Can Rajnikanth, Kamal Haasan save TN?
ANY HOPE IN POLITICS FOR SOUTHERN SUPERSTARS?
The intermittent and hesitant interest shown in politics by the two Tamil film stars, Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan, is obviously the result of the vacuum created in Tamil Nadu by Jayalalithaa's death.
It isn't only that a towering figure like the former Chief Minister is suddenly gone, the other major political personality in the state, M Karunanidhi, is 93 years old and visibly unwell.
Although the DMK chief has anointed his younger son, MK Stalin, as his successor, the latter clearly does not have the kind of popularity that his father enjoyed in his prime. Moreover, the feud between Stalin and his elder brother, M K Alagiri, is well known and does not bode well for the party's stability.
In view of the wide political space that has appeared in the state, one might have expected some of the existing parties like the Congress or the BJP or the smaller Dravidian parties to step into the breach.
But none of them fits the bill. The once powerful Congress has been down and out ever since its famous defeat at the hands of the then fledging DMK in 1967 and has been content to play second fiddle either to the DMK or the AIADMK since then. And the BJP is yet to make its presence felt in a major way in the state and, indeed, elsewhere in south India.
The smaller Dravidian parties are essentially one-person outfits with limited bases such as V Gopalasamy or Vaiko's MDMK or Vijayakanth's DMDK, which cannot aspire to enter the corridors of power except as the adjuncts of a larger party.
However, given the current opening up of the political arena, it is not surprising that aging film stars should think of entering a new profession. What is more, they need to do it while the glitter from their old careers is yet to fade away. Hence, the tentative, one-step-forward, two-steps-back moves by Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan.
Of the two, Kamal Haasan has been quicker of the mark. While Rajnikanth has been seeking the opinion of his fans and letting them have their pictures taken with him, Kamal Haasan has been more forthright by saying that his aim is to be the Chief Minister.
Perhaps he draws his inspiration from the career of another elderly matinee idol, NT Rama Rao, who left his film career behind to become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 1983.
But Rama Rao's rise took place in unusual circumstances. It was due to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's misbehaviour with the Andhra Pradesh chief minister T Anjaiah, which angered the people of the state so much that they voted out the Congress and elected Rama Rao's newly formed Telugu Desam Party to office.
True, Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan can also look to Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa for inspiration as they have become legends in Tamil Nadu. But, as may be expected, there have also been others who have failed to make an impact outside their home turf. Among them are Vijayakanth in Tamil Nadu and Rajkumar in Karnataka.
Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan, however, have been successful both in Kollywood and Bollywood. But politics is not a matter of filling up a vacancy. Moreover, they have rather large shoes to fill. Considering that they haven't spelt out their ideologies or even shown an awareness of the various doctrines, it will be difficult for the voters to make up their minds since cinematic appeal alone may not be enough.
While Rajnikanth appears to be tilting towards the BJP, Kamal Haasan has said that he is against corruption and communalism. According to the Tamil Nadu-based Hindutva ideologue, S Gurumurthy, Rajnikanth and BJP are made for each other. But some others have been wondering whether the Tamil "superstar" will be willing to leave his admirers in the minority communities in the lurch by joining the saffron camp.
The BJP's interest in him is understandable because the party is banking on the film star to enable it to secure a foothold in the state where it has little influence. At present, the BJP is lining up with the AIADMK, but it knows that the party is in a shambles in the post-Jayalalithaa phase. Rajnikanth, therefore, is much better option.
The ideological confusion enveloping the two film stars will be evident from Kamal Haasan's remark a few days ago that he may team up with Rajnikanth. If that happens, it may well turn out to be a case of two cooks spoiling the broth.
The fact that Kamal Haasan met the Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, some time ago is another sign of the prevailing confusion. Not surprisingly, Kamal Haasan said after the meeting that saffron is not his colour.
Evidently, the two Kollywood stalwarts look upon politics as an enterprise for do-gooders and are quite unaware of the inherent complexities and pitfalls in the field which made Amitabh Bachchan describe profession as a cesspool. IPA
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views are strictly personal.)