'Kamal Haasan always appeared to be quick to strike, but afraid to wound.'
'What he is offering the people of Tamil Nadu is not clear, but whatever it is, it will be a fresh element in the state's politics,' says Aditi Phadnis.
IMAGE: Crowds in Madurai at the launch of Kamal Hassan's Makkal Needhi Maiam political party, February 21, 2018. Photograph: PTI Photo
Kamal Haasan's comments on Tamil Nadu politics, on leaders and followers in a series of engagements and a range of issues from jallikattu and its place in Tamil culture, to the state of political parties has been subject of chatter.
But he always appeared to be quick to strike, but afraid to wound.
But now, Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal in tow, Kamal Haasan has embraced politics at last.
This follows a 'secret' meeting with fellow actor and political hopeful Rajinikanth. The party will be called Makkal Needhi Maiam (People's Justice Centre).
In Tamil Nadu politics, an actor-turned-politician simply cannot share the stage with anyone else.
The Jayalalithaa-MGR relationship might have shown some initial promise. But that ended when MGR, hearing that Jayalalithaa was going out in public holding a golden scepter and crown, quickly dispatched her to the Rajya Sabha in Delhi.
Vijayakanth's alliance with Jayalalithaa ended for the same reason: As karuppu (dark) MGR, was he going to be centrestage (that is, chief minister) or was Jayalalithaa?
Between Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, the same uneasy equation seemed to follow after each had declared politics was not a non-option.
Rajinikanth ignored Kamal Haasan's forays into the political arena.
Kamal Haasan said Rajinikanth would have to come to him (or words to that effect).
In Kejriwal and the AAP, Kamal Haasan might have found the perfect political answer.
True, AAP does not have anything in Tamil Nadu by way of party structure or people. But there's the network of Kamal Haasan's fan club groups which can be converted into AAP.
One of the reasons why the O Panneerselvam-E Palaniswami duo fell apart (although both are from the same party) is that each group, having assured its supporters it would rule the state, offered important faction leaders positions, posts and honour.
The re-merger took so long (and is still imperfect) because having once been promised positions, mid and small-level leaders of each faction were loath to give them up and make way for the other.
As in business where few mergers and acquisitions succeed because existing positions are threatened, in politics too, no one wants to give up power and make way for another individual.
But with Kamal Haasan and AAP, there is no such problem. AAP is an established north Indian brand, it is ready to take risks and export to the south.
And as its ideology only consists of questioning and attacking existing shibboleths, it can (if it wants) be flexible enough make up a new discourse as it goes along.
If the relationship does work out, it will represent a veritable revolution in Tamil Nadu politics. But there are still many questions.
What will the AAP-Kamal Haasan view be of caste?
What about the nationalities question -- the rights of Tamil in Sri Lanka?
What about the north-south issue and the attitude to Hindi?
The Tamil Maanila Congress rose like a political meteor in Tamil Nadu politics, but could not fashion an alternative discourse. Will the Kamal Haasan-AAP duo manage to do that?
There is no denying that there is space for a middle of the road party in Tamil Nadu.
For a long time, the Congress held that position. When it as vacated, Vijayakanth thought he could fill the void.
His party, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) was formed in 2005, and proposed itself as an alternative to the two dominant Dravidian parties, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
It contested the 2006 assembly polls and 2009 Lok Sabha polls alone. Its vote share rose from 8 per cent in the 2006 assembly polls to 10 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
In 2011, the party bagged 29 seats in the assembly polls after aligning with the AIADMK, but the two parted ways shortly after.
In 2014, it failed to win any seats. And now, its 2014 alliance partner, the BJP doesn't even talk about him.
So will the AAP-Kamal Haasan party take that place? The rhetoric is powerful.
'I was in your heart all this while. Now I want to be in all your homes. You had looked at me as a star all along. Now I request you to look at me as a lamp. Light me in all your homes,' the actor said, addressing a large gathering in Madurai when the party was launched.
He has been in touch with N Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, he said. So an axis seems to be firming up there.
Exactly what Kamal Haasan is offering the people of Tamil Nadu is not clear yet. But whatever it is, it will be a fresh element in the politics of the state.