While Kamal Haasan is making strides in the political game, Rajinikanth is still stumbling.

100 days of Makkal Needhi Maiam Who is ahead in the Kamal Vs Rajini political race
news Opinion Thursday, May 31, 2018 - 18:53

The battle lines are clearly drawn even though the armies may be on uneven ground. Ever since 2016, Tamil Nadu has been in some state of unrest or the other. With Jayalalithaa’s untimely death, the extent of political confusion which arose is yet to die down. Two years since, Tamil Nadu is seeing two much loved icons vie for the superpower of ruling the state.

The two icons in focus being - Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth - mentioned in order of seniority in both cinema and in politics. Kamal Haasan precedes Rajinikanth in cinema - a child star in the 1950s, a teenage icon and a passionate actor/filmmaker who rose from one cinematic excellence to another, Haasan’s journey is that of a polymath in Indian entertainment.

Rajinikanth entered films in 1975, chose to fit into MGR’s shoes and went on to don roles which made a messiah out of him - the man who would become the quintessential superstar. Films of these two actors clashed at many a Deepavali or Pongal box-office and there have been years when either of them won, only to be ousted by the other in the following year. The days of watching back to back shows of Thalapathy and Guna, Muthu and Kurudhi Punal, are legendary. Those were the pre-multiplex days when FDFS results were not determined by Twitter reviews but by word of mouth, and high anticipation for the next three days of shows where some influential uncle would give you those front row seats and you watched either Rajini or Kamal only on the big screen with total awe.

That “awe-factor” has kept both of them going from when they begun up until now.. a good 40+ years of ruling the marquee in their own respective ways. If Rajinikanth had his fan clubs, Kamal Haasan had his Narpani Iyakkam (Welfare Movement). Even there, the priorities and paths of these two celebrity legends diverted into roads so not taken by anyone else before them.

While Rajini closely followed MGR’s methods in maintaining his on-screen charisma and image, he did little to bring his popularity into a well knit political base. And now when he has done it, it all seems to have a bigger political colour as its spine. Like in cinema, Kamal Haasan chose to take the plunge ahead of Rajinikanth in politics as well and without much fuss of “will he or won’t he”.

It’s been 100 days since Haasan launched Makkal Needhi Maiam (Centre for People’s Justice) and these last 100 days read like a report card which has in it a good share of A-grades. From creating an awareness about his political entry with his tours of Madurai, Trichy, Erode, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts, to relaunching Grama Sabhas in villages, to adopting Adhikathur village to set it up as an example of the “Smart Village Scheme”, to launching the Maiam Whistle App to register complaints from citizens of TN, and setting up a common meeting ground for all political parties and stakeholders to come together to discuss solutions for the Cauvery Issue - Kamal Haasan is making use of the time on his hands to cover his public and political base well.

Rajinikanth, meanwhile, has consolidated his fan clubs and created a structural hierarchy among his office bearers.

Kamal Haasan’s image of being a non-corrupt, tax paying individual has come in for much praise - a dipstick on Haasan among common folk and media influencers always throws in these words as adjectives for him - “clean”, “bold”, “rational”, “avar yedhavadhu nalladhu seivaaru” (he will do something good).

Tamil Nadu politics has always been pro-film stars entering and winning elections, thanks to MGR and thereafter Jayalalithaa and in between them is Karunanidhi, whose roots also lie in the black and white days of Tamil cinema. So the emergence of Rajinikanth was somewhat expected ever since his famous declaration in support of the DMK when he said “even God can’t save TN if Jayalalithaa came to power” (that he sings a different tune now is up for another debate).

But what was unexpected, what came like a well-thrown javelin which hit the right pitch on the ground is Kamal Haasan’s entry into electoral politics. While Haasan has always been some sort of an “activist” who gave his “voice” for key issues which concerned the state’s welfare, the turn of events for him also came through a much publicised face-off with Jayalalithaa when she and her government went all out to ban Haasan’s Vishwaroopam five years ago. Haasan’s popularity saw greater heights when he fought a case against the TN government and released his film on his terms. He emerged as a person who stood for free speech and freedom of expression in a secular democracy. From then on, till about 100 days ago when he launched his political outfit MNM, it’s been a step by step building of blocks which now form a full fledged political identity for Kamal Haasan, who even signs autographs which read “Kamal Haasan, Politician” loud and clear.

