Monday, 30th October 2017

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Will Kamal Haasan's flower bloom?

The Lok Sabha elections could be rough sailing for the actor

By Sreedhar Pillai in Chennai
  • Published 19.03.19, 3:34 PM
  • Updated 19.03.19, 3:34 PM
  • 4 mins read
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Kamal Haasan Source: twitter.com/ikamalhaasan

It's been just over one year since Tamil actor Kamal Haasan formed his political party — the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM). During that time, the actor’s virtually abandoned his acting career (though officially his Shankar directed Indian2 is still on the floors) to focus fully on his party which will contest all 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, superstar Rajinikanth, who announced his plunge into politics ahead of his colleague and friend without launching a party, is nowhere on the scene and has gone back to boosting his acting career.

Haasan’s MNM is going it alone — the party will be fighting the 2019 parliament elections with no tie-up with the AIADMK-BJP or the DMK-Congress front in Tamil Nadu. Haasan and his team have already done the candidate selection interviews — they spoke to 1,137 aspirants — for the state’s 39 seats and he’s slated to announce his candidate list this Wednesday. The Election Commission has assigned Haasan and his MNM the “battery torch” symbol to contest in the polls. The battery torch symbol is appropriate as Haasan says he’s aiming to be the "'torch-bearer' for a new era in TN and Indian politics”.

Since his party’s launch last February, Haasan has criss-crossed Tamil Nadu to interact directly with people and seek to strengthen MNM’s appeal. The question, though, is whether he has a chance of making a mark in Tamil Nadu Lok’s Sabha elections. Right now, it’s not looking good for him. In fact, political analysts don’t give him even the ghost of a chance while all the state’s political parties virulently oppose him. The only place right now that Haasan and his party seem to be enjoying some popularity is on social media. The arithmetic of alliances and caste factors that determine the winner at the ground level in Tamil Nadu elections are totally against the actor. Also, as a new entrant, Haasan’s untested and doesn’t have a well-oiled party machine at the grass-roots level at his disposal.

A few months back, Haasan was angling for an alliance with the Congress and spoke eloquently about Rahul Gandhi. He’d met the Congress president in Delhi when he went to register his political party with the EC and they’d hit it off. But the timing was too late. By then, M.K. Stalin had worked out an alliance with the Congress and made the famous statement that Rahul Gandhi could be the country’s next prime minister.

But, in fact, the DMK and Haasan never enjoyed great chemistry. Also, the DMK asserts the actor and his party should prove their mettle before reaching out to national parties. What seemed to irk the DMK the most, though, was Haasan tarring the ADMK and DMK with the same “corruption-tainted brush”. Haasan said his party had come to fight corruption and would steer clear of parties with corruption allegations against them. Haasan declared: “We promulgate that we will fight corruption” and went on to say that: “The moment you shake hands with the mafia — that taints me. Certain parties have been tainted. We will not align with the people who have allegations (of corruption against them).”

The MNM also taunted DMK and its leader Stalin by accusing them of copying Haasan’s initiative of holding ‘Gram Sabha’ across the state. Haasan interacting with a group of students said: “ Panchyat Raj and Grama Sabha have been existed for around 25 years. What have the politicians done about it so far? Are you (Stalin) not ashamed to copy this from a young boy (Haasan) who entered politics recently?”

Haasan’s has also been waging a fierce campaign against the ruling AIDMK government. Recently, he hit out against the E. Palanisamy government’s handling of the Pollachi sex assault case and naming the victim. Haasan asked: “Why is the Tamil Nadu government silent on the Coimbatore superintendent of police naming the woman who filed the complaint? You and your ministers carry Jayalalithaa’s picture in your shirt pockets but what have you done for the safety of women in the state?” This annoyed the AIDMK which hit back sharply at the actor-turned-politician in their party organ.

More trouble for Haasan looms from within his own party. A prominent Chennai-based entrepreneur, C.K. Kumaravel, has quit the MNM, blaming internal politics. This happened just before the party was to announce its election slate of candidates. Kumaravel declared that “Haasan has a good vision but the team around him is detrimental to him and the party.” He went on to add that, “With Dr Mahendran coming into the party as vice-president, the internal politics increased.”

The MNM asserted that Kumaravel through his Facebook page had declared himself the candidate for the Cuddalore constituency when the election process was not even completed. “MNM has a zero tolerance policy on applicants violating party principles and accepts his resignation,’ the party said.

DMK chief M.K. Stalin has been dismissive about Haasan and refuses to react directly to his statements. Stalin recently commented about Haasan without referring to him by name . Stalin said: "There are some glamorous paper flowers in Tamil Nadu's political arena. Owing to seasonal. changes, some flowers may suddenly bloom and later wither. Such flowers may bloom but they do not spread fragrance." Haasan countered, saying: "I'm not a flower. I'm a seed. Sow me — I will grow."

Stalin’s son and actor Udhayanidhi Stalin has also posted in Tamil on Twitter claiming that Haasan has been saying things out of ignorance, mocking him as "blabbering-hero Kamal”. He’s also posted some pictures of Stalin at various Gram Sabha meetings. Even Udhayanidhi Stalin’s conducted some Gram Sabha meetings recently. The DMK asserts, in fact, that Stalin was conducting Gram Sabhas even when his father, M. Karunanidhi, was alive. Separately, the DMK mouthpiece, Murasoli, has made a scathing attack on Haasan, calling him a BJP agent.

Ministers in the AIADMK cabinet have also regularly hit out at the actor. S.P. Velumani, a minister in the AIADMK front, wanted an audit on the tax Haasan paid for movies he’s produced. C.V. Shanmugham, another minister, has branded Haasan’s politics caste-based and made many personal jibes against the actor. Furthermore, he claims Haasan does not have "Indian values and is against Tamil and Indian culture."

It’s clear this is just the start and there’s more rough-sailing ahead for Haasan. The buzz now is that the actor himself will contest from one of the constituencies in Chennai. This would be his big political test. He and his MNM will have to win at least that seat in order for voters and other political parties to take him seriously as a politician.