For lakhs of fans and supporters of actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan, it was a traumatic experience to watch the ups-and-downs on counting day with the Makkal Needhi Maiam leader being ahead of his rivals from time to time. On a day of constantly changing fortunes, Kamal came agonisingly close to victory but fell short in the last round late on May 2. In the end, much like many of the tear-jerkers he has acted in, victory eluded him and the dream run in the Tamil Nadu assembly polls ended in despair.
However, party insiders say that he has invested in the future and there are clear signs that the youth, especially in urban areas, are looking for change and see in Kamal Haasan a new messiah who can deliver on the promise of all-round development in a casteless, egalitarian society.
It was evident to many that the MNM, although launched with a good vision document for the people, would get squeezed out in a highly polarised slugfest between the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK, backed by a clutch of parties. A similar plight awaited the breakaway AMMK of TTV Dhinakaran, V.K. Sasikala’s nephew, and the Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) led by actor-politician Seeman. Incidentally, the leaders of all the three parties failed to get elected, although Kamal and Dhinakaran did manage to secure the second spot.
With the domination of the Dravidian kazhagams (parties), known for using muscle and money power, smaller outfits like the MNM tend to get crushed in the first-past-the-post electoral system, which is unfair, particularly to parties that have limited resources.
Kamal had to take on Mayura Jayakumar of the Congress who was supported by the DMK and other allies on one side, while the BJP and the AIADMK threw their entire might behind Vanathi Srinivasan, the BJP candidate, to prevent the emergence of the rising star. The BJP was well aware that Kamal, once he entered the Tamil Nadu assembly, would assume the mantle of a credible alternative to the AIADMK and the DMK in the long run, and block the BJP’s long-term plan of coming to power in the state. A large chunk of party workers, armed with money, descended on Coimbatore from Kerala and Karnataka to help the BJP gain representation in the Tamil Nadu assembly. The display of the BJP matched those of the DMK and the AIADMK.
As for Kamal Haasan, he needs to get back to the drawing board and chalk out a clear and effective course of action. The decision to contest the Coimbatore South seat was taken too late to make a substantial and meaningful contribution in that district. The tag of an outsider, thus, stuck. Having decided to take the electoral plunge, Kamal should have identified not just his constituency but also that of party seniors over a year ago and worked at the grassroots. It is not easy to turn goodwill into votes, and the process requires well-oiled machinery like booth-level committees and a strong cadre to provide an effective link between the people and the party.
Kamal also needs to project the right image of a long-term player in politics to counter the jibes of his rivals who call him a seasonal politician or a part-time politician who will pack up his bags and leave for the studios once an election is over. Kamal needs to stay connected with people’s issues and have a strong tool of communication, beyond using a Twitter handle.
It would be tempting for his partymen to think that going in for an alliance would bring electoral victories but the soft route to success could play spoilsport and dent the party’s hopes of coming to power in the state. A better alternative for the MNM would be to rope more parties into its front. The process began for the 2021 elections but MNM could get only some fringe parties like the All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi led by actor Sarath Kumar and the Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK) into the fold. Party insiders say that there was the scope of a tie-up with the Dalit party, the VCK, as well as the Congress, when these parties found the going tough during negotiations with the DMK. However, such an alliance could not materialise as the DMK managed to retain them in its fold.
The MNM has to work hard to expand its base, especially in the villages, rope in more allies, and take up more issues to be a visible force. Kamal Haasan has done well for a new party, given the limited options in the state dominated by the DMK and the AIADMK. However, he needs to build a larger canvas with a strong party foundation to make electoral gains.
R. Rangaraj is a veteran journalist and historian. Views expressed are personal.