With the film star Kamal Haasan forming a political party and his contemporary Rajinikanth set to follow suit soon, time alone can show whether they will be mere shooting stars that streak across the political sky or lode stars that guide storm-crossed ship of Tamil Nadu safely to the shore. The larger question is whether star value will sell in a State where money decides election outcomes.
This is a decisive change from the times when charisma of the film stars and their promise of reforming society seemed to be so catchy that everyone voted for MGR and Jayaylalithaa or the alternative they saw in the equally filmy Karunanidhi and kin. The times have changed somewhat as Sasikala’s nephew seems to have proven that money alone counts in the polls. To see a massive swing vote for the charisma of film stars at this juncture is difficult.
Evidently both Kamal and Rajini want to take advantage of the vacuum in the state following the death of four-time Chief Minister J Jayalalitha and the retirement of equally veteran politician and DMK president M Karunanidhi. Neither has shown much knowledge of politics, with Rajini a shade better than Kamal who does not even bother to apply his mind even on crucial issues like Cauvery or the Rameswaram fishermen issue.
Like the fabled tortoise and hare race, Kamal has rushed in to announce his party —Makkal Needhi Maiyyam — or People’s Centre for Justice. Rajini on the other hand has said he has to have his party in place at the grassroots before he can go on a tour of the State to meet the people.
By rushing in to form the party, Kamal has shown he has no idea what its policies will be except for the grand generality that it will do good to the people. Rajini is more circumspect. He has said his will be spiritual politics meaning that it will be guided by ethical principles and not necessarily pro-BJP line,
Both call the present AIADMK regime of Edappadi Palanisamy corrupt. Neither has any idea how they will eradicate corruption if given a mandate. Kamal glibly says, “You have to fight it”, meaning people should refuse to give bribe or sell their votes. Despite the support of Aam Admi Party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with him, Kamal has not heard of a body like Lok Ayukta meant to fight corrupt in the administration. Rajini does not want to get bogged down in details.
More shocking in the case of Kamal is his ignorance on vital issues affecting Tamil Nadu. Even allowing the Rameswaram fishermen to share his press conference, Kamal showed no sign that he was listening to them. The same contempt for details he has shown on the more vital issue of Cauvery by calling for a dialogue with Karnataka, that too after the Supreme Court giving a final verdict.
Rajini, on the hand, has a grasp of the current affairs by welcoming that for the first time all the political parties have rallied behind the Government on the issue and has even suggested that the State should find out if it can seek a review of the Supreme Court order. Of course, he has not said anything about Centre’s refusal to abide by the apex court’s order to set up the Cauvery Management Board in six weeks so that the tribunal’s order can be enforced.
Symbolically, Kamal has started his political yatra from Rameswaram, a pilgrim town for the believers and a place where late President A P J Abdul Kalam was born. Fine, Kalam symbolised simple living and high thinking. Both Kamal and Rajini, having come from the film world, are used to more flamboyant lifestyles.
Here they can learn a lesson from AIADMK founder and three time Chief Minister MG Ramachandran and his protégé and equally successful politician J Jayalalitha. Both were simple in real life. More important, they brought the AIADMK to great heights by extensively touring the length and the breadth of Tamil Nadu, connecting with even people living in remote villages.
Kamal and Rajini, both on the wrong side of 60, have neither the drive nor the inclination to hit the dirt tracks of Tamil Nadu. Instead they resort to twitter politics and press conferences and think they can win over people by attending organised public meetings in major cities like Madurai, Chennai or Tiruchy.
The question is whether elections are round the corner at all. The meeting attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi here when the State Government launched Jaya’s pet scheme of giving scooters at subsidised rates to working women shows that he does not want to destabalise this government.
Probably, he wants to give time to Rajini to get ready with his party as Kamal will serve as a proxy for the DMK though its chief MK Stalin, to whom it is now or never, has not a not taken kindly to any star cutting into his vote share.
This government survival depends on the High Court’s order on the disqualification of 18 legislators supporting rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dinakaran. The first bench has reserved orders. It took more than a year for the Supreme court to give its order in the assets case after reserving judgment. And finally the judgement came only after the Attorney General gave a nudge. Will the High Court also need a similar nudge?
In any case, the Modi plan is to go in for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly elections. The present Government has mandate to rule till 2021.Since the Modi Government’s mandate will expire in May 2019, chances are that he may go for next Lok Sabha elections latest by March.
If in the next couple of months after the High Court order this government falls, then State can be brought under President rule up to one year during which the Central agencies can clean the Augean Stable.
Modi cannot go with the AIADMK in the hope of getting the vote bank of MGR and Jayalalithaa after destabalising it. Moreover, he cannot have the discredited AIADMK on the one side and Rajini on the other.
Modi knows that the people want a change after 50 years of Dravidian rule, largely marked by corruption and maladministration. If he promises development and clean Government, he can make a dent. That is a chance he has to take with a little help from Rajini.