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It’s not easy for a political startup to thrive in India

Makkal Needhi Maiyam led by Kamal Haasan, without having a robust organisational structure and having fielded candidates, who are not well known, has been forced to fall back on Kamal’s appeal and charisma

editorials Updated: Mar 26, 2019 08:20 IST
Hindustan Times
India,Kamal Haasan,Election Commission
Kamal Haasan declared “All candidates are my faces. I am proud carrying the palanquin rather than sit in it.”(PTI)

At last count, there were more the 1800 political parties registered with the Election Commission of India. However, the numbers belie the challenges involved in building and sustaining a party in the country. Historically, startups, whether in business or in politics, have a very high mortality rate. So it is interesting to look at what factors make a political startup survive and thrive.

Take the case of Makkal Needhi Maiyam (MNM), a party formed a year ago by the film star, Kamal Haasan, in Tamil Nadu (TN). The state’s political landscape has traditionally been dominated by numerous Kazhgams (“federations” as parties label themselves in TN) which cater to various ideologies. From extreme right to extreme left parties to those which appeal to certain castes, region or religion, including ones actively promoting Tamil nationalism, the state has numerous players trying to appeal to various social, economic and political groups. It is a crowded space. Just being helmed by a charismatic and popular figure, such as Mr Haasan, does not guarantee the well being of a party. Acquiring electoral clout requires an organisational structure as well as a dedicated band of activists. This is why Mr Haasan’s film star peer, Rajinikanth, has been loath to jump into the political arena without getting his organisational structure in place. A key reason attributed to the remarkable performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 was its ground level booth management and deployment of ideologically committed foot soldiers. Other parties have tried to emulate this. MNM, devoid of a robust organisational structure and well known candidates, has been forced to fall back on Mr Haasan’s appeal and charisma.

This is why he has also chosen not to contest from any seat. He said, “All candidates are my faces. I am proud carrying the palanquin rather than sitting in it.” The star realises that if he contests and is tied down to a single constituency, with no other major campaigners to speak of, the party will suffer. Only a clear ideology, a committed cadre, and visionary leadership will allow a political party to thrive.

First Published: Mar 25, 2019 20:42 IST