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Caste factor may keep Kamal Haasan on tenterhooks

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Sixty-three-year old Kamal Haasan seems to have plunged into politics with full force. He spent the past few months testing the waters, shooting a series of tweets aimed at the AIADMK government, much to the chagrin of state ministers. He used the ‘Bigg Boss’ platform to air his political views and followed it up with several interviews with TV channels. His tweets and statements on various issues concerning the state are instantly lauded or lampooned. He changed his views on demonetisation, which he praised a year ago. Kamal recently earned BJP’s ire with his ‘Hindu terrorism’ comment.

Tamil Nadu provides verdant grounds for film personalities to enter politics. Cashing in on this aspect, many actors who seem to have found their tongue after Jayalalithaa’s death, are making sharp political comments. While actors Vijaykanth and Seeman have their own political parties, Rajinikanth keeps stoking media frenzy with teasers of his entry into politics. Rumours are also rife about actor Vijay’s entry into politics.

Kamal Haasan may be one of the contenders, but he stands well above the others. Clearly more intelligent, well-read and articulate, he is at ease both in English and Tamil. Funnily, his English tweets are easier to understand than the Tamil ones. But this is a minor handicap, which he can easily overcome given his reputation of having penned many poems, stories, and screenplays for quite a few movies in Tamil.

His social views fit the Tamil political milieu — he is an atheist, though in the recent days he uses the word ‘rationalist’ to describe himself, the word preferred by Periyar and his followers. He has repeatedly said that he has moved away from his brahminical roots. It is obvious that he is anti-Hindutva. In a recent Town Hall meeting, he was forthright in singing the praise of Tamil as a language older than Sanskrit — something which would have warmed the cockles of Tamil hearts.

He is clearly left of centre in his economic views despite his assertion that he is a centrist — a shrewd move backed by the fact that it is highly unlikely for a centrist to win elections in India. That Kamal’s first major meeting was with Kerala’s chief minister and CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan, indicates his leftist leanings.

So far, Kamal has made all the right noises, placing himself squarely opposed to the ruling AIADMK in the state and the BJP at the Centre. But, does it make him an electoral favourite?

The answer is no.

He has so far been attacked only by a highly discredited and rudderless AIADMK and a shrill and insignificant BJP. The upholders of social justice movement Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and its leader Veeramani have not decided what to do with Kamal Haasan. After all, he comes from a brahmin family. It is only been a year since fate removed Jayalalitha, a brahminical leader from the chief minister’s chair. DK would not want to see another brahmin there, even if he professes his love for Periyar and wears his black shirt. DMK which was hopeful of capturing power in the coming elections is wary of Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. They had hoped that Rajinikanth would never come to politics while Kamal would fully support them, which seems unlikely now. The second level leaders of DMK are jittery about Kamal’s increasingly bold statements and media’s lapping up of the same. It is taking mindshare away from the lacklustre Stalin. They are just waiting to pounce on Kamal.

The communists in Tamil Nadu are insignificant in number but are powerful in putting together coalitions, thanks to their pan-Indian presence and backing by national media. They are also watching Kamal. Despite making the right noises in the social space, Kamal has not been unequivocal about opposition to demonetisation, GST and in fact anything decrying Modi. If they see any wavering from Kamal, they and their news arms will mercilessly go after him.

Kamal has to therefore choose his friends quickly, put together a manifesto that his friends approve and get into the election mode immediately. The longer he takes, the tougher it is going to be for him.

(The author is a Tamil publisher and a political analyst)

Updated: November 15, 2017 — 11:29 am

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