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In Tamil Nadu, Will Rajini-Kamal Succeed in Forming ‘Third Front’?

Rajini-Kamal’s ‘together’ statement might have made headlines, but it promises little on-ground impact.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image of Rajinikanth (L) and Kamal Haasan used for representational purposes.
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The Rajinikanth-Kamal Haasan joint declaration, that they will “come together if Tamil Nadu needs it”, seems more like a headline-catching Tamil cinema punch line, than a serious and clear political statement with a road map for the future.

It is not clear what transpired between the two Tamil film stars, but the ground reality is that Rajinikanth — two years after a dramatic announcement that he will enter politics — is yet to even name his political party, and Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), seems a long way from proving to be a credible political force in Tamil Nadu.

Leave political appeal aside, even their personas contradict each other. Kamal Haasan, a self-declared rationalist, has firmly placed himself as a political force Left of Centre, and Rajinikanth, a publicly-declared spiritualist, seems hazy on which side of the political divide he represents.

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Can Rajini-Kamal Duo Emerge As a Credible Third Front in TN Politics?

Rajini has been seen as leaning towards to the BJP, and Kamal, firmly to the Left.  Even their fans have different tastes, and have often argued, even fought in the early years, over who is the greater star in Tamil cinema.

Can such personalities come together on one stage and offer a credible political identity? If they do, can they break the bipolar stranglehold that the two major Dravidian parties — the ruling AIADMK and opposition DMK — have over the southern state?

Firstly, their statement seems too premature and raises questions over whether it needs to be taken seriously at all, at least, at this stage.

Even if considered a serious possibility, the calculation — some observers suggest —could be an attempt at unifying the vote that is disenchanted with the two major Dravidian parties, to build a credible third alternative.

True, there is a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu. Although MK Stalin, President of the DMK, led the party to a massive sweep in the Lok Sabha polls, he failed to deliver enough seats to topple the ruling AIADMK dispensation in the by-elections to over 25 constituencies. This has left Chief Minister E Palaniswamy with a firm hold over power, and DMK in a flux, with questions over Stalin’s strategic abilities.

Rajini & Kamal Need Political Narrative, Not Just Star Power

In this backdrop, there is certainly space for a third force to build itself before the next assembly elections scheduled for 2021. But neither Rajini nor Kamal has shown any evidence of ability to emerge as a third — or even a credible — political force.

Firstly, there is no specific political narrative that they can bank on, apart from their stardom.

While Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have a history of stars emerging as successful politicians, the fine print reveals that the stars who succeeded had a political narrative to build their campaign, and did not rely solely on their star appeal.

For instance, MG Ramachandran (MGR), who was a superhero in Tamil cinema, was groomed in politics by the founder of the DMK, CN Annadurai (Anna). He was forced out of the DMK by M Karunanidhi after Anna’s demise, and it was with the narrative of betrayal and of being wronged, that he built the AIADMK — as a resistance to the DMK, to capture power. MGR also had a strategic alliance with the Congress, and built his party slowly and brought it to power in 1977.

NT Rama Rao in Andhra had taken the dismissal of successive chief ministers by the Congress high command, as an affront to Telugu pride in 1982. And J Jayalalithaa had a Congress alliance and the sympathy of the political heir to MGR, who was kept away by the party and humiliated by the DMK, when she swept to power in 1991.

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Kamal Has Launched a Party — Rajini Hasn’t Even Tried

The trouble is that Rajini and Kamal have little more than their star appeal to impress the electorate, and have no political allies or narrative, apart from themselves.

While Kamal Haasan launched his party and campaigned with the promise of fresh ideas — he even had some credible candidates at the grassroots level — he failed to build a central political narrative or show that he could change battles at the grassroots.

But Rajini has not even tried. He can be deemed as having tried, only after he, at the very least, launches a political party.

Tweets and sporadic statements in the midst of box office releases do not count in real life politics.

Their fans may react with anger at this statement, but will have to admit it is true. Even those who work in their parties accept that there is very little political work that they can showcase. Given the fact that they are both busy with their film and showman careers, there is a crisis of credibility for their political image.

Any serious assessment will reveal that, at the moment, neither star has political stature or presence that can make them winners. So it doesn’t matter whether they are together or apart.

Rajini-Kamal’s Statement Holds Little Promise of Grassroots Impact

When a nationally lesser-known star, Vijayakanth, launched his party and contested the 2006 assembly elections — against both J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi — he polled more than 6 percent votes on his own.

In contrast, Kamal Haasan’s party’s debut, in the 2019 parliamentary election, got only around 4 percent of the votes. In fact, a party led by film director Seeman, known for extreme language and ideology, ‘Naam Tamizhaar’, emerged as a marginally bigger and third force, in terms of vote shares in the state.

There is a chance that Rajini, given his popularity, could emerge as a much bigger political force than Kamal Haasan, but given his inconsistency, it is best not to make any assessment till there is an election that he or a party led by him contests.

While the statement issued by the two stars may have grabbed headlines, it does not promise to have a tangible grassroots impact.

It's not clear what action will follow their ‘togetherness’ statement, but the two stars are a long way from proving to be game-changers in Dravidian politics, individually or even together.

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

(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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