Kamal Haasan, 64, has officially declared himself a politician and is gearing up for his tour of Tamil Nadu from 21 February to 24 February. He recently met fans at his Chennai Alwarpet office, talking to them about his goals and how he’d like them to contribute.
On the other side, 67-year-old Rajinikanth has already held several rounds of meeting with his fans, launched his party website (rajinimandram.org) and logo. His party office-bearers are soon set to meet people across the state and rope them into the Rajini Makkal Mandram fold. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu is keenly watching their every move.
Both these stars, touted as on-screen rivals, are all set to play political rivals in real life. Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan may hail from the same film fraternity and have the same mentor (K. Balachander) but the similarity ends there. “Rajinikanth has a large mass fan following and he’s an entertainer. Whereas Kamal Haasan is an excellent actor with a niche following,” says BJP leader Narayanan Tirupathy. And this is an opinion shared by many across the state.
Political observers contend that Kamal Haasan is clearly stepping into the political arena as an individual who is frustrated with the existing system, unlike Rajinikanth, who is hailed as a demigod by his fans. Using a television show, social media and a weekly column in a popular Tamil magazine, Kamal has been critical of the current government constantly highlighting issues that are going unaddressed.
“The key difference between Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan and their entry into politics is that there’s a perception that Rajini might have a larger backing—either of the BJP or someone else. That is not the sense with Kamal—there is no political party or any force behind him,” says political analyst Sumanth Raman.
WHAT’S THE IDEOLOGY?
Though Kamal and Rajini announced their political intentions in 2017, there has not been any word yet on their party ideology or manifesto. But what has always been clear is their stand on religion, which is also reflected in their politics.
“Ideologically, they are similar in many aspects. They both want to change the system, fight corruption and provide good governance. However, their approach to this is different—Rajini is talking in terms of spirituality, and Kamal, rationalism. The two of them don’t have a huge difference other than one is a worshipper and the other is not,” adds Sumanth Raman.
But not everyone is convinced of this stance. Saravanan Annadurai, spokesperson for the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), asserts, “The success of Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan depends on various factors like what their policies are and where they stand on important issues that affect people. Neither has spelled this out. They have only taken an anti-corruption stand which is general and every political party around the world talks about this.”
So the big question now is when Kamal and Rajini will spell out their ideology to the people whose support they are seeking. The two seem to be playing a cautious game on this front though. Before making any major announcements, Kamal is keen on meeting the people in the southern districts to understand their issues and problems. Rajini, meanwhile, is said to be consulting numerous strategists and key people before he makes any move.
TO ALLY OR NOT TO ALLY
Till Cho Ramsawamy’s demise in December 2016, the journalist, political strategist and founder-editor of the Tamil magazine Thuglak, was a close friend and mentor of Rajinikanth. Today, the current editor-in-chief of Thuglak, S. Gurumurthy seems to have assumed this position.
Gurumurthy has stated on numerous occasions that BJP should align with Rajinikanth as his ideology matches theirs. Currently, there’s a perception that the BJP is trying its best to woo Rajinikanth in a bid to gain a bigger foothold in Tamil Nadu.
Ask BJP’s Narayanan Tirupathy if this is the case and he replies, “We have always welcomed Rajinikanth. He shares a similar ideology as the BJP, be it on linking of rivers, his anti-corruption stand or spiritual politics.” Here DMK’s Saravanan Annadurai is quick to point out that Rajinikanth has not done anything to shed this perception either.
However, some observers feel that any such alliance could backfire. N. Sathiyamoorthy, director of the Chennai chapter of public policy think tank Observer Research Foundation, states, “Rajinikanth won’t join the BJP—he has a fan following that cuts across party lines. Can he afford to lose his fan following? If he stands separately, he will cut into the votes of the BJP as the Hindutva fan believes he is one of them.”
Given that both Rajini and Kamal have taken an anti-corruption and transparent governance stance, the question many are posing is why they shouldn’t join hands. This move though is seen as detrimental to both. “Both Rajini and Kamal have been in films for the last 35 years and their followers are mostly first generation fans. Unless they really send a common message and convince their cadres of this move, it will be counterproductive,” cautions Sathiyamoorthy.
With the momentum picking up in both the Rajini and Kamal camps and talk of public meetings, there is a rising need for funds. Political parties in Tamil Nadu have a history of reaching out to the public to raise funds, and crowdfunding would be the way ahead for them too. The question of when they would start raising funds for their parties still remains unanswered.
“Eventually, they both need to have a transparent source of funding. The important question is how are they going to raise money? Where is it going to come from? They haven’t held public meetings, but that is the next step. When they do, they will need funds. A large public meeting should aim to bring in at least 50,000 people and huge monies are required for each meeting,” explains Sumanth Raman.
Tamil Nadu is rooted in Dravidian politics and the DMK and AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) have constantly taken turns at the seat of power—the Secretariat. Kamal has been quick to recognise the importance of the Dravidian identity and urged people to come together under this umbrella but Rajini has restricted himself to simply stating he is a Tamilian. Given this scenario, how easy will it be for Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan to garner votes?
Udhayanidhi Stalin, the grandson of DMK patriarch Dr Kalaignar Karunanidhi and son of DMK leader M.K. Stalin, welcomed both the stars into politics. As to whether they will eat into the DMK vote share, he says, “I don’t think it’ll impact the DMK, because DMK has very strong cadres at the grassroots. Moreover, neither of them has stated their manifesto yet. It’s up to the public to decide anyway.”
Breaking this two-party system and forging a new path in Tamil Nadu politics is going to be no easy task for either of these stars. “Whoever comes into politics in Tamil Nadu cannot counter the DMK and AIADMK because of their money power and muscle power. They cannot do anything without a big political force or infrastructure to back them. If you look at Tamil Nadu politics, people have always looked for a personality to lead them, be it Dr Kalaignar or Jayalalithaa. There are those who don’t want to support either of the two main parties now and are looking for a personality to lead them, that personality may be Rajinikanth. But he needs to be supported by a political force, else it would be very difficult to contest against them,” opines Narayanan Tirupathy, perhaps arguing the case for an alliance with the BJP.
Political observers feel that the two stars can manage to corner about 6%-9% of votes in the state. Potential voters include their fans and those who are anti-DMK and anti-AIADMK at this point. Some analysts believe that they will eat into the BJP vote share rather than dent Dravidian parties.
KAMAL OR RAJINI: WHO HAS THE EDGE?
Ask anyone in Tamil Nadu whether it’s Rajini or Kamal who has the edge and they will say, “Rajini has a large fan following and could get more votes, but Kamal will make the better politician.” What is key though is their commitment to politics. Batting for Kamal Haasan, Saravanan says, “If Kamal sticks around for five or 10 years in the political arena, he will definitely be successful.”
While everyone is talking about Rajini and Kamal, a political force who turned victorious in the RK Nagar polls is not to be dismissed. Sathiyamoorthy elaborates: “T.T.V. Dhinakaran has come to be accepted as a political face more than anyone thought he would. He has charisma and is someone who can emerge as a strong political leader. But he does represent the AIADMK.” Right now, it’s a wait-and-watch situation in Tamil Nadu not just for Rajini and Kamal but even for the voters.