When Tamil Nadu’s superstar Rajinikanth and multiple award winning actor Kamal Haasan announced their entry into politics, fans cheered. Are they going to be the faces of post-Dravidian politics? Although there has been a lot of scepticism, as the weeks have rolled into months, both appear serious about what they want to do. Both have adopted distinctly different styles.
The political vacuum created by J Jayalalitha’s death has not been filled. There is a lot of discontent in the state, which is used to strong leaders. The ruling party AIADMK and the chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami are seen to be controlled by the Narendra Modi government. Tamil Nadu does not want to be ruled by Hindi-speaking politicians. For 50 years, it has kept national parties away.
The distrust towards the Centre has been building up. The Centre delaying the setting up of the Cauvery Water Management Board, the Terms of Reference of the 15th Finance Commission and now the way the NEET examinations were conducted in the state are all seen as anti-Tamil. The chief minister’s defences sound feeble.
The state has become a place of constant agitations. What is giving rise to a lot of frustration is the perceived lack of job opportunities among the youth. A few years ago, every graduate straight from college could walk into an IT job. But the IT industry is no longer hiring at that pace. Unemployment rates rose by 0.5% in Tamil Nadu in 2015-16 as compared to 2013-14, according to the employment and unemployment surveys conducted by the Union ministry of labour. Fiscal deficit of the state has risen to alarming levels and debt is at an all-time high.
The government has received a lot of flak for not being able to attract investment, which is going to neighbouring states. Ease of doing business is much lower in Tamil Nadu compared to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
Kamal sees his party as a people’s movement. He has named it Makkal Needhi Maiam (Centre for People’s Justice). He has been reaching out to village panchayats and making people take part in gram sabhas to talk about real issues. He wants everybody to find their voice. He has spoken in favour of traders and has participated in their annual meetings. His dominant focus has been to help people find jobs. Job creation is something that he talks about constantly and, to begin with, he wants to concentrate on villages. His commitment to issues like transparency, governance and job creation has attracted non-political businessmen to his party.
Serial entrepreneur CK Kumaravel, who is the CEO and co-founder of Naturals Salon & Spa, has decided to back Kamal. He is now a member of the party’s high-level committee. “We want to create 50 lakh jobs. The government has no real role in job creation. Entrepreneurs and businessmen have to do it. The government has to be the enabler and provide the proper infrastructure. Businessmen are not frauds. They have to become role models.”
Kumaravel says his team is working on skill development to help provide employment which will lead to entrepreneurship. “We will identify 100 products and help manufacture them on a large scale. This will create at least 1,000 jobs in each city. Each product will be launched by Kamal. We will promote social entrepreneurship.” While Kamal has been hyperactive, Rajini has been more measured in his pronouncements. He has not been addressing mammoth rallies, except one in March, unveiling AIADMK founder and former chief minister MGR’s statue. “Jayalalithaa is no more and M Karunanidhi is ill. Tamil Nadu needs a leader. I will come and fill that vacuum. God is on my side,” Rajini told the crowd. “I know the political journey is not easy. It is a journey through struggles and hurdles, but I can give the kind of governance which MGR and DMK leader Karunanidhi gave to common people.”
Rajini, when he actually jumps into the rough and tumble of politics, is likely to gather huge crowds, which Kamal has not been able to do so. However, Rajini has not announced any concrete ideas on growth and economy, apart from some mumbo jumbo about spiritual politics. He is firm about putting an end to corruption and providing the much wanted leadership.
The superstar completed the process of putting in place his proposed party’s organisational structure. He has created 38 district units for his Rajini Makkal Mandram—the precursor to his party—and appointed over 7,000 office bearers at various levels. He is planning to contest all the seats in the next assembly elections in 2021. He is banking on his fan following.
Rajini has couple of big releases round the corner and has signed up for new films. According to reports, Kamal is also likely finish his pending projects, do another season of Bigg Boss, and act in director Shankar’s film. People close to Kamal say he doesn’t want to mix acting and politics. S Gurumurthy, the RSS ideologue, had predicted that Rajini’s entry into politics will bring about tectonic changes to Tamil Nadu. His spiritual politics is nearer to Modi’s than to anyone else in Tamil Nadu or outside,” he had tweeted when Rajini announced his plans. Rajini has since then distanced himself from the BJP.
Kamal has been open about his leanings towards left liberal ideology in spite of his commitment to entrepreneurship and growth. He might even form an alliance with the Marxists. “Having the CPI(M) on your side is like adding salt to your food. There are some advantages to that,” says a Kamal follower.
The jury is still out on whether one of these two stars will emerge as a credible alternative to Dravidian parties. The ruling party is visibly imploding. Much to urban middle class’s dismay, Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran is attracting attention by being irrepressible. Court cases, stints in jail and road blocks from the Election Commission have not fazed him. He has launched his own party, claiming to be Amma’s true successor. Old warhorse MK Stalin lacks charisma, but can’t be written off—he seems to be gaining ground. There are interesting times ahead for Tamil Nadu.