Tamil Nadu potboiler

Topics Arvind Kejriwal

Will he? Won’t he? Although we are no closer to the answer, a meeting between Kamal Haasan and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal in Chennai on Thursday was unlikely to be about tourism. With his recent now-famous statement that saffron “is not my colour”, Haasan ruled out one political possibility. But has he embraced another? Hard to say.

Haasan’s comments on Tamil Nadu politics, leaders and followers in a series of engagements and a range of issues from Jallikattu and its place in Tamil culture to the state of political parties have been the subject of chatter. With the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in a shambles after J Jayalalithaa’s death and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) seemingly powerless in wresting power, Tamil Nadu can see a leadership vacuum. Rajinikanth, formerly a bus conductor in Karnataka who made good in Tamil Nadu’s Kodambakkam, the home of the state film industry, had made noises that he would be joining politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on Rajinikanth a few days before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Tamil Nadu H Raja had said Rajinikanth was a “popular” personality and was welcome to join the saffron party. But after those initial noises nothing more was heard. 

The BJP had an actor alliance partner in the state, Vijayakanth. But that relationship seems to have sunk without a trace. Vijayakanth’s party, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), was formed in 2005 and proposed itself as an alternative to the two dominant Dravidian parties, AIADMK and DMK. It contested the 2006 Assembly polls and the 2009 Lok Sabha polls alone. Its vote share rose from eight per cent in the 2006 Assembly polls to 10 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. In 2011, the party bagged 29 seats in the Assembly polls after aligning with the AIADMK but the two parted ways shortly after. In 2014 it failed to win any seats. And now you don’t hear anything of it from the BJP or anyone else.

The problem seems to be that in Tamil Nadu politics, an actor-turned-politician simply cannot share the stage with anyone else. The Jayalalithaa-MGR relationship might have shown some initial promise, but that ended when MGR, hearing that Jayalalithaa was going out in public holding a golden sceptre and crown, quickly dispatched her to the Rajya Sabha in Delhi. Vijayakanth’s alliance with Jayalalithaa ended for the same reason: As karuppu (dark) MGR, was he going to be centre stage (that is, chief minister) or was Jayalalithaa? 

Between Rajinikanth and Haasan, the same uneasy equation seemed to follow after each had declared politics was not a non-option. Rajinikanth ignored Haasan’s forays into the political arena. Haasan said Rajinikanth would have to come to him (or words to that effect). 

In Kejriwal and the AAP, Haasan might have found the perfect political answer. True, the AAP does not have anything in Tamil Nadu by way of party structure or people. But there’s the network of Haasan’s fan clubs that can be converted into the AAP. One of the reasons the O Panneerselvam-E Palani-swami combination fell apart (although both are from the same party) is that each group, having assured its supporters it would rule the state, offered important faction leaders positions, posts and honour. The re-merger took so long (and is still imperfect) because having once been promised positions, mid- and small-level leaders of each faction were loath to give them up and make way for the other. As in business, where few mergers and acquisitions succeed because existing positions are threatened, in politics, too, no one wants to give up power and make way for another individual.

But with Haasan and the AAP there is no such problem. The AAP is an established north Indian brand; it is ready to take risks and export to the south. And as its ideology only consists of questioning and attacking existing shibboleths, it can (if it wants) be flexible enough to  make up a new discourse as it goes along. 

If the relationship does work out, it will represent a veritable revolution in Tamil Nadu politics. But there are still several questions. What will the AAP-Haasan view be of caste? What about the nationalities question — the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka? What about the north-south issue and the attitude towards Hindi?

The Tamil Maanila Congress rose like a political meteor in Tamil Nadu politics but could not fashion an alternative discourse. Will the Haasan-AAP combination manage to do that?

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