A routine tax notice from the Chennai Corporation ended up becoming a major news story in Tamil Nadu because its recipient was Rajinikanth, who has been threatening to launch a political party for over a year, decided to challenge it in the Madras High Court. Rebuffed by the Court, he doubled down, paid the tax and tweeted on October 15 that “this mistake could have been avoided.”
The case relates to Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam, a lucrative marriage hall Rajiniknath owns in the heart of the city. The cash-strapped Chennai Corporation, which has been looking for any means to shore up its finances in an election year, slapped a tax of Rs. 6.5 lakh on the hall for the half-year period (April-September) this year. Rajinikanth argued that he had been paying taxes for the hall until the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. His plea was that since the hall was not rented out from March 24, he should not be forced to pay the tax. He also contended that he had approached the Chennai Corporation for relief but there had been no response.
The tax levied by the Corporation was for the property he owned and not for the income derived from the property. All property owners in the city have to pay the tax regardless of their financial situation and other issues, or face a fine after October 15.
The Madras High Court dismissed the petition as withdrawn with a warning that it could impose costs. The judge made it clear that the petitioner could have sent a reminder to officials of the Corporation, instead of rushing to the High Court for relief. The Corporation had also levied a 2 per cent penalty for not paying the tax before the deadline of October 15.
Rajinikanth chose to pay the amount after the rebuff on October 15. The penalty was Rs.9,386 and the tax Rs.6,46,610—both paltry amounts for an actor whose salary runs into tens of crore of rupees for each movie appearance. In one of his movies, Rajinikanth highlights the importance of paying taxes. In the film a person in asks him: “What’s wrong with my master making money and keeping the money that he rightfully earned?” And Rajinikanth answers: “It’s because each of us thinks like this that the government runs a deficit and is forced to hike prices. Each rupee that these people cheat [by not paying tax] leads to hike in prices of petrol, electricity bill, clothes, and medicines. Tomorrow, it [these taxes] will fall on your head. The likes of your master not paying tax amounts to betraying people like you.”
Clearly, film dialogues remain film dialogues. It should not be the case with Rajinikanth whose decision to plunge into politics was guided by, in his own words, the fact that the “system was not correct.”