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Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam is ambitious but at the same time ambiguous

Kamal Haasan’s party name and symbol give the impression of a covert attempt to carve out a space in the Dravidian minds; and he does not want to limit the party within Tamil Nadu

editorials Updated: Feb 22, 2018 22:03 IST
Hindustan Times
Kamal Haasan,Makkal Needhi Maiam,Tamil Nadu
Kamal Hassan addresses fishermen, Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, February 21(PTI)

On Wednesday history repeated itself in Tamil Nadu — and this time by film maker Kamal Haasan turning to politics. In a grand rally at Madurai, filled with theatrics and photo-ops, Mr Haasan announced the name of his political party and unveiled its symbol.

By naming it Makkal Needhi Maiam, roughly translated as Peoples Justice Forum, Mr Haasan has managed take a centrist position, leaving himself elbow room to finetune his political views in the days to come.

The symbol — of six hands holding one another to form a circle with a star at the centre — represents the six southern states (including the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands). This appears to be a covert attempt to position the party squarely in the Dravidian space, while at the same time not circumscribing the range of its appeal. However, it is not clear how Mr Haasan intends to spread the Dravidian philosophy outside Tamil Nadu, where it has found little resonance. These ambiguities, in the name and symbol, make Mr Haasan’s politics both non-committal and ambitious.

By remaining largely centrist and nursing ambitions to take his party to all states south of the Vindhyas, Mr Haasan has taken it upon himself to be the voice for the Dravidian cause. By this, he is trying to occupy the political vacuum in Tamil Nadu left after the death in 2016 of former chief minister and AIADMK leader, J Jayalalithaa .

The people Mr Haasan met before he embarked on his tour give indications of the political space he is aiming for. He met Rajinikanth, DMK patriarch, Karunanidhi, senior CPI leader, R Nallakannu, among others, but made it clear that he would not meet any leader from the ruling AIADMK because it was their corruption and incompetence that forced him to take the political plunge.

It is to be seen if Mr Haasan’s party can attain the critical mass to take on the two big Dravidian parties — the AIADMK and the DMK in the Opposition. In the last four decades no regional party has managed to do this. DMDK chief, Vijayakanth, another actor-turned-politician, came the closest when his party polled close to 10% of the total votes in the 2006 assembly elections.

There is also a possibility that with the AIADMK weakening and the two-party system in Tamil Nadu politics coming to an end, smaller parties will get bigger opportunities to succeed. If he plays his cards right, this works to Mr Haasan’s advantage.

First Published: Feb 22, 2018 22:03 IST