I will get back to my criticism of parties but this is not the time for it: Kamal Haasan

The actor and founder of Makkal Needhi Maiam says it is now the moment for people from all sections to come together in the fight against fascism

Updated - March 23, 2024 12:15 pm IST

Published - March 22, 2024 12:19 am IST

Actor and politician Kamal Haasan.

Actor and politician Kamal Haasan. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

Actor and founder of Makkal Needhi Maiam, Kamal Haasan, on Thursday said he would come back to his criticism of political parties but this was not the right time to move in that direction. Answering queries from journalists and board members of The Hindu, Mr. Haasan explained why he had decided to back the DMK-led INDIA bloc in Tamil Nadu in the Lok Sabha polls after having projected himself as an alternative to the Dravidian parties. Excerpts: 

Watch | Kamal Haasan: ‘CAA is an attack on the constitution’

Could you first tell us what led you to launch your political party?

As a Narpani Iyakkam (welfare movement of his fans), we copied Rotary Club, Lions Club or whatever we could...we didn’t reinvent the wheel. But then, slowly over 35-40 years, we found that the buck stopped at the political table, always. We couldn’t move any further. Any good we wanted to do had to be done through laws. Slowly over time, I thought this (politics) is the best way to go forward. I was averse to politics, like most upper middle class people, which, I think, is a social sin now. And entering politics is not infra dig, because we always associated it with corruption, avarice and all that. It need not be that. There will be corruption but sacrifice and vision will also be there. So, I chose to participate, and that’s how I came into politics. And I have seen my Dad walk in and out of out of politics, because soon after independence, he thought, the purpose of Congress, might remain but it is not for me. So, he assisted the party to the best of his capabilities, but he moved out of power. I liked that about my Dad. Great names like Kamaraj ji, Rajaji, Bhaktavatsalam... they used to visit the house, and I have seen them discuss what is good for the state, the nation. But, now I seem to have much better understanding, a bit too late in the day but better late than never. 

How important do you think is the 2024 general election for the country?

This is precisely the moment where I will have to justify the name of my party. Great equipoise and equilibrium is required now. We have to think about the people. That’s very important. 2024 election is very important because it will drift away from a certain vision we had decided for the country. This is a crucial moment – how we move forward will decide what tint the country’s politics will have.

You have observed politics from both inside and from outside. What’s your experience like?

It is very simple. I also ran a magazine which means I am of your ilk but looking at The Hindu on the breakfast table and being here (at the boardroom of The Hindu) is a quantum jump. That’s what happened to me. When I went in, you understand more. What was infra dig... you understand that it was actually a total misunderstanding. People are lost: there is no compass, I am not talking about a moral compass. There is no compass at all. Like all movie goers who comment on the movie, but when one gets into making a movie, you understand it. But still, I feel, it’s not rocket science. I feel the same way about politics. As a matter of fact, we were very wary of the big North Indian style Ganpathi (processions) coming here because it was not the case here. And we understood why it was happening. It was not that we were against religion, but were against the big political hook that was coming into play. We tried our best. I don’t know whether we even moved an inch.

Now that the MNM is in the INDIA bloc, what’s in it for the party?

I could have easily demanded three or four seats but strengthening this alliance seemed to be more important for us. They even insisted that I take part in the election to prove my point but I said it could be used by somebody else and let the alliance become stronger. We never asked for any seat. We made that very clear. There were offers from other parties also; we lent an ear, but we never budged. The purpose was very clear: for me, Tamil Nadu seems to be the last bastion, in my view. 

Do you think the electoral bonds issue will be an important factor in the election?

I am not getting into the blame game... of saying you started it. Like Gandhiji stayed in Birla’s house but he didn’t meet him in the middle of the night discreetly. The raids and the donation (by companies which bought bonds) seemed obviously connected, even to the pedestrian. It doesn’t need a big editorial room (full of journalists), like this, to make the connection between donations coming in and the raids. And taking that money is not bad because it’s coming from the people but it should be transparent. There is no transparency in this. 

What is your take on the CAA? 

It is against the Constitution. If you are being kind to those suffering under the hands of neighbouring theocracies and you want to save them, then why make it an exclusive club excluding Muslims, Sri Lankan Tamils, Jews. I think a better speech was given by Abhinav Chandrachud (son of CJI D.Y. Chandrachud) who has spoken my mind. So that should suffice and he said it all. The CAA is very partial and very deliberate. It will end up setting up concentration camps... that’s where I see it going. It might seem an ‘alarmist’ kind of theory. It’s not. History books from Germany tells us how it slowly crept in. 

