Editorial

Star alliance: On Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan

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The film world had room for both, but Kamal and Rajini find the space cramped in politics

Exactly 40 years after parting ways in Kollywood in pursuit of individual lead roles and higher remuneration, cinematic heroes Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have spoken of the possibility of coming together. This time the thespians, both in their 60s, hope to shake up Tamil Nadu’s political scene, which for the first time since Independence has no towering personalities. Kamal Haasan, whose political entry was unexpected, has steered his Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), launched in February 2018, in the Lok Sabha elections and Assembly by-polls with marginal success. In contrast, Rajinikanth, after vacillating for over two decades, has yet to transform his Rajini Makkal Mandram, a platform built on his fan clubs, into the party that he proposes to launch in time for the 2021 Assembly election. The friends have no ideological affinity — Haasan leaning left-of-centre and Rajinikanth advocating an as-yet-undefined “spiritual politics” — but they now seem open to an alliance “in the interests of Tamil Nadu,” should the need arise. Their shared belief, apparently, is that they are competent to fill the political vacuum because of their considerable screen charisma.

Indeed, Kollywood has oiled the wheels of Dravidian politics for over 50 years, but the grease is coming off. Hero worship has not translated into electoral success sans an ideological connect and craving for change accompanied by a surplus of political trust in the change agent. The political depreciation of actor and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam founder Vijayakant is an example. If, in under two years of declaring that he would field candidates in all 234 Assembly constituencies, Rajinikanth is thinking of aligning with his fellow traveller, it is perhaps the realisation that the electorate cannot be swayed by his star power alone. In the 2019 Parliamentary elections, Kamal Haasan projected himself as the harbinger of change, yet polled only 3.8% of the vote, below the 3.9% of the Naam Tamilar Katchi founded by Seeman, a film director. While the MNM came third in 11 seats, only in four of the 36 seats it contested did it secure a vote share above 10%. In many rural seats, its vote share was less than 2%, indicating that the ‘universal star’ has a long way to go before he emerges a credible alternative to the two major Dravidian parties, despite the absence of former Chief Ministers M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. Rajinikanth, with his demigod status, may evoke more political attention than Kamal Haasan and he hopes they can disrupt the calculus of the electoral battlefield together. Nonetheless, he must be cognisant that his aspiration to launch a party months before the polls and get catapulted to the Chief Ministerial throne, like Andhra Pradesh’s N.T. Rama Rao did, may be a pipe dream at this inflection point in Tamil politics. Miracles do happen on the silver screen, but are rare in a complex democracy.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 8:45:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/star-alliance/article30070249.ece

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