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Kamal Hassan: At the centre of it all

By N Sathiya Moorthy
February 22, 2018 10:45 IST
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Neither emotions  nor a structured approach to addressing critical issues came out in Kamal Hassan’s inaugural speech on Wednesday, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

Image: Veteran actor Kamal Hassan speaks during his day-long road show at Manamadurai in Sivaganga district on February 21, 2018, ahead of launching his political party, Makkal Needhi Maiam. Photograph: PTI Photo.

On paper, actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan’s new outfit reads and sounds more like an NGO than a political party. But the name, ‘Makkal Needhi Maiiyam’ (MNM) or ‘People’s Justice Centre’ is only a take-off from the decades-old ‘Kamal Narpani Mandram’ or ‘Kamal Welfare Association’, as his fan clubs were named even decades ago.

So, if the star told the people of Tamil Nadu that he was at it all along even while being a top-notch actor known for his technical prowess, he was neither joking, nor misleading them. If anything, in an era after competing fan associations of Tamil filmdom’s all-time greats in MGR and ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan, clashed on personalities and their politics, to Kamal should go the credit for setting the trend in making his fans do credible and timely social service, which mostly went unnoticed in the urban milieu but much appreciated in rural areas across the state.


It was thus that Kamal fans were ready blood donors, with the association chiefs in all centres having a ready list of intended donors with their blood group, contact details and all. Even more, on occasions like Diwali cracker-bursting season, rains and floods, they were also known, at least in some places and for some years initially at the very least, to have ensured that a certain number of intended donors stayed away from alcohol and cigarette for the mandatory number of days.

In a way, filmi compatriot-turned-political competitor in superstar Rajinikanth, too, may have taken a leaf out of Kamal’s initiative, as his fans too were soon seen doing similar good work in their immediate environment, wherever they were.

Today, younger Tamil film stars like brothers Suriya and Karthi, Vijay and Ajith, among others, are known to be doing a lot of good things, quietly for most part, occasionally, to send out the message that others can do better things than they were doing.

Among them, barring Vijay, no one has talked politics, off-screen certainly and on-screen most of the time. Though possibly under industry pressure, many of the younger crop of actors might have donned the ‘sympathy cap’  on issues affecting Tamil identity, Ajith has mostly stayed away from public glare, saying acting was his profession like any other, and he would not mix business with personal life -- and has successfully got away with such ‘abstinence’, too.

If to some, Kamal’s party name sounded like an NGO, he need not have to despair, or perspire. The term ‘Congress’ in the name ‘Indian National Congress’ stood originally for only a ‘group’, ‘assembly’ of people, or ‘congregation’, not to a political party, as it is known over the past century and much more. Even the very identifiable word ‘Kazhagam’ in the title of successive Dravidian political parties also means only a group or centre in Tamil.

Until the ‘Janata Party’ came into being, and by sheer political accident in the Emergency era of the ’70s, there was no national political party, barring the two communist parties, which carried the identifiable term ‘party’ in its title. In its pre-Janata avatar, the present-day Bharatiya Janata Party went only by its original name, ‘Bharatiya Jan Sangh’, or ‘people’s group’.

Launching his party in the temple town of Madurai on Wednesday evening, Kamal asked the question himself and said his party was neither left, not right, but ‘centre’, hence also the word ‘centre’ in its name.

But he had owned up to his leftist ideological leanings and ‘rationalist’ philosophical leanings only of the pre-AIADMK Dravidian kind, and has had nothing to say he had a ‘centrist approach’ to anything politics or in personal lifestyle.

Kamal thus had Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, not a ‘centrist’ in anyway, on the dais along with him, and Kerala’s Left-CPM chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, felicitating him through video-conferencing.  He also named Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu as being among his inspirations, along with Gandhiji, Ambedkar and former US president, Barack Obama.

Yet, Kamal did not name any leader from Tamil Nadu polity, Dravidian or otherwise, as among those who inspired him, though he had often identified himself with DMK’s M Karunanidhi. If it owed to DMK’s working president M K Stalin slighting him by referring to ‘paper flowers seeking to bloom’, on the eve of the MNM’s launch, Kamal did not mention it -- and naturally so.

In doing so, Kamal also left out the iconic Congress veteran, K Kamaraj, who is identified with early education and noon-meal revolution in the Tamil Nadu of the ’50s and ’60s. This was so even when Kamalahassan named ‘education for all’ as a focus area in what looked like a rambling speech for a party’s inaugural function.

It is not without reason that critics would seek to corner him on the education front. Independent of corruption charges and politicisation of education and educational institutions at all levels and in myriad ways, Tamil Nadu has among the best records in ‘education for all’.

It may not possibly go beyond neighbouring Kerala, where literacy is for all, better than Tamil Nadu’s record and seriously so, but when it comes to higher, professional education, the latter would still hold the torch for the rest of the country.

If thus Kamal had NEET-related concerns in his mind when he talked education from the dais on his party’s launch day, he did not mention it, nor did he explain it.

The possibility itself is a deduction, Kamal having expressed himself on Twitter when NEET was a burning issue across the state at the commencement of the current academic year. When a medical aspirant, S Anitha, from a rural, Dalit background with high scores in the state’s plus-two exams lost in NEET, Kamal visited her family and said she was as good as a third daughter for him.

But neither the emotions attaching to such declaration, nor a structured approach to addressing such critical issues came out in Kamal’s inaugural speech on Wednesday. So did he have anything specific to offer to end the much-maligned Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which again the Supreme Court was seized of, other than to declare that he had ideas for a negotiated settlement, though in the past all negotiations of every kind too had failed?

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai chapter.

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