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What does Kamal Haasan’s entry into politics mean for Tamil Nadu?

Whenever a new car is launched in the market, the manufacturers, analysts and shareholders are usually unaware as to how the product will perform. Will people love the design? Is the comfort ok? How much is the mileage? Is the pricing right? Which models will this new car compete with? All such questions are taken into account before designing and launching a new car model.

Many factors play their role in the success or failure of a new car model. Even though a model is launched with much fanfare, it may perform miserably, like Tata Nano. Other models which were launched silently may become a hit, like Maruti Swift. The right placement of a product in the market, at the right time is crucial for its success or failure. The situation of political parties is also somewhat similar.

The new party in the country, Tamil Nadu to be specific, is Kamal Haasan’s ‘Makkal Needhi Maiam‘ or ‘People’s Justice Hub’.  A normal citizen watching the launch of this party, might be wondering about its prospects and future. Here is an assessment of its Kamal’s prospects in Tamil politics.

Kamal Haasan is not Kejriwal of Tamil Nadu

Though there are some similarities between Kamal Haasan and Kejriwal, it is not right to compare him with Kejriwal. Both of them entered politics when there was a vacuum in the political space in their respective states. In the case of Kamal Haasan, the political space vacated after Jayalalitha’s demise is open for grabs. Kejriwal rode on people’s disillusionment with established parties in Delhi.

However, Kamal Haasan has never been an activist like Kejriwal. He didn’t take part in any significant movement like the current Delhi CM. Kejriwal had a cadre that was associated with Lokpal movement at his disposal. They had been active social activists before taking a plunge into politics. But Kamal Haasan has to build his cadre from scratch. They may  be drawn from his fan clubs or contacts in cinema industry. Even if he does that, this cadre is not driven by a ’cause’ like Kejriwal’s AAP cadre.

Secondly, Kejriwal had a fixed agenda for his newborn AAP. But Kamal Haasan is still trying to find out what his ’cause’ is. He is trying to crowdsource a cause through social media. This may or may not work for him. Usually, the electorate is able to rally behind a cause defined by a leader rather than define a cause for itself in normal times. However, we can expect Kamal to adopt a secular , left of centre ideology for his party.

Thirdly, the support of Delhi based media helped Kejriwal immensely as the Delhi population is familiar with the language and is fairly urban in composition. Kamal Haasan will not be able to gain much from the hulabaloo in Delhi based media as Tamil Nadu has a significant rural electorate which does not follow Delhi centric news. Even urban population may not connect to propaganda aired from Delhi.

Even though Kejriwal and Kamal shared stage during the launch of the new party, they cannot be compared with each other.

Maneuvering space for Kamal is limited, but he might end up as a significant player

The right wing’s attempt to call him a communist or a Naxal is also not going to have any effect on his electoral prospects (both positive or negative), because Naxal problem has never entered Tamil Nadu. Whether he sympathises with the ideology or not will not be a major poll issue for a majority of the electorate. Tamil Nadu is a state where issues like language, culture, anti-Brahminism and freebies are more likely to work. The last item i.e. ‘freebies’ has been a deciding factor in election results in Tamil politics.

Unlike Rajnikanth, Kamal Haasan doesn’t have a ‘mad’ mass following among Tamil cinema goers. Kamal appeals to refined cinema goers and has tried to experiment with his art rather than appeal to his fan base consistently. As a result, some of his films have also flopped in the box office.

If one analyses the result of 2016 assembly polls in Tamil Nadu (or for that matter any poll is last 2 decades), one will realise that Tamil Nadu is a fairly bipolar contest between DMK and AIADMK. Out 232 seats , the two parties had won 223 seats in 2016. The remaining 9 seats were won by INC (8) and IUML (1). Thus, the next Tamil Nadu assembly poll will be won by those who can fill the space left by Jayalalitha and outsmart the DMK.

The performance of Kamal Haasan in politics will be defined by how he evolves or positions himself vis-a-vis existing players (DMK and AIADMK) , Rajnikanth, smaller Tamil parties , BJP and INC. Though it would unreasonable to expect Kamal to sweep polls in 2019 Lok Sabha or 2021 assembly polls, we can expect him to win some seats and if luck is on his side, he may play the role of a kingmaker. Or he may end up like Tata Nano. A grand launch but failed product.

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