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Untiffining ‘Ulaganaayagan’ Kamal Haasan: MNM, Possible 3rd Front?

Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam has only one simple political agenda – corruption-free politics.

Published
Tamil Nadu
4 min read

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Graphics: Aroop Mishra
Cameraperson: Smitha TK

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In Tamil Nadu, movie stars turning into politicians is nothing new. And the most recent addition to the list of MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi is Kamal Haasan.

When he launched his political party Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) in February 2018, his superstar status had somewhat waned. All that Haasan had were lofty political dreams with a pinch of socialism – neither a political background nor a fan base with ideological conviction.

However, while his tweets are tough to decipher and his speeches have complicated Tamil historical or cultural references, his political agenda is quite simple – corruption-free governance.

Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam has one simple ideology: corruption-free politics.
Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam has one simple ideology: corruption-free politics.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

So, where does Kamal Haasan stand three years since – the MNM’s debut outing – in the run-up to his first Assembly polls?

The Quint ‘untiffins’ the actor-politician whose party is trying to be the third popular front in a state that has been dominated by Dravidian parties – All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) – for decades.

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The Ulaganaayagan

He started his career as a child artist at the age of six in the film Kalathur Kannamma.
He started his career as a child artist at the age of six in the film Kalathur Kannamma.
(Photo: Screengrab)

Kamal Haasan is known as the ‘Ulaganaayagan’ – one person, many faces. He is an actor, dancer, film director, screenwriter, producer, playback singer, lyricist, and politician. He has worked in over 220 films in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, and Bengali, and has completed more than 60 years in cinema.

He has won four National Film Awards, 19 Filmfare Awards, the Kalaimamani award, the Padma Shri, and the Padma Bhushan. He started his career as a child artist at the age of six in the film Kalathur Kannamma, for which he won the President's Gold Medal. He has experimented with several styles and has never shied away from acting in films that have controversial messages on religion or terrorism. His popularity rose on the silver screen after he began hosting Bigg Boss Tamil in the past two years.

The Rationalist

Kamal Haasan prefers to be called a ‘rationalist’ and is neither a superb orator nor a communicator.

Kamal Haasan’s open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Kamal Haasan’s open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

He is from a Brahmin family and has always talked of how he grew up cradled between the influences of a new India and the rise of the Dravidian movement spearheaded by EV Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar. He does have progressive views but he has not been able to shrug off his caste identity.

In fact, most of his supporters are urban, upper caste voters, who identify with his urbane, liberal, upper caste, intellectual persona. And it is interesting to note that the actor-politician has not spoken much about caste-based reservations.

Most of his supporters are urban, upper caste voters, who identify with his urbane, liberal, upper caste, intellectual persona.
Most of his supporters are urban, upper caste voters, who identify with his urbane, liberal, upper caste, intellectual persona.
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

He has also made it clear that the colour of his politics is "black", which reflects a Dravidian tone and is concerned about the saffron colour. He has said in the past that he does not subscribe to the right-wing ideology and has maintained, "I'm centre." Back in 2018, on prospects of an alliance with actor and friend Rajinikanth, he said it would be "unlikely if his colour is saffron".

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The Urban Leader

While it is true that Tamil Nadu has seen and accepted only the two Dravidian parties for decades, Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam could influence voters in urban areas.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the MNM had a vote share of 3.72 percent, which was significant as the party was hardly 14 months old when it faced the polls.

The maximum votes of 1.45 lakh was bagged by his party vice president R Mahendran in Coimbatore. In three of the four seats in Chennai, Haasan’s party had up to one lakh votes.

Makkal Needhi Maiam Vice President Mahendran had clocked the maximum votes among all candidates in the Lok Sabha elections. 
Makkal Needhi Maiam Vice President Mahendran had clocked the maximum votes among all candidates in the Lok Sabha elections. 
(Photo Courtesy: Makkal Needhi Maiam)

Now, while MGR and Rajinikanth were mass heroes, Kamal Haasan is seen as the ‘class actor,’ popular with the urban masses, and so it is a smart move that the actor chose Coimbatore city to contest from in this election.

The Makkal Needhi Maiam could make a significant dent and this could cut into the vote share of the two Dravidian parties. A slight blow especially for the AIADMK-BJP alliance that is looking at capturing the Hindu vote bank. This is the first election the actor is contesting, and it will be interesting to watch how many seats the MNM captures.

(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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