You supporting the DMK after criticising them harshly by “throwing the remote at the television” and not fighting elections, isn’t that strange? 

Very simple: the TV, cinema, cricket... all can wait. My TV remote and the TV can wait. I will get back to it. Right now, this is not the time. I will get back to my criticism. I have done it before. But, right now, there is a requirement to go in this direction. It has happened before during the Independence struggle: we had people of various ilk coming together and fight against imperialism. Now, it is a fight against fascism. There are times when you should do this and do that (fight elections). I love Periyar’s ideology and also that of Gandhiji. If you pull back, the purpose seems very similar. If you go further, you find Ramanuja’s purpose, Gandhiji’s purpose and Periyar’s purpose all smudge together with one social purpose. Right now, the important battle ahead of us is for the whole nation. Instead of thinking that it was MNM that came up with the idea of monthly stipend for housewives, the DMK implemented it. Instead of thinking MGR and Kamaraj gave midday meal scheme, they added onto it. Instead of only criticising anything in the Opposition, I thought this is a good enough reason for now to appease my conscience and I have supported them. 

Opinion polls have predicted a clear advantage for the BJP...

I have never predicted... even when I had invested in my movies. We cannot underestimate the voter who may not literate enough to read an editorial from The Hindu, but somewhere he might speak the same language... he understands and that’s why we were able to stitch the nation together. I am very confident that, as the old adage goes, you can fool some people for some time, not all of them all the time. They will strongly come with a voice. I would love a 39-0 in Tamil Nadu. 

Would you campaign across India? 

If they want me to... When I went for the Bharat Jodo Yatra, I felt the campaign had already began according to them. That was literally walking the talk, my position was sealed... at least from the opposition point of view. When Mr. Rahul Gandhi asked me to give him an insight into the Tamil mind, I told him not to confuse between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils — we all speak the same language but our politics is different. If your granddad had done this walk in South India, most of the Dravidian parties would have allied with the Congress now. Most of the artistes who were politically active were with Congress, including Mr. MGR. After Independence, they were set aside as entertainers but they knew they had a voice. They were all united and chaturvarna also had a role to play. 

What’s your take on Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the INDIA bloc?

It is the present situation that frightens me. We should look beyond the personalities and use anyone willing to do the required deed to move this forward. We need a symbol and that’s him... right now. 

What is your view on the Centre-State relations and Governors overstepping their mandate? 

You cannot simply say that the Hindi is the national language because a majority of the people speak it. But, it is not traitorous to say that English is a useful language. English is useful... apart from that... languages should flourish. This is how I see Centre-State relationship to be... not through emissaries like the Governor. They are acting like the propaganda secretaries for the party. It is one thing to talk about corruption and refuse to reinstate an under trial Minister, but he is impeding the progress of the State by not passing 17-18 legislations. And he is from the Centre. His commitment should be to this State and the progress of it. They are saying that Dravidianism will be destroyed, but as long as national anthem is there, Dravidianism will exist. 

The BJP is claiming that only it can provide development....

That’s their campaign. I am the only actor in the country. Are you willing to believe it? I must look for competition and see how better I can do. I cannot say it is enough... I am there, Naseeruddin Shah is there... use us. As a matter of fact, I should welcome new actors... much younger actors. New parties and new ideologies should be welcomed. They don’t have that habit. 

You are an avowed Gandhian. Gandhiji spoke of inclusiveness and tolerance but now a BJP Union Minister has made controversial derogatory remarks against people from Tamil Nadu. Do you foresee political discourse getting more divisive?

Tolerance is a dated thing which my Bapu spoke of. You tolerate a headache, but you accept a friend. We are not testing our pain threshold. I don’t want them to tolerate me, but respect me. Just for a fancy rhetoric, you cannot bring down a whole culture. I am not a great advocate of tolerance. We are not going to call names, but we will gently, slowly but decisively teach manners.

The BJP has often spoken about dynastic politics and corruption. What is your view on it? 

What are they (BJP) claiming.... that they will do away with corruption? We gave them time as matter of fact, two terms. What has happened? When demonetisation came, I was happy that they would do away with the black money situation and I spoke too quickly and I retracted. Someone made a very good cartoon of emptying the pond to get the crocodile... but the crocodiles walked away and fishes died. Why are electoral bonds not transparent? Why do the donations and ED raids correlate? Why are companies making lesser profits than the donation? Then, what about black money? Anything under the table is suspicious. These are questions. We may not get instant results in a democracy... most of them are unaware of the consequences.

Watch | Kamal Haasan explains why MNM supported DMK
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