Game changer volte-face of Rajinikanth, storms mark 2020 in TN

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By V Gangadharan Chennai, Jan 2 (PTI) The dramatic volte-face of top star Rajinikanth to not foray into politics brought down the curtain on the possibility of fresh political equations in Assembly poll bound Tamil Nadu, that was also rocked by two back to back cyclones in 2020.

The 70-year old star's move is now expected to favour the Dravidian behemoths, the AIADMK and the DMK and the political scenario is likely to be the same as it was before.

The debilitating effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the cyclones on people would be difficult to forget, as the troubling images of exodus of guest workers moving on foot on highways to distant destinations would be hard to erase from Tamil Nadu's collective memory.

As of Friday, 12,135 people, including legendary singer S P Balasubrahmanyam, succumbed to the virus.

R Doraikkannu, who was state Agriculture Minister, Congress MP H Vasanthakumar and DMK MLA J Anbazhagan were among the prominent people who died of the pathogen.

Anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests, on the lines of Delhi's Shaheen Bagh in north Chennai and widespread agitations across Tamil Nadu ushered in 2020.

Before the tumult faded, the pandemic kicked in and the attack on a hearse, carrying the body of a neurologistwho died of the contagion in April explained the fear factor and misplaced apprehensions on the virus among sections of people.

During the initial months of the virus, many feared allowing burial of COVID-19 victims in cemeteries of their neighbourhood as they thought it would lead to spread of the disease and resisted burials in their areas.

Tamil Nadu witnessed more virus cases than several other states from April to August but it began declining later.

From 57,000 plus active cases in July, the number slipped below the 10,000 mark towards the end of the year.

The government followed aggressive RT-PCR testing from the start and announced measures like Rs 1,000 assistance and distribution of essential commodities including rice free of cost for eight months through fair price shops during the virus-induced lockdown.

Amid the pandemic, the deaths of a father-son duo, following alleged police brutality in custody led to outrage in Tamil Nadu and the case eventually went to the CBI.

Cyclones Nivar and Burevi left a trail of destruction in November and December.

Nivar damaged crops including paddy in over 41,000 acres, even as Burevi brought heavy rainfall in 25 districts hitting crops in excess of six lakh acres within days.

Though hundreds of tenements were affected, measures like evacuation helped avert large scale casualties, and the fatalities remained in single digits.

The government isfinalising total damage and has assured adequate compensation to farmers.

On the political front, the ruling AIADMK's 7.5 per cent quota in medical admissions for government school students who cleared the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test is seen as a shot in the arm for the government which faced nagging questions from opposition DMK for 'not taking steps' to exempt Tamil Nadu from the ambit of NEET.

On its part, the DMK, out of power for a decade, intensified its attack on the government over a host of issues and levelled corruption charges against several ministers including Chief Minister K Palaniswami.

It was the first party to launch the poll campaign and its initiatives including 'We reject the AIADMK' were rolled out ahead of rivals.

The party organised programmes like 'Ondrinaivom Va' and virtual events amid the pandemic to connect with cadres and reach out to the people.

Soon, actor Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Needhi Maiam and ruling AIADMK started their poll campaigns in December.

Starting from early 2020, Rajinikanth was in limelight for his comments, be it on EVR Periyar which led to a row, his backing for the CAA or his attack on the Centre for the violence in Delhi.

When he announced 'dual leadership for party and government' in March and till he dropped his plan to enter politics on December 29, 2020, Tamil Nadu's political pundits were busy with many calculations.

Losers and gainers, the chances for the actor to electorally succeed -factoring in various permutations and combinations- were doing the rounds through the year.

When the veteran said on December 3 that his political debut was certain, it brought more focus on 'changes' in political equations ahead of the Assembly polls, likely in April-May this year, and the possible outcome due to such 'changes.' Whether the AIADMK or DMK, which would get hurt more if Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan were to join hands (since both of them had said that they were not averse to it) were among the debates that Tamil Nadu witnessed.

Would the BJP, which was working for long to make a tangible impact desert AIADMK and go on to stitch an alliance with the actor's party were some of the other questions that echoed.

AIADMK coordinator and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam's open hint at the possibility of ties with the actor's 'party,' was also hotly debated.

With Rajinikanth's assertion of no-political entry, citing health concerns, all calculations went awry and expectations of his fans and supporters for fresh political dynamics were ruined.

Years of effort of personalities like former Congress leader and Tamil orator Tamizharuvi Manian to bring the actorto politics to break the stranglehold of AIADMK and DMK inTamil Nadu politics went up in smoke.

A dejected Manian announced that he was quitting politics.

Although many hoped that Rajinikanth, with his cinematic charisma, could help bring a real change in TamilNadu politics, he cited his health condition to step aside.

He had undergone a renal transplant in 2016 and use of immunosuppressants make him, comparatively, more vulnerable to contract infections.

On December 31, 2017, he declared he would for sure enter politics.

The next year, he promised he could deliver welfare governance the way AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran did and it further heightened expectations. PTI VGN SA ROH ROH