Kamal Haasan's entry into TN politics begins with utopian rhetoric and fervor

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 22, 2018 17:42 hrs
Kamal Haasan at Ramanathapuram

Makkal Needhi Maiam – People’s Justice Forum is the long awaited name of Kamal Haasan’s political party. Though the official name does not have the word party in it, which is the mainstay for the Dravidian parties. Portraying himself as someone who isn’t on the left or right in terms of political ideology or beliefs, he states, “That’s why we have ‘maiam’ (centre) in our party (name). We will absorb all good things from whichever direction they come.”

Regarding his party and personal ideology, he has made statements in the past signaling his disdain for the right wing, particularly the saffron wing of the BJP. One could assume, despite his declaration yesterday that his overall political course won’t be going down that road.

The party symbol, according to him denotes six hands clasped together representing six southern states with the star in the middle representing the people. The explanation given for the party symbol seemed to suggest to a few of some attempt of isolation or secession of the southern states.

He was greeted by his peers in the Tamil film industry on the occasion of the launch of his party –

Widely expected for quite some time, the anticipation was nonetheless palpable. As someone who isn’t afraid to speak his mind on issues that only concern Tamil Nadu but the country, his foray into politics seemed inevitable. Having being outspoken on various issues from the government’s handling of the transport workers’ strike, the Jalikattu debate to the recent judgment on the Cauvery water issue, he certainly is aware of the world around him and the political calculus.

What culminated as the launch of the party in Madurai started as a road show beginning with paying a visit to the house of former President APJ Abdul Kalam in Rameswaram. There, he sought the blessing from the formers President’s brother. At the event to launch his party, he was joined by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on stage. In his speech endorsing Kamal, he urged the people of Tamil Nadu to reject the politics of corruption of the current two major parties that dominate Tamil Nadu politics.

In his regular column for the Tamil magazine Vikatan, Kamal Haasan provides details on his journey to the launch of his political party and the people he had meetings with in the run up including his meeting with Rajnikanth and again spoke of his political ideology –

“We spoke about dignity and that even if we were to stand on the opposite sides, respect for each other should always be there. I do not see the Left nor the Right. I want to reflect all those who are good to the country from the center. People too seek that”.

Tamil news source, Maalaimalar reported that following the launch of his party, upon his return to Chennai, Kamal Haasan decided to adopt 8 villages in the state to provide them with basic facilities. The same report also states that he will meet with administrators about his next steps.

With Rajnikanth too having entered the political arena, some have opposed the move of actors joining politics and have faced resistance. Prior to the launch of Kamal Haasan’s party, actor Satyaraj voiced his opposition to both Rajnikanth and Kamal’s entry into politics according to a report in the Tamil daily Dinamalar. Speaking at a ceremony he said in part, “Kamal and Rajini are people who you should not believe…they (actors) do not have any problems and have earned more than needed”.

Speaking to Maalaimalar, TTV Dhinakaran who thanked voters of the RK Nagar constituency stated that the people of Tamil Nadu will boycott Kamal Haasan. At the launch of his party, Kamal gave a stump speech which included the usual rhetoric of eliminating corruption and being party of the people and for the people echoing some of the AAP’s ideas. 

Viju Cherian, in a column for the Hindustan Times, writes on the launch and asks if the grand opening can be sustained in the long run and if it can sustain based solely on punch lines – 

“As far as political parties go, the launch — to borrow from the cinema lexicon — was a neatly-scripted, well-directed show with good choreography and enough punch dialogues… different from your regular neatly-charted, predictable and often boring political rally, Haasan’s was impromptu in parts, but fuddled and sententious”.

He categorically stated that his party was against the concept of giving freebies and instead work towards raising the standard of living for people. This was clearly a shot at the former Chief Minister Jayalalitha whose party was famous for distributing goods to the masses.

“By refusing to call his political outfit a party (katchi) but preferring forum (maiam), Haasan has suavely kept his political options open. His explanation that the six hands in the symbol represented the six southern states could have been aimed at consolidating a Dravidian identity south of the Vindhyas, but this is easier said than done”.

Given the presence of Arvind Kejriwal on stage, it remains to be seen if Kamal Haasan will emulate the AAP brand of politics in Tamil Nadu. It definitely cannot be a blanket template given the state’s complicated caste divide over decades. The way forwards is simple on stage in terms of giving speeches and simpler still on paper. Breaking the decades old dominance of the two Dravidian parties will be no easy task.

Going forward it’s all about momentum and maintaining the energy in the long run along with bringing together the right people into the fold. The masses certainly show up for his movies, but how much would one bet on them not doing the same going forward for his party.

More columns by Varun Sukumar