Hero without a script

Kamal Haasan will need ideology, not just idealism, if he wants to present himself as a political alternative in Tamil Nadu

Written by Ramu Manivannan | Updated: March 2, 2018 12:31 am
Hero without a script While Haasan wants to test his own imagination of power and politics, Rajinikanth remains a kite flown by his invisible political handlers in Delhi.

Kamal Haasan is, undoubtedly, one of the most creative artists of Indian cinema and the finest of his generation in Tamil cinema. Despite the scores of commercial-romantic movies he has been a part of, he has also carved a niche for himself in the Tamil audience as a thinking actor and an artist par excellence. He also possesses the qualities of a public intellectual, nurtured through occasional exhibitions of interest in literature and a consistent articulation of social issues in a political environment driven by social ideology. He has been more transparent and less hypocritical than many in Tamil cinema. In the process, he has unconsciously built a constituency among the urban upper-middle class, the new-age Twitter caste, and a non-descript fan club, which he calls a social service organ, in defiance of the cult culture in Tamil Nadu.

The context and significance of Haasan’s entry into Tamil Nadu politics arises from the painful moment of transition in the state in terms of leadership, reinvention of the Dravidian political ethos and the exploration of new grounds and paradigms. There is a peculiar confusion and crisis that many want to exploit, including the Dravidian parties other than the DMK and AIADMK, national parties like the BJP. And if you are a cinema actor in Tamil Nadu, the back door to politics is always kept open with an illusory key.

While Haasan wants to test his own imagination of power and politics, Rajinikanth remains a kite flown by his invisible political handlers in Delhi. Haasan has an instinct to exploit the wind of opportunity — the way he had started to use his TV show, Big Boss, to discuss political instability and the decay of Tamil Nadu politics is an example. While he has highlighted his personal integrity and lack of interest in power, he suffers from the “big boss” psyche, which may not help in surviving politics. In comparison to Rajinikanth, who gives the impression that he can be flown like a kite by competent handlers, Haasan comes across as an angry and melancholic figure with little patience or promise of endurance.

Haasan has ideals but no ideology. One may argue that there is no need for ideology, and being a centrist is not an ideology. The middle path is an evolved political-ideological orientation, but opportunism is not a middle path. At times, he sings praises to CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan and at others he does not dismiss the scope for an alliance with the BJP. He finds himself in a mutual admiration club with Arvind Kejriwal but with little knowledge of the years of the latter’s political groundwork and the qualities of leadership. Haasan may even join hands or ally with Rajinikanth, without any introspection of the criteria or ideals he has set. Haasan has been carrying around the hurt he received from the various power centres in Tamil Nadu. His urge for power is negative and opportunistic.

Haasan’s biggest strengths are his public visibility, ability to exploit the media and the crisis of circumstances in Tamil Nadu as well as a fact that he is an artist-public intellectual to reckon with. His major weaknesses is the illusion that fan clubs could be converted into a political party. He has no record of political work and can mobilise only a certain section of society — the Twitter constituency in particular. Politics needs a broader cause and the skills to mobilise the masses.

Haasan is putting together a professional team of resourceful people from different backgrounds. They are mostly in advisory roles to give content, form and direction to his politics. He remains yet the hero and director of a script. In politics, unless the people and the cause become powerful, change is not easy. He is recruiting his team as a film distributor would do, finding an agent in metropolitan areas and distributors in the districts. Politics is not a show that goes on for a few hours. It is the lifelong pursuit and struggle for justice.

As a politician, Haasan is without an ideology and a clear roadmap. He will, therefore, not be seen as a viable alternative. He is guided by the ethos of the traditional influence of cinema in Tamil Nadu politics and the Kejriwal phenomenon in Delhi. Delhi is a big stage, but it is only a city-state. Tamil Nadu is a state where politics has been brewing for centuries. In the decay and decline of Dravidian parties, one does not yet see the end of the social ideology of Dravidian politics. Haasan has time to contemplate his path and choices, if he is not in a hurry. A strong saddle is also what makes a good horseman, more than his past reputation for a long journey.

The writer is professor & head, department of politics & public administration, University of Madras. He is currently visiting professor at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan

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Ramu Manivannan
  1. R
    Ram Nath
    Mar 3, 2018 at 11:25 pm
    He does have a very strong and clear ideology: Islamist expansionism and hatred of Hindus. What more do you need? He is secular !
    1. G
      G. Munendran
      Mar 3, 2018 at 6:39 pm
      While the observation on Rajnikanth as a kite with its handlers elsewhere who have no place whatsoever in Tamilnadu, is absolutely correct, but on Kamal Haasan the writer is to some extent correct on assessing him. In the cur scenario of political governance which is entirely driven by Corporates interest, and the extent to which the Corruption is eating the society's interest, all the parties, which came to the fore with lofty ideals have bid good-bye to those ideals. In that process the people's welfare and rapid development were pushed to the backseat. Kamal Haasan without much elaborating has outlined his Makkal Needhi Maiam's party's idealogy would be on two planks, Viz., People welfare, TN Development. These two principles are cur ly enough to make people to look upon him and support his party. As already informed by him earlier that he would stick to Dravidian culture and also explains his party's logo indicating the Dravidian states. He is having good intentions. Welcome
      1. R
        Mar 4, 2018 at 4:11 am
        Hilarious. In TN, Jayalalitha and Karuna are the biggest thieves but this chap things the corporations are the problem.
      2. Employ Ment
        Mar 3, 2018 at 5:23 pm
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        1. Swati P
          Mar 3, 2018 at 4:38 pm
          What ideologies are left when PDP is in partnership with BJP who has broken up with Shiv Sena !! Opportunity is the only ideology. Nitish mocked Modi and now swears by his return in 2019. Kejriwal attending Oath ceremony of RJD!! Modi calling on AIDMK supremo?? Congress flirting with NCP and BJP with MNS..... The moment JP inducted Deshmukh into Janta Party to defeat Indira, walls fell for ever. No surprises if RJD becomes partner of BJP in future. INLD has been partner of BJP In Haryana. SAD may be discarded in 2019.
          1. Vijaya Chandra Udyavara Rao
            Mar 3, 2018 at 2:34 pm
            Have two, three or four wives and and en numbers of Naz..... Kids.......and talk lot off Nonsense...... that is the ideology?!!!
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