The Case of the Missing Ideology in Tamil Nadu's New Politics

Both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have not made it clear to the public or to themselves whether they are Left, Right or Centre.

Ideology, as we know, is a set of beliefs that bind a society and drives it towards a future. Ideology is a normative phenomenon which defines a society’s supposed objectives and paves the road to reach that destination. However, whatever is happening in Tamil Nadu nowadays signifies a state of politics that not only lacks any ideology but also shuns and hesitates anything that is ideological.

In many ways, the state of Tamil Nadu is politically unique with its rationalistic Dravidian ideology, linguistics rights, long history of reservations and social harmony. All this has made Tamil Nadu one of the leading states in India, especially in the areas of social justice, education, health and urbanisation. Above all, the inclusive Dravidian politics, however populist, has helped in producing an impressive human capital.

But paradoxically, the ideology-driven Dravidian politics always co-existed along with charismatic leadership. The purpose for allowing such charismatic leaders may have reasons behind it, but whoever may be the leader, the movement’s ideology was always put at the front and always reflected in the public meetings, manifestoes and governmental schemes.

In recent times, particularly after the demise of J. Jayalalitha, there have been some minor and major political stirrings in Tamil Nadu, which has produced at least a handful of new political outfits that want to fill the supposed political vacuum in the state. Of this, the ones floated by cine stars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are being keenly watched by the public and are of concern to us.

The concern is not that of Rajinikanth and Haasan venturing into politics, but rather their lack of interest in subscribing to any ideology. Both of them have entered politics promising to offer good governance and corruption-free regimes. But none of them has shown any concern in Left to Right spectrum of political ideology.

A cursory look at the website of Haasan’s outfit will take you to membership forms and his events, but none of the links in the website will take you to any core ideology of the party. Likewise, Rajinikanth, a superstar crowd puller, who has appointed party functionaries and has called them to muster grassroots strengthening, famously said, “bewildering” when asked about his party’s ideology.

The concern is not that of Rajinikanth and Haasan venturing into politics, but rather their lack of interest in subscribing to any ideology. Credit: PTI

Actually, it is bewildering for us to see him appoint party functionaries and conduct meetings with them without a concrete ideology to stand for. It seems that both the stars have entered party politics and want to change things in Tamil Nadu sans any ideological commitments. In place of ideology, the newcomers have come up with sloganeering ideas related to clean government, corruption-free government and the like.

However, every individual and every political party in any country wants to get rid of corruption, but corruption-free administration alone cannot be the ultimate goal of any government or a nation. Corruption is a bad virus that has crept into our daily affairs, we have to get rid of it, yet that alone cannot be our reason to exist – a healthy politics must have fights in the arena of isms. Both Rajini and Kamal have not made it clear to the public or to themselves whether they are Left, Right or Centre.

To draft and implement welfare policies, one has to subscribe to an existing ideology, namely conservatism, liberalism, socialism or even to anarchism or absolutism or otherwise introduce a new ism by themselves, but to ignore any role to ideological foundations is simplifying democracy and downplaying the cause of social justice.

Sloganeering on good governance and anti-corruption will be attractive to the affected masses but it is they who will ultimately lose because their leaders will be found wanting when they have to decide on reservation quotas, moral policing, labour welfare, industrial development, privatisation and also on the ever-looming secular question.

Just a clean hand will not be sufficient, along with that a clear ideological background is quintessential for dealing with all the above issues. Tamil Nadu has had strong charismatic individuals as leaders but still, they had an ideology to stand for or at least to lean on.

Since ancient times, the discipline of political philosophy is fraught with questions of what is good to the society, to just sweep those questions under the rug and merely promise clean governance will do no good to the society. Everybody wants to do good, but what is crucial is deciding what is good and how to implement it.

R. Sivakumar is an Assistant Professor in Business Management, The New College, Chennai.