Cine superstars’ interest in TN politics

Kalyani Shankar

Two Tamil superstars – Rajinikant and Kamal Haasan are all set to enter politics. There have been intense speculations about their entry since the AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa’s death in December last although Rajinikant has been keeping his fans under suspense for almost two decades. The question is whether they will succeed.
While the ruling AIADMK is battling to sort out its internal problems with different factions pulling in different directions, the entry of two more players might add to the confusion. In Tamil Nadu, there has always been a close nexus between politics and cinema. At least four chief ministers – CN Annadurai and M Karunanidhi (DMK), and MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa (AIADMK) – have been ruling the state since 1967. Another successful movie star Captain Vijaykanth launched his party DMDK but he has not been able to sustain.
South India has produced many actor-turned-politicians. In the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh NT Rama Rao became the chief minister in 1982. Tamil Nadu gave actors like Shivaji Ganesan, Napoleon and Vyjayanthimala Bali while Andhra Pradesh gifted Mohan Babu, Dasari Narayan Rao, Chiranjeevi and Jayaprada. From Karnataka came actors like Ambreesh and Ramya.
Tamil Nadu is a state where the Dravidian ideology has been deep-rooted for decades. Dravidian politics propagated Tamil identity and language, as the theatre and movies became the most effective tools to mobilize and influence masses. In fact since 1967 when the Congress lost power to the DMK, the state has been ruled alternately by the DMK and the AIADMK. MGR was able to successfully launch his AIADMK breaking away from the DMK and become the chief minister because of his film roles and his pro-poor social messages.  As for Jayalalithaa, she was a successful heroine of MGR and a famous actress in her own right.
Therefore what is the new thing these two superstars can offer which will appeal to the people? Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are two different personalities. Rajini is a spiritualist while Kamal calls himself as an atheist. They have acted together in some films. Kamal Haasan has acted and directed critically acclaimed films, including seven official Oscar entries. He has a following from the thinking class, while Rajnikanth is a poor man’s hero with many box office hits. He has also tried to play Robin Hood kind of roles like MGR. Rajinikanth's popularity with voters in the state is tested, unlike that of Kamal Haasan. Rajini’s famous statement before 1996 elections that even god could not save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa was voted to power resulted in the DMK sweeping the polls. While Rajinikanth has been mulling over the idea of joining politics since then, Kamal Haasan is a recent convert claiming his entry was out of compulsion and not choice.
Secondly, the DMK and the AIADMK have base and good party network even in the rural areas. With just about 18 months to go before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls how will they build up their new parties? Their fan clubs might pitch in but that may not be enough.
Thirdly, what will be their new narrative? Both are talking about corruption and Tamil Nadu is one of the most corrupt states, but how effective will that issue be? “This is the right time for me to come into active politics because everything that can possibly go wrong is going wrong,” Kamal Hasan has said, claiming, “We need better governance. I am not promising swift remedies. But I promise to start the process of change.” He has hinted a broad framework of his party, which will have a drive against corruption and aspire to be progressive. Rajinikanth in recent comments has also said that although he had no wish to join politics, if he did, he would show the door to all "money-minded" people.
Fourthly, to run a party one needs a lot of money and where will they get these crores of rupees? Most of their fans are from the poorer classes and neither of them might spend their own money.Unless they get some rich backers, the new outfits might become non-starters. 
Fifthly, in a state like Tamil Nadu, which has literally got rid of the Brahmin dominance, how will a Kamal Haasan, who is a Brahmin get the other caste votes unless his new party aligns with other caste-based parties. Rajinikanth has no problem because the BJP is ready to adopt him.
Sixthly, while the BJP is willing to offer the chief ministerial position to Rajinikanth, it is not clear which side Kamal Haasan will go. When he called on the Kerala Chief Minister Vijayan recently, there was speculation about his left-leaning ideology. But he has stated in an interview “I want to be in the middle of things, not leaning to any side.” Killing the speculation after his much publicized lunch with the Aam Aadmi party chief Arvind Kejriwal recently, Kamal Haasan said: "I will take lessons from Aam Aadmi Party, but there is no partnership.”
It is nobody’s case that just because they have succeeded in the film world they might do so in the real world. Rajini has acknowledged this saying: “Fame and money are not enough to win in politics. There is something else. I don’t know what it is.” It is Dame Luck, Rajini, and if she smiles at you, you are sure to win. (IPA)

Thursday, 5 October, 2017