Superstars surge in TN politics: After Rajinikanth’s plunge Kamal Hassan takes lead on poll trail

With about six months to go for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections in 2021, the Tamil actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan has jumped on the campaign bandwagon in a hurry.

Charting a course in the dicey Dravidian political minefield of the State, where the bipolar politics of the DMK and the AIADMK has been the mainstay for nearly six decades, and where fast and furious political developments are taking place now, the actor launched his poll campaign, ahead of his established political rivals, in the Temple City of Madurai on Dec 13.

But what none could miss this time is the conspicuous absence of gloss and lustre seen at the time of his party launch Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) two years ago in the same southern city of the State. His party contested the 2018 Parliament elections alone and garnered around 4 per cent of vote share, mainly in urban centres a not so mean performance for a fledgling outfit.

Though the AIADMK government, citing Covid-19 restrictions, has denied him permission for a roadshow, he has been addressing indoor meetings and making brief public appearances from his car in the last 3 days.

The actor, according to political analysts, has made a conscious choice of remaining in politics since his party launch, though mostly on Twitter. His friend Rajinikanth, who turned 70 recently, has surprised him and all by announcing that he would launch his party in January next year. It was only just before that Kamal had told the media that he would rather be concerned about his health than the actor’s political entry and would seek his support at the time of elections. This clearly indicates that Kamal has a compulsion to prove beyond doubt that he would indeed be playing serious politics.

Both these megastars share more similarities than dissimilarities. Both are averse to Dravidian political parties. Both are promising clean and corruption-free dispensations, if they are voted to power. Both have vowed to maintain equidistance from both the DMK and the AIADMK. Both are also well aware of the hard reality that in the State’s bi-polar politics, the space for an alternative player is very limited and they need to jostle with smaller outfits like the Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar Katchi.

Besides, Kamal Hassan is facing a unique and knotty problem, which his predecessors like MG Ramachandran, the founder leader of the AIADMK had not faced. He has to share the popularity of the `celluloid image’ with an equally admired actor of his time, Rajinikanth, who would definitely erode into the political space he has created for him. Kamal is well aware that Rajini also commands a large fan base, though both bank on ‘clientele politics’, which is based on hero-worship. They dislike the ‘patronage politics’ of major parties.

These two actors differ on very few issues. While Kamal ostensibly claims to be a rationalist and maintains that he is a `neo-polityculturist’, a term that denotes an organised system to engage with culture and promote a new form of civil governance, Rajini minces no words about his `spiritual politics’, which is just a soft variant of the right-wing Hindutva agenda.

Kamal claims to be a centrist, neither left nor right. He says he is not an atheist but a rationalist. He advocates the juxtaposed streams of Dravidianism and nationalism. He once said he would practice both Dravidianism and Nationalism. And, in the recent Madurai media conference, he said he is a rationalist, not an atheist. “His oscillation between the ideologies of both centrism and extreme right is visible,” says a political analyst.

His statement in support of MK Surappa, the Vice-Chancellor of the Anna University, a state-funded technical institution, had sparked a row. From the day of his appointment, Surappa, who introduced Bhagawad Gita as a subject for engineering students, has been courting many controversies. The main accusation against him was that he, without informing the State Government, had asked the Centre to include the University under the Institute of Eminence scheme of the Central Government. The TN government has instituted a judicial commission to probe the charges including corruption against him.

But Kamal’s open support for Surappa has led to accusations in some quarters that he is being propelled as the ‘B’ team of the BJP, for which the primary agenda is to destroy Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu, just like what both the actors aspire. Kamal, however, has strongly disputed the claim saying he is “the B team of Gandhi.”

Today, he is seen more as an `urban elite’ against Rajini’s rusticity, which he refutes. “There are devious attempts to distance me from the people I love,” he said in one of the meetings. “His reach-out to the masses remains restricted. His statements on the BJP are soft. This dichotomy in Kamal Haasan has led to an erosion of trust among the people,” said a Dravidian leader.

Dravidian political parties do face their share of criticism. But these parties do constantly connect with electorates through their respective organisational structures formed from the grass-root level. They remain resilient against alien forces and endure peer pressure that have helped them hold the parties and State together through many challenges.

Taking on both the two Dravidian majors – the DMK and the AIADMK which have reached out to the people, distributing doles across the State, and in turn suffered heavily since many ministers, legislators and functionaries got infected besides mortalities – would be preposterous for small-time players like Kamal and Rajini. “To dislodge them, what these new entrants need is the logistical support from major outfits, such as the BJP,” the Dravidian leader says.

The two stars chose to remain indoors during the pandemic, which the AIADMK functionary and Law minister C Ve Shanmugam strongly criticised. The minister asked, “Have these actors done anything for the people of Tamil Nadu?” He further said their objective was not to serve the people but to destroy the Dravidian parties that have made the State a progressive one. The irony, however, is that his party, the AIADMK, has expressed its willingness to align with the BJP for the Assembly polls. While the BJP leaders have been claiming that their party would come to power in the State in 2026, dethroning the Dravidian rule, the minister said, “There is no existential threat to democracy.”

The state’s electoral field is now stuffed with super stars and other political outfits besides the two Dravidian majors and the BJP. The verdict, whatever may be and whoever wins, of course, will serve a message to all beyond Tamil Nadu’s borders.

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