When superstars Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth confirmed their intent to join politics, it was believed that they would present an alternative to the decades-old Dravidian set-up dominating Tamil Nadu’s political system. But that hope has received a jolt, at least from Kamal Haasan. The popular actor has not just stated his resolve to tap into the Dravidian sentiment but also expanded the scope of Dravidian-ism to include people of the other south Indian States. He said that “Dravidian is not related to Tamil Nadu alone. If we celebrate Dravidian across south India, this discrimination would end. We could speak in chorus with Delhi.” Thus, he plans to use the enlarged Dravida identity as a bloc against the Centre.
Several impressions can be had from his stand. The first is that Kamal Haasan is seeking to merely provide a Dravidian alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK. This would not be a paramount shift as the larger Dravidian political ideology rooted in regionalism and ethic-cultural constraints will remain intact. The actor-politician will end up as a tinkerer rather than a reformer — a ‘me-too Dravida’.
The second thought is that Kamal Haasan wants to hold on to Dravidian politics because he may have to fall back on the support of the two Dravida parties to promote his new cause. Nobody expects the actor to come to power in the State on his own strength. But then, if he has to take the assistance of either the DMK or the AIADMK, he will have have boosted the image of the very ‘corrupt’ organisations he has vowed to oppose. It will further dent his claim of working to provide an ‘alternative’ brand of politics for Tamil Nadu.
The third impression is that Kamal Haasan is dreaming big, too big for the moment. He has not even made a start in Tamil Nadu, but is hoping to create a political constituent pan-south India. True, he has fans across the south, but they would not necessarily be his voters automatically. But what is concerting is that Kamal Haasan wants to try out just the kind of divisive politics that needs avoiding. His narrative is worrisome: South needs to join ranks against the north; south contributes so much to Centre’s revenue but the bulk of development funds go to the north. There is no end to this dangerous talk. It has taken years for the north-south divide created by issues such as the anti-Hindi agitation etc to be considerably bridged, and more fissures are not the need of the hour.
It may be argued that Kamal Haasan’s larger Dravida identity can actually bridge the gap between the people of south India — a chasm arising out of issues such as sharing of river waters, language supremacy etc. This is laughable. Different southern India States have varying interests and concerns, and it is futile to expect those to be subordinated to the ‘greater Dravidian identity’. Besides, these States have different political temperaments and those too will not succumb to the actor’s grand and for now chimerical fancies.
The problem, then, with Kamal Haasan, is that he wants to be different without having the courage to discard old mindsets that have ruled Tamil Nadu since Dravidian politics as we know it today established itself in 1949. Besides, there are contradictions. He has said that his colour is “certainly not saffron” — a rejection of the Bharatiya Janata Party — but he hopes to align with Rajinikanth who is said to have a soft corner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is repulsed by corruption, which is why he denounces the AIADMK, but he is not as condemnatory of the DMK that too has its share of scandals.
If Kamal Haasan is emerging as another Dravidian leader in the old mould — unless he changes dramatically following his Statewide tour — Rajinikanth has been more reticent. By way of his political thinking, all that he has revealed so far is that he believes in “spiritual politics”. After commentators promptly interpreted the phrase as rebranded Hindutva of the BJP kind, the veteran actor clarified that spiritual in his sense meant honest and secular. That hasn’t ended the chatter. Also, the general perception is that Rajinikanth, in comparison to Kamal Haasan, has not just a bigger mass following but is also considered more mature. A few recent surveys have placed him higher on the pedestal than his film colleague.
Nobody knows which way this superstar will go. But if he aligns with either of the two established Dravidian parties, he too, like Kamal Haasan, will contribute little to building a new political alternative in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, is it possible for a non-DMK/AIADMK dispensation to seize power now or in the immediate future? None more than the BJP is hoping for the best. Its real chance lies in tapping into Rajinikanth’s glory, since Kamal Haasan is out of bounds. But then, who knows, even the BJP may eventually fall back on the tried and tested option of aligning with either the DMK or the AIADMK. Alternative politics can then wait for another day.
Finally, one other definition of alternative politics in Tamil Nadu would be the end of the hold of film personalities. Both MG Ramachandran and her protege J Jayalalithaa were superstars, and DMK supremo M Karunanidhi had been a successful script-writer who in a way scripted MGR’s rise. Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are both seeking to cash in on their celluloid popularity. Will they strike gold like the above mentioned names or fall by the wayside, remains to be seen.