Rajini’s exit may be Kamal's advantage as an 'MGR act' lies in wait

With a contender like Rajinikanth out of the way, the phrase “Oru yethiri tholaindhaan” (one enemy less) uttered by DMK founder CN Annadurai when India got its Independence, aptly suits actor-turned-politician and Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) founder Kamal Haasan at this point of time.

While it is yet to be seen how Kamal uses Rajinikanth’s exit to his benefit, political experts say it will definitely put the MNM leader on the forefront of the political battle ahead of the Assembly polls, give a push to his dreams of leading a third front and possibly win the support and counsel of Rajinikanth.

Kamal: The ‘White MGR’

Even though in Kollywood, Rajini was often compared with AIADMK founder and former chief minister MG Ramachandra and Kamal with Shivaji Ganesan due to their choice of films, it turned out to be the opposite in politics. Just like Shivaji had a unsuccessful political stint, Rajini despite his promise to bring ‘spiritual politics’ to Tamil Nadu, retired from the game without even stepping into politics – the only difference was Shivaji had floated a political party and stuck around for more than two decades.

On the other hand, Kamal’s evolution as a politician closely resembles that of MGR even though he founded his political party Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) quite late in his life.

It is inevitable here to compare Kamal with DMDK chief Vijayakant, who in turn is said to have followed in the footsteps of MGR, earning the moniker of ‘Karuppu MGR’ (Black MGR).

Without making much noise, Vijayakant in 2005 floated his party, and within a short span of time, his party earned the confidence of the people to become a third front. After securing 8.38 per cent and 10 per cent vote share in the 2006 Assembly elections and 2009 Lok Sabha elections respectively, the DMDK bagged 29 of the 41 seats it contested in the 2011 Assembly polls in alliance with the AIADMK, becoming the official Opposition in the Assembly.

The party’s vote share, however, dropped to 5.19 and 2.19 per cent respectively in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and to 2.39 per cent in the 2016 Assembly polls due to Vijayakant deteriorating health and visible absence from political activities.

Related news: Rajini keeps off politics, persuaders recall events of 1996

But, now with Kamal reclaiming the legacy of MGR, it is yet to be seen if he will replace Vijayakant and become a ‘Vellai MGR’ (White MGR).

“The case of Vijayakant is different. The title ‘Karuppu MGR’ was given by the people. They can easily connect with him because of his colour and culture. His wedding too happened like a conference. But Kamal speaks an esoteric language. First he must give up that language and try to speak normally,” said political observer Prof R Murali.

Asked if Kamal can be a true inheritor of MGR’s legacy, Murali said unlike Kamal it took MGR years to build a political image.

“For years, he built a political myth surrounding him. Adding to that, he had mentors like Periyar, Annadurai and M Karunanidhi guiding him. Unfortunately, Kamal has no such myths or political gurus to guide him,” Murali said.

Can MNM be a third party?

Although Kamal has hinted at forming a third front, political analysts say it can be possible only if he covers more distance to up his vote count.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, MNM performed well in urban areas including Chennai, bagging 10 per cent of the vote share. But overall, the party gained only 3.77 per cent of the votes, according to Election Commission data. Other parties such as TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK and Seeman’s NTK, which faced the elections without having an alliance with any major party, were able to secure 5.32 and 3.93 per cent of vote share, respectively.

Then there is PMK and the Congress. Both in Lok Sabha (2019) and Assembly elections (2016), the PMK managed to secure anywhere between 5 to 5.5 percentage of votes. It is to be noted that in 2016, it contested the elections alone. The Congress which went to the polls solo in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, managed to get a vote share of 4.32 per cent. In 2016 Assembly elections it got 6.4 per cent vote share.

Considering the data, MNM at present is in the seventh place in the race and Kamal needs more than just face value to form a third front, say experts.

Will Rajinikanth come to Kamal’s aid?

Prof R Murali says more than Kamal, the Dravidian parties will reap the maximum benefit out of Rajinikanth’s withdrawal from politics if the latter chooses to pick sides.

“Both the Dravidian parties are well structured and they still focus on the downtrodden in the form of freebies. They know that it is their bigger voter base. But Kamal, who is surrounded by intellectuals and bureaucrats, is against freebies culture, a sentiment which has not yet warmed the downtrodden towards him,” Murali said.

“It’s true that people attracted to his charisma, but that won’t win him votes. For that he needs to fight, because politics is not a service, it is a struggle. He needs to conduct various protests in streets and stand with people. He has not yet emerged as a leader,” Murali added.

Related news: Finally, superstar Rajinikanth isn’t acting anymore…about politics

Asked if Kamal will seek the support of Rajinikanth for the elections, R Rangarajan, state secretary, MNM told The Federal that it is definitely a possibility as the friendship of the two goes back years.

“We should respect the decision of Rajinikanth. Otherwise, it is irrelevant to us whether he started a party or not. We have already faced an election and we know our strength. We solely rely on our party’s honesty and our leader’s hard work. With regard to an alliance, we will announce it by January,” he said.

Murali Appas, spokesperson of MNM said both Rajinikanth’s ideology to ‘reform the system’ and Kamal’s to ‘reforming Tamil Nadu’ are working on the same lines. So, it is likely that Rajinikanth may give some ideas for Kamal to clean up the system.

A former office bearer of MNM who recently shifted his loyalty said if MNM had fears about Rajinikanth starting a party, then there will be no worse condition than that for the party.

“A party should have a strong ideology like the BJP. If there is no guts for the leader to travel with his ideology at any cost, then he cannot survive for long. That is why many have shifted to other parties,” he said.

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