Meanwhile, Rajinikanth’s film graph kept growing and even though his age on-screen defied his off-screen persona, the charm remained intact. His political affiliations were much sought after by the DMK in every election but his leanings towards Narendra Modi and the BJP became apparent when Modi visited Rajinikanth’s house before the parliament elections four years ago. Even if TN is not a saffron state, the image of Thalaivar Rajini hugging Modi stayed. While Rajini invokes MGR, Karunanidhi and even Jayalalithaa in his recent speeches, his religious leanings which now take shape as “aanmeega arasiyal” (spiritual politics if there’s a term like that) all point towards a BJP hand behind his political entry, of which there has been no direct step taken save for him changing his fan clubs' name to Rajini Makkal Mandram.

But Makkal (people) is the sole commonality between Rajinikanth’s and Kamal Haasan’s politics. Otherwise there has always been a direct contrast between Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth and the styles are emerging already. Case in point Thoothukudi.

While Kamal Haasan rushed to Thoothukudi twice - first time to sit down and participate with the people as he believed the state government and Sterlite were not doing much to end the protest, and second time he went immediately after the police gunned down 13 of the protesters, despite the imposition of Section 144 and despite lack of much personal security.

Rajinikanth, on the other hand, seems to have lost the round on Thoothukudi. The confused comments on “anti-social elements disrupting a peaceful protest”, the increasing anxiety and impatience he displays during press meets, the lack of complete information on the subject he is questioned about makes Rajinikanth an easier prey for trolls and online criticism alike. Specially when the intelligentsia in India is strongly against the saffron regime and their policies, Rajinikanth’s personal affiliation with the BJP is not a welcome sign in Dravidian Tamil Nadu. If Rajinikanth has to see serious traction in his politics, then his strategy has to change.

While Kamal Haasan has taken a rather new way of thought with his Centrism policies which may take a while before it finds firm ground as it’s neither Left nor Right Wing, Rajinikanth seems to have no personal policy on what his politics is going to be! And that is a matter of concern. Mere crowds which come to wave at him or see him or for that matter even Kamal Haasan or any other movie star, will not translate into votes.

For example, in Thoothukudi, who among these two icons displayed real concern? While the verdict is still out on that, the fact that Rajinikanth chose to visit the victims of the shooting, just a few days before his Kaala release has not gone down well with anyone. On the other hand, sources say that Kamal Haasan has postponed the audio and trailer launch of his Vishwaroopam 2 which was supposed to have been on June 1st, in the light of what happened in Thoothukudi and has even put off the 100 days celebrations of MNM on May 31st. Instead, he has spent his time drafting and sending a petition to the State Human Rights Commission and letter to the Governor to take proper action against the AIADMK government and issued a press release with a barrage of questions to the state government and the police department on the Thoothukudi massacre.

Whoever is advising Rajinikanth on his political “things to do” must wake up. Because very soon, Kamal Haasan would’ve take a hop skip and jump ahead and his poll meter shows an upswing.

The action points and press meets along with the words they use, the people they meet - everything that Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are doing right now is drawing out a clear road map of choices for the people of TN.

If Cauvery and Thoothukudi are anything to go by, then the rounds belong to Haasan. If the round is on the initiative to take awareness tours across TN and spend his hard earned money in his party activities and on the people who work for him - that round also goes to Kamal Haasan. If only Rajinikanth kept his composure during press meets and didn’t expose his anger at least that would’ve been a saving grace for Thalaivar. Contrast this with the many Town Halls which Hassan has done both with national and regional television channels and answered every question either with adequate information or a smart retort, then even that round Rajinikanth seems to have lost.

So, what then remains for the superstar who still has the love of his fans and people at large to score over his arch nemesis from cinema and now in politics?

Rajinikanth must come clean. The many cases of non payment of loans against his wife Latha and the production company owned by his daughter Soundarya must be dealt with honestly. The relying on “advisors” who are not trained IAS or IPS officers but who are vested political interests must be done away with. There must be an overall integrity which speaks for himself. The blinding popularity and “mass” which Rajinikanth enjoys must be converted into meaningful social work. There must be a mindful listing of issues for which TN needs solutions for, and there must be an engagement with educated, well-informed teams who will get into action even before fingers are pointed at the state government’s inertia.

But then - if Rajinikanth were to do all of the above, won’t he then become a Kamal Haasan?

Just asking.

The writer is a producer, film columnist and commentator on TN politics who decided to join Makkal Needhi Maiam.

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