TIRUCHY: Actor Kamal Haasan's entry into politics was least expected. Unlike his contemporary Rajinikanth, Kamal had steered well clear of politics for his entire film career, so much so that few took it seriously when he took the plunge with his Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) on February 21, 2018.
Since then, founder Kamal has said the party would contest all 40 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry this year.
He has held public meetings, travelled across the state and slammed both the Dravidian majors, AIADMK and DMK.
The party gets extensive media coverage, thanks to high-profile PR exercises, but as the party marks its first anniversary, the ground reality is that the outfit is yet to take off.
With no decipherable ideology and a disconnect from issues affecting broad sections of society, MNM is unlikely to have much effect in the upcoming polls.
What does MNM stand for?
Kamal's Twitter bio describes him as a 'neo-polityculturist' and in his interview with this publication last June he called for a 'neo-polityculturist' movement. "In other words, an organised system that engages with the culture and system of government," was how he explained this.
However, how that translates into a political ideology is not known.
Recently, At the Tiruchy airport, to the oft-repeated question on his ideology, he responded that it was, "People’s Welfare" before slamming other parties that have professed ideologies.
Karthick Ram Manoharan, a faculty at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, found this a cause for concern.
“There should be some difference between NGOs and political parties. A political party should place its ideologies before the people and tell them that it would strive for them. The people have to decide whether the leader is keeping up with those ideologies or defying them. Not doing this is just NGOisation of politics.”
In short, MNM must explain what the party stands for.
Disconnect from lived realities
Kamal's problem, Manoharan explained, was a disconnect between his utterances and the lived realities of the people of Tamil Nadu. "He is speaking more like a political commentator and that would not help him mobilise political support," Manoharan noted.
“A majority of Kamal Haasan’s supporters belong to the upper strata of the middle class. He is yet to establish connections or carry on political dialogue with the subaltern masses, who constitute a major part of the society,” explained social scientist A Kalaiyarasan of Madras Institute of Development Studies.
“He always talks about ‘eradication of corruption’ as though that is only the major problem. But there are a host of other important matters like protecting State rights, uplifting disadvantaged sections, language and cultural questions that have played a key role in Tamil Nadu politics for decades. Kamal’s stance on these issues are not known yet,” Kalaiyarasan said.
“There are only a few supporters of Kamal Haasan among students. But they do not get involved in any political debates among students. Their only point is that Kamal will do good things for the people, eradicate corruption and that all other parties are wrong in some way or the other. Kamal places more importance on his virtues and values and believes that alone would earn support for his party. His fans want us to believe that Kamal himself a one-point solution to all the problems that the state face,” Praveen Kumar, a Madras University student, said.
Not taken seriously
The actor has been slammed by most of the mainstream parties, especially for his comments against them. When he has tried to deal with serious issues, the mainstream parties have ignored him. For instance, when he called for an all-party meeting on the Cauvery issue, only PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss and AMMK’s second-rung leader Thanga Tamilselvan attended it.
Similarly, his recent call to all other political parties in the state to shun AIADMK and DMK, and to join hands with the MNM got no traction.
Party claims it has strong base
MNM functionaries claim that the party nonetheless has a strong support base.
“The much-hyped structural strength of the AIADMK and the DMK will be broken this time as the people are eagerly looking at Kamal Haasan as a promising alternative. His skills, knowledge, honesty are our great strength,” said Murali Abbas, MNM’s spokesperson.
“MNM has already appointed field workers at booth-level across the state. Since most of our functionaries are drawn from the general public, and not other political parties, their activities are not so visible. Our real strength will be known to the world only after the election,” he claimed.