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We aren’t very similar, but I am inspired by Arvind Kejriwal: Kamal Haasan

Actor and Makkal Needhi Maiam party founder Kamal Haasan says state of Tamil Nadu motivated him to enter politics, accuses BJP of intolerance.

india Updated: Jun 25, 2018 09:45 IST
Manoj Ramachandran and Prashant Jha
Manoj Ramachandran and Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kamal Haasan,Makkal Needhi Maiam,Tamil Nadu
Actor Kamal Haasan, president of Makkal Needhi Maiam, during a rally in Panagudi town in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.(PTI)

Kamal Haasan, one of the tallest figures of Tamil cinema, has recently made a foray into politics. In Delhi last week to register his party, Makkal Needhi Maiam , Haasan also met Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the party’s former president Sonia Gandhi. He spoke to Manoj Ramachandran and Prashant Jha about his motivations, world view, the situation back in Tamil Nadu, and national politics. Edited excerpts:

What motivated you to enter politics?

The dire state of my state motivated me. To see a great state going down in front of my eyes drove me to politics. I am a Tamil Nadu person; it’s not a parochial mindset, it’s a practical situation I am in. I am not saying that the situation is as bad as it was under British rule, but for some it could be much worse in Tamil Nadu. Why should we wait for things to become worse? In Tamil Nadu, all promises have been unfulfilled. I have been hearing about change since I was a teenager, but things are still the same. I have realised it after running my own company and watching other states succeed.

What specifically about the current situation in Tamil Nadu is so disturbing?

Corruption. Absolute open market corruption. It has been going in the state on for some time now. Now people are desensitised to graft, which is even more frightening. I call myself a ‘politiculturist,’ instead of just a politician. It’s an ambitious title. But things are so bad in Tamil Nadu that anybody who thinks of bringing in the ‘noble culture’ can lay claim to such a title. There are a lot of young people who are keen on doing the same. They want to come into politics, that’s the change I see. I should have entered politics earlier, that is my only regret. But now I’m happy to see that many students are propelled into taking part in the making of the state.

The death of Jayalalithaa and the relative eclipse of Karunanidhi because of his age and health has made the timing of your entry into politics interesting.

It was an opportune moment. My politics began the day I sued the Tamil Nadu government as a film company (Raaj Kamal Films International) in 2011. No small time businessman like me would take on the Tamil Nadu government. I have been a victim of such political pressures even before that. I was slowly making my films more political, not obviously, but subliminally. Even in Vishwaroopam it was only subliminal. My film, ‘Hey Ram,’ on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination... was something I feared and forecasted. It’s a film which is more pertinent today. I don’t know if I will get away by making a film like that now.

But critics believe that you were scared to take the likes of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi directly.

I have taken them on even from a lesser podium as a film producer. I was not even on the political stage. They could crush me anytime, which they did try. The kind of shenanigans that I went through, Tamil Nadu knows. So it’s not all about valour, it’s not about cunningness too.

TN always had a bipolar polity, now suddenly, it’s more fragmented. How do you see this change?

I think it is good because bipolar politics is one of the reasons why Makkal Needhi Maiam is advocating centrism.

Who is the bigger enemy in Tamil Nadu? DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) or AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)?

I think each party is its own enemy, they can ruin themselves. Anybody who is corrupt has to be chosen as the target. And both parties qualify.

Don’t you think MNM will have to get into pre-poll alliances to take on strong, organised parties like the DMK and the AIADMK?

I am using my identity as Kamal Haasan and vertical take offs aren’t new in politics. It has been done before. Take NTR (N T Rama Rao, former CM of Andhra Pradesh and the founder of Telugu Desam Party). It has been 37 years since my fan club has been dissolved and turned into the Narpani Iyakkam (Welfare Movement); from 50,000 we now have 15 lakh people. These are grassroots level people. Name any party which has so many people in a state? I will use everything within my legal limits. I am being criticised for hosting the Bigg Boss show, I use the programme to reach out to 5.2 crore viewers every week. I am committed to create something that will live after me.

What are the core non-negotiable principles of your party?

We should not only talk, but also walk the talk against corruption. There can be no half measures. I’m a person with zero tax arrears. I drive a nice costly car. If I had cheated on paying taxes I could have even owned a plane. I know many billionaires who don’t pay their taxes. I know billionaires who could afford to buy 10 companies like mine. Politicians have also stopped listening to people. They keep talking about the grassroots, but they don’t nibble at the grass, leave alone the root. We have very serious thoughts on education, farmers’ welfare, and we are in constant touch with the stakeholders.

