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Will Kamal Haasan’s Torch Light up TN in 2021 as the Third Front?

Can Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam emerge as a ‘third factor’ in the 2021 Tamil Nadu assembly elections?

Published
India
9 min read
Actor Kamal Haasan plans to contest in the 2021 Assembly elections.
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Actor Kamal Haasan stayed away from contesting in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but in 2021 the actor-turned-politician is expected to make his debut in politics.

Kamal has acted in over 200 films and became even more popular as the host of Bigg Boss. Since as a child actor in Kalathur Kannamma (1960), to absolute brilliant movies like Apoorva Sahodirargal, Michael Madana Kamarajan, Hey Ram and Thevar Magan -- well, that is just the tip of the iceberg -- the actor has created a niche for himself as the ‘intellectual hero.’

His entry into politics came at a time when there is a void in the state with the absence of veteran leaders like Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.

Kamal Haasan has always stated that Makkal Needhi Maiam could emerge as an inevitable ‘third factor’ in Tamil Nadu politics. The Quint analyses to understand what the party stands for, their ideology and the prospects of creating a dent in the vote share.

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Advent of MNM

Makkal Needhi Maiam was founded by Kamal Haasan in 2018.
Makkal Needhi Maiam was founded by Kamal Haasan in 2018.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) was founded by Kamal Haasan at Madurai on 21 February 2018. The party flag is symbolised by six interlocked hands, meant to represent co-operation between the southern states and their election symbol is a battery torchlight.

The party’s election symbol is a battery torchlight.
The party’s election symbol is a battery torchlight.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

Makkal Needhi Maiam has also launched a mobile whistleblower application named ‘Maiam Whistle’, open to the public. This party is estimated to have around 5,500 office bearers at present.

MNM’s First Political Stint: The 2019 Elections

MNM had contested in 38 parliamentary constituencies and 19 bye-poll seats in 2019.

MNM in its debut elections got 3.72 percentage of votes, more than the BJP, which had only got 3.6 percent votes.
Kamal Haasan with the contestants during the 2019 Lok Sabha election season.
Kamal Haasan with the contestants during the 2019 Lok Sabha election season.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

The MNM vice president R Mahendran contesting from the Coimbatore constituency, secured the highest number of votes by the party at 1,45,104. The party performed well in urban areas such as Chennai and Coimbatore, where it polled upwards of 10% of the vote share and secured more than one lakh votes, but it performed poorly in rural areas.

Despite many candidates losing their deposit, the dent the party made in the vote share is quite significant and something that both Dravidian parties need to be cautious about as experts have predicted that the competition could be quite close this time.

Haasan was criticised for not contesting in the elections in 2019.
Haasan was criticised for not contesting in the elections in 2019.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

Haasan was criticised for not contesting in the elections, probably fearing defeat. He had told at a party function in Coimbatore in 2019, "All candidates are my faces. I am proud being the chariot puller than being in the chariot".

Since the MNM had done well in constituencies in urban areas, it is highly likely that Kamal would choose to contest from Chennai.
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What Does MNM Stand For?

Kamal Haasan has claimed that he would run his political party on the basis of honesty.

“There is no honesty in some political parties now. There are honest people in all parties. Our campaign has not been permitted because the ruling party knows that the support for us will increase due to anti-incumbency,” he said.

Several former bureaucrats who have joined MNM have the reputation of having been honest officers and that’s a perception that the party probably wants to bank on.

The actor has also promised a government without corruption, stating, “We entered politics to govern. Our journey should be towards the goal. The government must be without corruption. Punishing lower rung employees for corruption will not help in getting rid of corruption.”

Kamal Haasan at an election campaign rally in Hosur, taken on 5 January 2020. 
Kamal Haasan at an election campaign rally in Hosur, taken on 5 January 2020. 
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @maiamofficial)

Alleging that bribery has become systematised in Tamil Nadu, the MNM founder released a ‘rate card’ of bribe amounts that the people of the state “are forced to shell out to avail various government services right from the cradle to the grave.”

This list included bribes which he alleged people had to pay for basic services such as the issue of birth/death and community certificates, driving licences and ration cards, land registration, household water/drainage connections etc.

Will Kamal Haasan’s Torch Light up TN in 2021 as the Third Front?

Salaries for Homemakers Proposed: Tharoor Supports, Kangana Lashes Out

Kamal Haasan has promised that if his government comes to power in Tamil Nadu, he will pay salaries to homemakers.

The aim to provide pay to homemakers was to give due recognition for their work at home, “which hitherto has been unrecognised and unmonetised, thus raising the dignity of our womenfolk,” read Haasan’s party’s seven-point agenda, launched last month.

This sparked a debate between Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and actor Kangana Ranaut. Extending support to the 66-year-old actor’s plan, Tharoor took to Twitter and wrote that this would help give women more autonomy.

Will Kamal Haasan’s Torch Light up TN in 2021 as the Third Front?

Actress Kangana Ranaut took to Twitter to oppose the proposal. She said this will be like “reducing a home-owner to an employee” and “trying to pay God for his creation.”

Will Kamal Haasan’s Torch Light up TN in 2021 as the Third Front?
Will Kamal Haasan’s Torch Light up TN in 2021 as the Third Front?
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MNM’s Poll Promises

Kamal promised that his government will escalate the state’s economy four times higher and pledged to make ministers out of at least 20 women when the mantle falls on him.

MNM was one of the first parties to release some kind of an election manifesto in December 2020, with a seven-point governance and economic agenda.

