POLITICS

Is Kamal Haasan What The Doctor Ordered For An Ailing Tamil Nadu?

Without organisational heft, can Kamal Haasan make a successful splash is the question.

22/09/2017 4:03 PM IST | Updated 22/09/2017 4:04 PM IST
HuffPost India

The national media went into a collective orgasm on Thursday, fawning over the sight of Kamal Haasan and Arvind Kejriwal in the same frame. To those in Delhi, it was a casting coup of sorts, coming at a time when Kejriwal has been maintaining a low profile ever since he was hit by the Kapil Mishra rebellion.

In terms of optics, the Kejriwal meeting catapulted Haasan from Alwarpet in Chennai to India. That a chief minister, never mind that he presides only over a municipality state, flew 2200 km for a lunch date with an actor, elevated Haasan's stature. But just like they do not tell you the plot of the film at an audio release function, no political strategy was revealed at the press conference either. Except for Haasan to later say he will start a political party and that he even aspires to be chief minister.

That he will start a political party is a given and Gandhi Jayanti is already being spoken of a possible launch date but whether the party will also step into the electoral space is not yet decided.

That's however, not what his close aides say. The impression so far in his camp was that he would emulate two men who he idolises — Mahatma Gandhi and Periyar. Both were active politically but did not dabble in electoral politics. They were the conscience keepers who would call a spade a spade. That is the political vigilante role that people close to Haasan believe, he wanted to play.

That he will start a political party is a given and Gandhi Jayanti is already being spoken of a possible launch date but whether the party will also step into the electoral space is not yet decided. Which is why the expression of the urge to be chief minister was an unexpected doosra from Haasan, even for many of his associates.

Reuters Staff / Reuters
Kamal Haasan, star of the film 'Vishwaroopam' poses during an interview with Reuters Television in Los Angeles January 24, 2013.

But now that the Ulaganayakan (Universal Hero) as the actor is referred to by his admirers, has laid his cards on the table, is Kamal Haasan what the doctor ordered for an ailing Tamil Nadu? The jury is divided over it and on the ground in Tamil Nadu, you will either meet a gushing Kamalian (as Kamal fans call themselves) who will bat for a political role for the star or a sceptic who will sarcastically tell you Fort St George, that houses the State Secretariat and the Assembly, is not a film set.

There is reason why Haasan is being treated with suspicion. Given the inevitable comparison with fellow Kodambakkam traveller Rajinikanth, many wonder if Haasan thought of his political pinch-hitting only after Rajinikanth unveiled his political ambitions in May. No doubt, Haasan had articulated his stand on Jallikattu and even during 2015 Chennai floods but it is only after the buzz around Rajini's possible political plunge started gaining traction, that he is seen as having pressed the accelerator, using Twitter as his megaphone to take on the political elite.

It is only after the buzz around Rajini's possible political plunge started gaining traction, that he is seen as having pressed the accelerator, using Twitter as his megaphone to take on the political elite.

So is his entry a hurried reaction to the Superstar mulling a similar plot or has Haasan thought it out well? Because if the experience of Chiranjeevi in Andhra Pradesh or Vijaykanth in Tamil Nadu is anything to go by, there is a fair chance of the script going horribly wrong.

The biggest takeaway from the lack of political success for Chiranjeevi and Vijaykanth is that one-man armies do not conquer states as big as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. And imported Thalapathys (commanders) like Kejriwal can at best, help grab headline space.

AFP/Getty Images
Bollywood film actor Amitabh Bachchan (R) speaks as actors Kamal Haasan (C) and Rajinikanth look on during the music launch of Bachchan's new film 'Shamitabh' in Mumbai on January 20, 2015.

The biggest takeaway from the lack of political success for Chiranjeevi and Vijaykanth is that one-man armies do not conquer states as big as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Two, Haasan even with his ability to communicate, is seen as too "upmarket'' without a real connect with the people on the ground. His tendency to lapse into poetry and use interesting metaphors to explain his position is sometimes mistaken for linguistic arrogance. The actor has never been seen as a mass hero, like a Rajini or Chiranjeevi. A majority of his fans are those who admire the gravitas that he brings to his roles, his several National awards a testimony to his exceptional talent. To therefore convert his onscreen popularity into a politically relevant role, would need some serious work.

While an actor will find it easy to attract crowds, electoral success can come only if he is able to stitch together a socio-economic alliance. And in a caste-obsessed Tamil Nadu with an anti-Brahminical sentiment, Kamal could start with a disadvantage with his Tamil Iyengar roots, even though he wears his rationalistic approach to life on his sleeve.

While an actor will find it easy to attract crowds, electoral success can come only if he is able to stitch together a socio-economic alliance.

Haasan believes that in a post-Jayalalithaa political order, the AIADMK has failed the people and this gives scope to a new entrant like him. Haasan brings to the table a left of centre ideology, focusing on the areas of agriculture, health and education in particular. He wants to tap into the mood of resentment against the status quo, where corruption is seen as the order of the day.

What Haasan has going for him is that he enters the political arena without a baggage. He is seen as a tax-compliant, honest citizen of India, a professional who has made a name for himself in his creative field and is now looking to ride on his popularity to make a lateral entry into politics.

But without the organisational heft and a massive election machine, can Kamal make a successful splash is the question. The risk of getting reduced to a media tiger is unfortunately, very real.

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