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Can Kamal Haasan Really Make a Difference in Tamil Nadu Politics?

People have been waiting for the actor’s big announcement and although he claimed to have “entered politics” at his birthday event in Chennai, there are no signs of it.

Kamal Haasan. Credit: PTI

Journalists in Chennai waited with bated breath on actor Kamal Haasan’s birthday, November 7, for a “big announcement” as touted by his public relations team.

The “big announcement” turned out to be the promise of the launch of an app that would blow the whistle on corruption. And this future launch of the app is the latest in a line of careful, wary and almost wishy washy statements being made by the actor.

Although he claimed to have “entered politics” at the birthday event in Chennai, there are no signs of it. Except for his politically loaded tweets.

No work has been done, for instance, to build a political party – the grassroots cadre is not in place, the hierarchy and party machinery has not even begun, and apart from the seemingly purposeless meetings with Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, there is no one but Haasan himself in the reckoning. Rather like his films.

He did finally confirm though, that he would launch a separate political party and was already in talks with experts to understand its various facets.

The mobile app termed #MaiamWhistle will be an interactive platform for the public to call out the inequities around them and hold their leaders accountable. “There have been constant references in the media that I would be introducing an app. This could be much more than that. There is a sense of regret and discontent over things going wrong continuously. It’s time to turn this vicious cycle into a ‘virtuous cycle.’ We are acting on an idea from my book Theditheerpom Vaa authored about 30 years ago, that addresses the concept – ‘to seek and solve,’” he explained at the press conference in Chennai. Kamal Haasan had launched a web magazine called Maiam in 2012, which, according to the actor, was subsequently hacked into. He has earlier managed a literary magazine bearing the same name.

Ideologically, Haasan continued to remain neither here nor there. He said:

‘Maiam’ in Tamil means ‘centre.’ I am often asked if I lean towards the right or the left, I have chosen to be positioned at the centre—with great equipoise, which I think is where people too want to be.

The time has come to vociferously challenge the wrongdoings of the government. #MaiamWhistle is not just an app, but an interactive platform reaching out to various levels of the public.”

When questioned if an interaction with his real self wouldn’t be better than interacting through an app, he commented that the app would serve as a constant reminder and pressurise leaders to act upon a problem.

Your whistle could also be directed against me, in case you find inadequacies on my part.

But can Haasan really make a difference in Tamil Nadu politics? Political commentator Aazhi Senthil Nathan observed:

I think his intentions are clear and the attempt is very serious, unlike Rajinikanth’s. But this is not the right way to go about it. He could have joined a political party with an existing organisational set up or if he wanted to form his own party, the groundwork should have begun years ago. Vijayakanth had taken the initiative over ten years prior to his political debut.

The cat continued to remain on the wall as Haasan also stated that the party’s political ideology and agenda would be revealed later next year. He implied that the digital platform which was currently being developed could also be used to raise funds for his political venture. “It’s been reported that I’d fund my political work through my fans – they only form a small section of the population. I’ll seek my funds directly from the people who have refilled our coffers which were left empty by avaricious politicians,” he further attested. “This would mean that there is a need to be transparent; the platform will enable everyone to see what is being received and spent,” he said.

First look poster of the actor’s film Vishwaroopam 2. Credit: Youtube

The actor’s biggest leadership pitch hence far has been the successful functioning of his ‘narpani mandram’ or the welfare association comprising around five lakh members that he oversees. “Kamal Haasan’s fan club cannot be a political force. The new generation is completely disconnected from Kodambakkam. There is definitely a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu, but that cannot be filled up by superstars,” Senthil Nathan explained.

Referring to the recent headlines in the media about his political entry, he remarked that he had already taken the plunge into politics. “It has been speculated that I was going to launch my party. Do I have to spell it out separately at this juncture? The foundation of this organisation (political outfit) needs to be strong, as it’s one meant not just for me, but for the people, and the efforts need to continue even after me. You can’t ask someone to name their child while it’s still in the womb. It needs to be born for you to even determine if it’s a boy or a girl,” he said hinting that he would not be rushed into forming the political party.

Soon after the app’s launch tentatively in January 2018, he would tour the state to learn about problems affecting people, he divulged. “I spend at least six to seven months preparing for a movie. This (a party launch) cannot be a selfish act disregarding the likes and dislikes of others. I am speaking to people who are well-informed. The statewide tour is also going to be a learning curve,” he justified.

Haasan’s vague hints at “rooting out corruption”, his thus far atheist stance flung afar and his attempts to identify with Periyar’s rationalism left many confused. “You cannot simply build a party like the Aam Aadmi Party, on the anti-corruption plank. What will be his ideology? Anti-corruption is not a sufficient cause to build a party in Tamil Nadu,” Senthil Nathan argues.

While maintaining that he would be able to find fresh and strong candidates to fill the seats during elections, he also said that he was only taking a small step at the point aiming at making a difference. When asked about the steps he would take to check corruption within the party, he replied that the first step would be to preempt the possibility. “I have constantly had to act against corruption, taking stern action against those indulging in it and also taking precautions to not let it happen again. Stronger action will have to be taken against wrongdoers in the political party. Our first smart step in this direction has been to identity that those who come to us with a previous baggage (tainted) would pose danger to us,” he added warning that such people would not find a place in his party.

“When I made a statement about Hindus, I was very conscious about how it will affect my family which follows Hinduism. I was part of such a household, but have chosen a different path for myself,” he said referring to the threats issued by the right-wing outfit Akhil Bharathiya Hindu Mahasabha. “My intention is not to hurt Hindu sentiments. Violence in any religion is condemnable. I used the word ‘extremism’ not ‘terrorism.’ Nobody can deny that there have been instances of violence. Merely pointing that out, is not wrong,” he emphasized.

Answering a reporter’s query whether some still perceived him as a Brahmin, the actor laughed it off saying, “I have not sought to befriend the Brahmin community. I have friends from all communities and faith. In fact, I am being called an anti-Hindu. That said, I cannot deny that I was born and raised as a part of the sect. But I chose to come out of it,” Haasan stated. “I also choose not be called an atheist, because it’s a label bestowed on us by believers. I am a rationalist,” he reiterated.

Though Haasan managed to clear the air about his imminent entry into politics, he has constantly been hammering home his intent to end corruption in all forms leaving many wondering if the goal isn’t too idealistic than actual. The parallels he draws between tackling situations in cinema and politics, also leaves us to question if he were not underestimating the magnitude of the responsibility that he taking on. The state-wide tour that the Vishwaroopam actor has promised to undertake is likely to be a display of how acceptable he is to the Tamil Nadu electorate.

“His political party might have some support from a section of the society-may be one or 2% of the vote bank. Eventually he might part of a grand alliance or make a dent in their vote bank. Haasan’s thought on process about politics and his statements are completely dramatic. Someone would probably use Haasan to dent the DMK’s vote bank or split the anti-incumbency votes,” Senthil Nathan said.

“I don’t see him a major impact in the current political scenario at least for the next two years. But if he seriously works on forming a political party and spends years on preparing people, finding the right partners across the state and shaping the party’s ideology, he might become a force to reckon with in future,” he concludes.

Prathibha Parameswaran is a freelance journalist with The Lede in Chennai and has close to 15 years of experience in covering Tamil cinema.