You spoke about fighting corruption. The reason many parties say they have to resort to it is to fight elections. What is your financial model?

It’s the taxpayer who fills the coffers when an avaricious politician empties it. The average taxpayer is my financier. We will plan together and invest in my party. Anybody can look into my accounts. If we keep an account of 300 biryanis we bought and I will tell you who ate it. The party is now being run on my money and people who come and give in kind, like set up a podium. We acknowledge their contribution on stage. When money comes in, things have to be on a ticker, where people can see.

Any inspiration from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal?

Welfare of the people is the fulcrum of his politics; anti-corruption crusade is a part of his work. People may say Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore’s first Prime Minister) and Kejriwal had it safe as they handle smaller areas. I am learning from him. My learning curve improves as there is somebody running ahead of me. We aren’t very similar, but I am inspired by Kejriwal. I also look up to Pinarayi Vijayan. Kerala is smaller than Tamil Nadu, and a lot of work has been done by him. Chandrababu Naidu (CM of Andhra Pradesh) is doing a different kind of good to the people. He started from scratch and he is building very fast. He has proven it in Hyderabad and now he is replicating it in Amaravati. These are great examples for us to follow and we are inspired and in touch with these leaders.

Rajinikanth has also entered politics and while you are broadly perceived as left of centre, he is seen as a person who believes in right of centre point of view. Do you have any views? Any comments on Rajinikanth calling Thoothukudi protesters as anti-nationals?

I run a political party and I am working on my manifesto which should be out soon. Rajinikanth doesn’t have a registered party. When he comes out and says what he represents, then we will have a dialogue. It’s too early to comment and put my foot in the mouth. I am not sure what he meant about Thoothukudi. I have my say and he has his. I participated in the Thoothukudi protests; I sat with the people and understood their problems. The state government is anti-people, we are pro-life.

What do you make of the recent muzzling of protests by the Tamil Nadu government?

The state government has become emboldened and foolish. One cannot see environmental concerns like the one in Thoothukudi and the Chennai-Salem expressway as breaking of law. Activists are the catalysts of change. They are cracking down on students, too. Tamil Nadu is fast becoming a police state. This isn’t something that has begun recently; it has been taking place for the past 20 years now.

Do you intend to contest all 234 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu?

Yes. But will have to see what kind of alliances take place. We are centrists and open to ideas, but this doesn’t mean we will swing either way. We have rock solid principles. But centrism is the core idea. Centrism is back in France, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and there is an increasing clamour for it even in the US.

So would you be open to an alliance with the DMK?

Let us see. We are realists.

Nationally, you have taken a position against the BJP. What disturbs you about their politics?

I hate monoculture of any kind. Even in my films, I have gone against masala movies. Our diversity unites us. The BJP is trampling on this idea.

Tamil Nadu is perceived as the BJP’s last challenge.

Many sadly don’t understand Dravidian politics. It started under the Justice Party, during the British rule in the Madras Presidency, where non-Brahmin intellectuals joined hands. The British believed that the priest class gave them direct access to the people. They mistook caste with the class structure. That false hegemony was challenged by the Justice Party. It is from this that the Dravida Kazhagam borrowed ideas, symbols and colours.

What’s your reading of the 2019 general elections? The BJP has a leader, where as others don’t have one common leader.

Well, I’m still reading it. It’s too complicated. Someone will rise.

Do you see yourself as a part of a national Opposition if a broad front is created?

It’s not a bad idea. It’s an evolving situation.

Do you think there is an increasing gulf between north and south India after the BJP came to power? Finance ministers from four southern states even came together over the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission.

They have always being talking about it. It’s the country’s diversity we are talking about, it is good for the nation. Let India be diverse and think differently. States like UP, MP and Bihar also came together. We sing a National Anthem, which is not in our language. But I fear that this unity is in danger today. Mahatma Gandhi was Mahatma Gandhi for the whole nation. We did not look at him as a North Indian.

BJP believes it is broad Hindu culture and civilisation that unites this country. Do you believe in that?

Where is the word Hindu mentioned in the Vedas? The idea started with Adi Shankara’s Shanmatha Sthapana. Even he didn’t use the word Hindu. Let diversity remain in religion too.

First Published: Jun 25, 2018 07:11 IST