In Tamil Nadu, indications are that Kamal Haasan is set to beat his fellow superstar, Rajinikanth, to a career in politics. Haasan has said in recent interviews that he is upset with the state of affairs in the state and plans to launch a party soon. Though he is yet to give a date for the launch, he has indicated his political preferences. He visited CPM leader and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and confirmed participation in a CPM-backed conference in Kozhikode against “communal fascism”, while maintaining that he does not plan to join the CPM. The actor’s fan clubs will presumably be the backbone of the party, which, according to reports, will adopt middle-of-the-road policies while claiming to be secular. Also recently, the actor launched himself as a critic of the government and the AIADMK factions on social media.
Clearly, Haasan recognises that the churn in Tamil politics since the death of J. Jayalalithaa opens up space for new players. As a public figure with strong views on politics and governance, he believes the time is ripe for him to test the political waters. In a system where the entry barriers in electoral politics have risen due to money and muscle power and deeply-embedded social networks and political dynasties, democracy is made more open by the emergence of new parties. New players tend to disrupt staid agendas and have the potential to rejuvenate politics. Tamil Nadu too is poised for a rupture with the electoral politics of the past half-a-century, dominated by the DMK and its offshoot, the AIADMK. Charismatic leaders like MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa dwarfed their rivals and transformed the state’s movement-centric politics into a contest of over-sized cutouts. Now, Jayalalithaa’s death and Karunanidhi’s withdrawal from active politics due to age and ailments offer scope for new actors.
But Haasan will do well to recognise that it isn’t easy to translate screen popularity into electoral acceptability. Indeed, cinema has an extraordinary influence over people’s preferences and choices in Tamil Nadu, but not many filmstars have been able to find their feet in electoral politics. The rare successful ones, MGR and Jayalalithaa, were beneficiaries of the legacy of the Dravidian movement and in their own ways, worked hard to win the confidence of voters. Haasan has started on a promising note. He says he sees politics beyond elections and intends to politicise voters. That, though, is no easy task.