Chennai: The bestowing of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award on matinee idol Rajinikanth has triggered conspiracy theories for its timing. Is the ruling BJP trying to tap into the massive fan base of the "super star" by honouring him on the eve of the assembly election in Tamil Nadu?
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, responding to a question following the announcement of the award, said that the decision had nothing to do with the election.
Though Rajinikanth backtracked from his decision to launch a political party, his fan bases are nothing short of a bank. Though his prospective supporters have splintered into various political parties, he could still command their loyalty. The actor has warmed up to the BJP in certain issues but he is in good terms with all parties.
He had close contacts with the late M Karunanidhi of the DMK. He was also close to J Jayalalithaa since he famously defied her ahead of the 1996 assembly election.
Awards are generally seen as political tools in Tamil Nadu. Former chief minister M G Ramachandran, popularly called MGR, was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna when the party he founded, the AIADMK, was going through a power tussle. Even if the Rajiv Gandhi government wanted to appease MGR's fan base, the Congress never came close to its perceived objective.
Rajinikanth expressed his gratitude to a variety of people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi to colleagues from his pre-cinema days. The actor, who worked as a bus conductor in Karnataka before he made it to the movies, thanked the driver he had worked with. "I dedicate this award to my friend, bus driver Raj Bahadur, for recognising my acting ability and providing encouragement, my brother Thiru Sathyanarayana Rao Gaikwad for making many sacrifices to help me follow my dreams even when we lived in poverty, my mentor K Balachander for giving me my first break and making me Rajinikanth, all my film producers, directors, technicians distributors, theatre owners, the media, the Tamil people who have helped me thrive, and my fans all over the world."
He also thanked Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam, DMK president M K Stalin, fellow acter and friend Kamal Haasan and his numerous fans.