Chennai:

Two decades after he first signalled his intent, popular Tamil actor Rajinikanth formally did so on Sunday by announcing his political entry.

In a dramatic move, Rajinikanth said it was a “necessity" at the current juncture, implicitly pointing to the churn in Tamil Nadu politics after the demise of chief minister J. Jayalalithaa in December 2016.

“The time for change is here," said Rajinikanth, 67.

He will launch a political party that will contest all 234 constituencies in the next Tamil Nadu assembly elections, due in 2021. The actor said his yet-to-be launched party would function “beyond caste and religion" and engage in “spiritual politics."

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Not only will his decision accelerate the political churn in Tamil Nadu, it has the potential to unleash new forces in the state’s politics, hitherto dominated by the two Dravidian parties, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

Speculation has been high that the actor would ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been accused of attempting a backdoor entry into corridors of power in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu state BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan said she welcomed Rajinikanth’s “political entry with the motto of corruption-free good governance, which is the sole aim of BJP."

Writer and leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) D. Ravikumar said: “Rajinikanth’s ‘spiritual politics’ is similar to BJP’s strategy of terming communalism as spiritualism."

He added: “Rajini has been assigned to prepare the political ground and brace up for communal politics."

Actor Kamal Haasan, who has also shown an inclination to venture into mainstream politics, welcomed and congratulated “brother Rajinikanth for his social consciousness and political entry." The 63-year old Hassan is expected to launch his own political party soon.

Rajinikanth, who has been meeting his fans over the last five days, had said on Tuesday that he will announce his political stand on 31 December.

Rajinikanth criticized the present Tamil Nadu government, which has been mired in a chaos over the past year after the demise of Jayalalithaa. He said he was not greedy for power. “If I was greedy, I could have jumped into action in 1996," he said.

In that year, he made a strong political comment that may have influenced the state election results. “If Jayalalithaa is voted back to power, even God cannot save Tamil Nadu," the actor had said. The DMK swept the state polls that year.

In May this year, Rajinikanth admitted he made a mistake by supporting the DMK-led alliance 20 years ago. “It was a political accident," he said.

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The actor, who has the highly anticipated 2.0 and Kaala lined up for release in 2018, in a meeting with fans in May made some cryptic comments on his political plans. “I have my own duties and responsibilities and the same with you. So, go back home and do your work. But when the war comes, let us encounter it. God is there!" he said.

The actor’s announcement on Sunday comes on the heels of T.T.V.Dhinakaran’s stunning victory as an independent candidate in the R.K. Nagar bypoll. Dhinakaran is the nephew of jailed politician V.K. Sasikala, a close associate of Jayalalithaa.

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