opponents say politics would be different.
Subramanian Swamy, a BJP leader, dismissed Rajinikanth’s plunge into politics as “media hype”.
Tamil Nadu, a state of more than 70 million people, is sometimes called the “Detroit of Asia”. It is home to factories of companies including BMW, Daimler, Hyundai, Ford, Nissan and Renault.