Stardom alone will not help political fortunes of Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan
Celebrity status is not an automatic ticket to political success in Tamil Nadu. It is up to Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan to provide a credible political alternative to the voters who are keenly watching the developmentsopinion Updated: Oct 04, 2017 10:57 IST
Will the people of Tamil Nadu again be ruled by stars from tinsel town? Will the now certain arrival of Kamal Haasan and the expected arrival of Rajinikanth alter the political landscape of the state? What impact will their political entry have on the established parties in the state, particularly the ruling AIADMK and Opposition DMK? Will the two big national parties, the BJP and Congress, be able to piggy back on star power to grab a share of power in the state? These are some of the questions that are at present being debated in Tamil Nadu.
While Haasan has said that he would be launching a political outfit possibly in the next 100 days, Rajinikanth has still kept everyone guessing. At the inaugural function of the memorial to thespian Sivaji Ganesan on October 1, Rajinikanth made a rather enigmatic reference to politics saying that he did not know the key to success in politics and perhaps Haasan did. He added that neither star power nor money was enough to guarantee political success. On a lighter note he added he should have asked Haasan for the secret of how to succeed in politics a couple of months ago.
Haasan has no doubt stolen much of the thunder from Rajinikanth by going ahead with announcing his plan to enter politics and to form a new political party even though he was much later off the blocks. Rajinikanth still refuses to commit himself and if there is no announcement from him in the next few months the opportunity may have gone. Also, considering he has been playing the ‘Will He-Won’t He’ game since 1996 the people of Tamil Nadu are starting to tire of the speculation in this regard.
The going though, is hardly likely to be smooth for either. Tamil Nadu has moved on from the days when movie stardom meant a near automatic ticket to political success. Even in the days of MGR there were exceptions to the rule, most notably Ganesan who could not make much headway in politics. But in the earlier days the chances of acceptability in politics was much higher with the recognition that stardom provided. Today much of that has changed. The advent of television in almost every household, the explosion of social media and the higher literacy rates have meant that while being a recognised face certainly gives you an edge it hardly guarantees success. The scrutiny of public figures by media and ordinary citizens is several times higher than what it has even been.
That is why it is vitally important for Haasan and Rajinikanth (if he does enter politics) to articulate their vision for the state, their stand on a number of key issues that Tamil Nadu currently faces (read the Cauvery water dispute, NEET exam, hydrocarbon extraction, Hindi imposition/Navodaya schools, etc), their view on the established regional political players in the state, their position vis-a-vis the two national parties and their ideological stance on Dravidianism.
So far we do know that Haasan has taken an anti-corruption line and has come out openly against the AIADMK government. Rajinikanth has called the system rotten and needing change. Beyond this we know very little of what they stand for.
The need to put together a good team will not be lost on the two stars. If they create a party made up mainly of members from fans associations and other assorted film stars or people from the movie industry they can wave goodbye to their dreams of political success. The public would be watching keenly to assess the team they assemble so as to judge their credibility and track record. Neither star is under any illusion that their fans alone will be able to make them a credible political force in Tamil Nadu.
Both stars also know that it may be foolhardy to try to take on all comers on their own and will therefore be looking to build alliances with existing players. Their success may also depend upon the kind of alliances they build and the public perception of such tie ups.
With the crisis of leadership in the ruling AIADMK and with the DMK still not being an appealing alternative for a large percentage of the electorate, the space is open for the two giants of Tamil cinema to make a mark on Tamil Nadu’s political landscape. People of Tamil Nadu are open to give them a patient hearing — it is now up to them to make it count.
Sumanth Raman is a Chennai-based television anchor and political analyst
The views expressed are personal