After a five-decade film career, Kamal Haasan has entered the tumultuous political scene in Tamil Nadu. In this exclusive interview with the New Indian Express, the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) leader discusses his future plans, and why he believes he's an instrument of change.
It's been more than 100 days since MNM was launched. What, according to you, are the key achievements of the party?
We're looking at achievable and realistic goals. As a fledgling party with no funds, we've done a lot. We identified eight villages and adopted a couple of them. They say I chose Adigathur because that was an easy option, but I'd disagree. C Sumathi, who has been heading the village since 1996, met me and put forth the problems faced by their people including erratic power supply and inadequate water facilities. Despite the corrupt system, she has been striving to uplift her folks. I wanted to support her.
Also, we've conducted gram panchayats. Twenty-five years ago, if this system had been used effectively, it would have been stronger than the Assembly. If trained properly, the representatives of gram sabhas can function effectively and bring about participatory democracy. But unfortunately, some villages have never seen gram sabhas because they are manipulated by politicians.
The change people want to see should begin from themselves. Citizens should realise they are powerful, that they are capable of making or breaking a government. You look for a post office and you can’t find it. It’s the same about a pharmacy. But how many TASMAC outlets do we have? A government that's supposed to look after its people spends its resources on the liquor business. Yes, it generates revenue. So what? Will they move to cocaine next?
Is your plan then to make the State TASMAC-free?
Anyone who says these things can be eradicated overnight doesn't understand human psychology. I don't want to create mafias who will make deals with the Secretariat. I'll set up rehabilitation centres in every village. Shutting down of TASMAC shops can never be the solution.
How do you see public participation in MNM?
The first step is to question, even if it may not be the correct one always. There should be a constant exchange of cultural dialogue between people and leaders. That’s why I decided to generate money through crowdfunding. That's the only way to create a sustainable model and raise funds for the party. Take money from people, and hand over the accounts to them. And no, I don't want to give anyone freebies. It's like feeding them biryani only on Eid. I want to keep it going for the rest of the year. I believe in teaching a man to fish so that he can eat for a lifetime. I want MNM to function even after me.
Converting your huge fan base into a cohesive political unit is a layered process.
This government is stopping me from visiting schools, colleges and interacting with students. Politics starts from there. The youth should be politically and socially aware so that they question the system. When sex education has been introduced in schools, why not politics? I am not saying this because I'm a politician. I'd not be what I am today if I were not exposed to politics as a student. I was inspired by the Dravidian movement; that was the beginning.
What do you see to be the biggest failure of the Dravidian parties?
Nothing much. As a matter of fact, I saw an upsurge in 1967 and thought a new era had arrived. The Dravidian movement would have happened even if Periyar, Annadurai, and Karunanidhi hadn't been born. It was the need of the hour. Leaders of those times struck a chord with the masses, and things worked to their favour. However, all politicians have an expiry date and that's the truth. No empire lasted long in the world. Gandhi had reiterated the idea during the late 40s -- that once we got Independence -- we should disband the Congress. All parties need constant reassessment. The efficient and energetic should replace the old and the inefficient. I hate promising people that they will get a permanent Chief Minister for the next consecutive three terms. That’s because in MNM, we believe that no high position in the party can be held by someone for a long time. We didn't start the party to sit in a chair. I want to do good to people without making compromises.
What does the word, Dravidam, mean do you? Is it an ideology, a race or a geographical place?
It's an ethnic anthropological statement, which can be politicised. What we need now is a Neo-polityculturist movement. In other words, an organised system that engages with the culture and system of government.
Vote banks in Tamil Nadu are caste-driven, aren’t they? You often say you're neither anti-Hindu nor against any other religion.
I believe in humanitarianism. Everything else is man-made.
Despite being active in the political circuit and meeting leaders across the State, they say you're not a full-time politician.
Don't expect me to sacrifice my space. I need my Sundays to myself, and I'll be honest about it. Who's full-time here? The Prime Minister? (laughs) Politicians should be paid well so that they don't feel like stealing. And don't expect me to be like Gandhiji. This syndrome should go away. But again, Gandhi could afford to come into politics because he was a son of a Diwan. And so was Jawaharlal Nehru and Buddha. None of them were underdogs. They were well-off. People need to trust someone like me, who has seen affluence. Because the poor will think of only himself and his suffering. But I rather feel guilty when I am on the road in a car. I want to do something to the society that has given me the power and money. What's wrong with using a platform like Bigg Boss Tamil? What does an evangelist do? He talks on the podium. You don't call him a podium-evangelist. You get what I am saying?
But critics seem to suggest you are more a Twitter activist.
I've lived with criticism all these years. Twitter came in only recently, but criticism existed already. When I am wrong, I've no shame in admitting that. Also, I contradict myself to better myself. I don't say things for the sake of an argument. I firmly believe in whatever I say. When was Hey Ram released? I was a politician from then. I could have made a film like Nayagan or Thevar Magan again. But I chose to make a Hey Ram because it kind of forecast what was going to happen.
Let's talk about the Whistle App.
It's a tool, which ensures problems reach officials concerned and not a magic wand that can solve issues instantly. Slowly, we are looking to making it an interactive process between the party members and the public.
Is there a possible coalition between MNM and Rajinikanth?
Let the manifesto come. It’s too early to talk about that.
If the High Court upholds the disqualification of the 18 MLAs and an election is held for these 18 seats, will your party contest?
I can't say that now because party decisions are collectively taken. I should weigh the pros and cons along with my folks and decide accordingly.
How centric is your centricism?
It doesn't mean I am in the centre and won't budge. Sometimes, being eccentric is necessary because great inventions come from such minds. Centre is often a boring place to be in, but the balance is hard to achieve. Centricism is a point of view, that's all. It's not a permanent position. As of now, the philosophy isn't important. What Tamil Nadu needs is first-aid, not a medical college. With the available facilities and policies, let's strive to make things better.
You have clearly distanced yourself from AIADMK and its multiple factions, and the BJP. You then seem to be in the same field as the DMK. Clarify how different your ideologies are.
There are certain areas where I differ. I learn from observing different political parties. In Tamil Nadu, there are lots of activists, who aren't politically-driven but are ready to help people. One of them, in fact, disbanded his organisation and joined MNM.
What do you think is the pressing issue that's plaguing our State?
Corruption. Someone goes shopping from a jail, and that's on the headlines only for a couple of days. That issue then gets forgotten. I was offered Rs 100 crore by a party, and I refused to give in. I thought I could support myself by raising funds from my people.