On the afternoon of March 3, actor-turned-politician and founder of All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK) R Sarathkumar announced a third front for the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls – an alliance comprising Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), AISMK and Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK) – with fellow actor and politician Kamal Haasan being the chief ministerial candidate.
While thanking Sarathkumar for choosing him as the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance, Kamal tweeted by using the words ‘Makkal virumbum koottani’ (the alliance, people liked) which rhymes with ‘Makkal nala koottani’ (People’s Welfare Alliance) which was formed in 2016, but met with a debacle.
It was interesting to see both the actors, who never did a film together, join hands for a political alliance. But political observers say the alliance, formed of lesser-known parties, may have little success, even in splitting the Opposition DMK’s votes unless someone like Seeman enters the fray.
Unlike Kamal, who apart from being the quintessential ‘hero’ has dabbled with dancing, producing, directing and playback singing, Sarathkumar was introduced on big screen as a villain, at times playing second fiddle to the ‘hero’ before graduating to lead roles.
Like every other actor, Sarathkumar looks up to MG Ramachandran, even emulating the superstar’s habit of wearing a watch on the right hand.
Sarathkumar who had a good relationship with J Jayalalithaa courted controversy when JJ TV (now Jaya TV) televised his 1994 movie ‘Naattaamai’ while it was still running in theatres, without his knowledge. The channel had used Sarathkumar’s personal video copy of the film which he had lent to Jayalalithaa. While he demanded an explanation from Jayalalithaa and JJ TV for the incident albeit with less success, the AIADMK retorted by attacking him on public platforms.
It was then that the actor joined hands with Rajinikanth, then a DMK supporter (during the 1996 elections). He joined the DMK the same year and in 1998 was given a Lok Sabha ticket from Tirunelveli, but was defeated. In 2001, he was given a ticket to the Rajya Sabha, but he resigned from the post in 2006 and joined the AIADMK.
However, within a couple of months joining the party, he exited and floated his own party AISMK in 2007. In 2011 assembly elections, he joined hands with the AIADMK and was given a seat in Tenkasi, from where he emerged victorious with 54.3 per cent vote percentage. In the 2016 assembly polls, continuing his alliance with the AIADMK, he contested from Tiruchendur but failed.
Hailing from the Nadar community, Sarathkumar looks at the community as his voter base, and mostly opts to contest from southern districts such as Tirunelveli, Thoothukkudi and Tenkasi, where it is thickly populated.
Given his history with the DMK and AIADMK, an alliance with a like-minded party like Kamal’s seems Sarathkumar’s only option now.
However, the relationship of Kamal and Sarathkumar hasn’t been smooth all along. Kamal had supported ‘Pandavar Ani’ (Pandavar Team) headed by actor Vishal, which was formed opposing the mismanagement of Nadigar Sangam, then headed by Sarathkumar, and supported Vishal’s team in 2015 actors association elections. In return, Sarathkumar has criticised Kamal for his statement on moving out of the country when his film ‘Vishwaroopam’ got entangled in a controversy.
“Though both have criticised each other at different points of time on different issues, when it comes to politics, the thinking that ‘Namma Aalu’ (our man) takes the front seat. Sarathkumar thinks that since Kamal has come from film fraternity, it is his duty to support him. Moreover, Sarathkumar himself hasn’t realised his strength all these years and sees this election as an opportunity to weigh his strength. It is a beginning point of a major positive change in the state politics” said film critic Prashanth Rangasamy.
Political observer Royam Murali says Sarathkumar has joined hands with Kamal Hassan because he has no other go. He believes the main intention of Sarathkumar is to eat into Kamal’s share of votes.
“He never opposed the AIADMK. But why did he join hands with Kamal? Because, he thinks that he can pull the vote bank of Kamal to his party. Kamal should be careful about this. His party should attract vote bank of others and not allow others to steal his vote bank,” he said.
The major difference between the earlier ‘Makkal Nala Koottani’ and current ‘Makkal Virumbum Koottani’ is that the former was formed by recognised parties involved in people’s movement, Murali said. The latter, on the other hand, is formed by less-recognised parties, he added.
“It is even ridiculous to say that this is a third front. Instead we can say that three parties came together. In its present form, the alliance cannot make any huge difference. But if Seeman joins Kamal, then the front will bring a considerable damage to the DMK. The ‘People’s Welfare Front’ in 2016 too did the same damage to DMK,” he said.
As far as Congress is concerned, Murali says the party won’t join Kamal. “Because, even if he (Kamal) gives the Congress 50 seats, they cannot win. But with the DMK, even if they get 20 seats, they can win in at least five. Congress will definitely think that it is important to be with the winning party, than with the party which gives them more seats,” Murali said.