Here is a list if promises Haasan has made so far if his party is elected to power:

  • Introduce paperless government offices -- from the Panchayat Office to the CM's office
  • Internet will be declared a basic human right. A computer along with high speed Internet (100 mbps and above) through Optical Fibre Cable provided to every home.
  • Create world-class infrastructure and logistics, right from village panchayat levels, which will maintain the cold chain at static locations and during transport to ensure freshness of food stocks throughout the supply chain.
  • Promote green industries and green technologies to combat climate change
  • Conservation of waterbodies and illegal sand mining to be stopped
  • Steps will be taken to expedite the long-pending Tindivanam-Nagari broad gauge rail-link project
  • Drinking water issues will be addressed and check-dams will be constructed.

He also said his party candidates will sign an agreement that they would resign if they failed to deliver.

MNM Backs Farmer Protests; Functionary Quits & Joins BJP

In a huge setback to the party, Makkal Needhi Maiam’s founding general secretary A Arunachalam on 25 December 2020 joined the BJP in the presence of Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.

He contended that the MNM leadership had not paid heed to his view that the three farm laws brought in by the centre would benefit farmers.

Makkal Needhi Maiam’s founding general secretary A Arunachalam on 25 December 2020 joined the BJP.
Makkal Needhi Maiam’s founding general secretary A Arunachalam on 25 December 2020 joined the BJP.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

Interestingly, MNM was the only political party from Tami Nadu that sent a team to extend support to the farmers protest in Delhi.

Backing the farmers protest, Haasan slammed Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, the AIADMK, for supporting the three controversial farm bills and stressed the bills “attack the state’s autonomy”, and create a “dangerous situation wherein a state can do nothing amid scarcity or price rise”.

Arunachalam had said, "Except in Punjab and Haryana, there is no support for this ongoing agitation of farmers. It is an agitation induced by political forces. Many joined the MNM with the expectation that it would point out the pros and cons of issues. A centrist party cannot come to electoral politics since its objective is to put forth neutral criticism about issues."

However, within an hour of his joining the BJP, MNM vice president R Mahendran announced that Arunachalam has been expelled for anti-party activities.

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Special Focus on Environment

The party has also released a separate agenda for what it would do for the conservation of the environment, agriculture and water management. He said the party would like to create an ‘equipoise’ between big industries and agriculture.

  • Create a circular economy where recycling and reuse would be norm for water, plastic and e-waste.
  • As per Supreme Court directions in 2017 they would set up Online Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems, and it would be published as a continuous stream.
  • Create stringent groundwater regulations for large scale harvesting of groundwater to safeguard interests of local communities
  • Wetland rules be amended to ensure protection of local water bodies
  • Creation of a state-wide environment atlas for industrial sites with details regarding pollutants released by an industry and handling of the waste

During one of his election campaigns he said that he has started promoting handwoven clothes through his show ‘Big Boss’ and said that the costumes he would be wearing in the show would be an advertisement for handloom weavers.

Kamal Haasan in <i>Big Boss</i>
Kamal Haasan in Big Boss
(Photo Courtesy: Screengrab)

The Partnership That Could Have Happened

Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan had made it clear that any political alliance with superstar Rajinikanth is unlikely if his colour is “saffron”, in an apparent reference to the BJP.
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan had made it clear that any political alliance with superstar Rajinikanth is unlikely if his colour is “saffron”, in an apparent reference to the BJP.
(Photo Courtesy: PTI)

Considering the cordial relations the two actors shared, there was room for speculation that Kamal's Makkal Needhi Maiam and Rajini could bring together their respective fan clubs with the idea of ushering in a new kind of politics in increasingly educated Tamil Nadu.

Haasan has, at several occasions, signalled he is open to collaborating with Rajini. After Rajini’s announcement to quit politics due to his poor health and the coronavirus pandemic, he even said he will ask the actor to extend support to MNM.

Denying that Rajini and him are rivals, Kamal has said in the past, “We are not competitors even in cinema. People thought it would be nice if we compete and pit us both against each other like ‘Golu dolls’. Both of us have our own paths.”

However, several political analysts believe the two are diametrically opposite - One is popular with the masses, other with a certain class of people; one believes in spiritual politics and the other believes in a system devoid of religion, caste, even the name of it.

This alliance was just a dream, and will always be one, anyway.

This alliance was just a dream, and will always be one, anyway.
This alliance was just a dream, and will always be one, anyway.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)
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Colour of Politics: Black

All along, Kamal Haasan has made it clear that the colour of his politics is "black" that reflects a Dravidian tone and is concerned about saffron colour. "It's culturally not a bad colour for us Tamils."

Haasan has made it clear that he does not subscribe to the right-wing ideology.

He has even commented back in 2018 that the prospects of an alliance with his friend Rajinikanth would be "unlikely if his colour is saffron".

Asked if his party would subscribe to left or right-wing politics, Haasan has maintained "I'm centre".

Recently, the MNM chief demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spell out the rationale behind constructing a new Parliament building for about Rs 1,000 crore "when half of India is hungry due to coronavirus pandemic triggered loss of livelihoods".

Ruling out any room for alliance with BJP, he has reiterated in the past that MNM’s electoral alliance will be with ‘good people’. He recently even ruled out the possibility of forming an electoral alliance with the ‘Kazhagams’ in Tamil Nadu, referring to the DMK and the AIADMK.

It will be interesting to watch the candidates Kamal Haasan plans to float this election season and if MNM could be the cause of worry for the Dravidian parties especially in urban areas.

Until then, just one request to the actor - Sir, could you please simplify your tweets? Takes a while to decipher.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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