The Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) led by actor Kamal Haasan in Tamil Nadu has decided to either fight alone or lead an alliance in the upcoming Assembly elections. The party has also projected itself as an alternative to the Dravidian parties, but has not made anything clear on the ideology it follows. The party’s founder, Haasan, has claimed that the party is neither aligned to the left nor to the right.
However, the politics in the state, largely in favour of the Dravidian parties combined with the fact that no party has managed to tilt this balance since 1967, remains a huge challenge for the party which is hardly two years old.
The party managed to garner less than 4% votes in the 2019 general elections, with impressive performance only in the urban areas, which shows its failure to connect with the masses in the rural areas.
NO ALLIANCE WITH KAZHAGAMS
The party held a three days brainstorming session for the district secretaries from November 2 to decide on the plans for the Assembly elections. The central executive committee meeting held in September had entrusted the leader to decide on whether the party should contest alone or forge an alliance.
The meeting of the district secretaries was called to take a final call as the other major parties have initiated the ground work for the elections.
Even as Haasan announced that the party will align only with the people on the first day of the meet, another statement the next day stated that the party won't align with ‘kazhagams’, as the two major dravidian parties are referred to. This has left the party with option to ally with other small parties, though the scope remains limited.
The party has been trading guns against the dravidian parties for failing to meet the aspirations of the people in the past five decades of their rule. He has accused the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for dynasty politics and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) on many occasions including its stand on supporting the farm bills. The party is also critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while the Congress has extended olive branch to the actor on many occasions. The party supported Haasan when he was attacked by the BJP leadership for his comments on demonetisation and lockdown.
The party had received invitation from the BJP’s top leadership in 2019, but the local leadership is always apprehensive of Kamal’s principles on rationalism and atheism. The BJP leadership was more inclined on roping in another famed actor Rajinikanth, who claimed to pursue spiritual politics, a more comfortable policy. In all probabilities, the political plunge of the actor may not happen, as per his recent statement on his health conditions.
WHAT IDEOLOGY DOES THE PARTY STAND FOR?
The MNM, which was founded on February 21, 2018, has time and again said that the party is neither left nor right. In the website of the party, it accuses both the right and left parties of compromising on the interests of the people and committing grave mistakes.
The introduction of the party reads, “All over the world, the Right and Left have, in their own exceptional explicit ways, defamed the entire political structure; the Rightists, by mirroring individualistic political thoughts and the Leftists, by faulty individual actions which came crumbling down on the the political system- or the lack of it. Between these two poles, ‘Politics for the people’ took a back seat and declined in terms of quality, ending up totally worthless.”
Prof Arunan, historian and writer told NewsClick, “The party may claim it is maintaining equal distance from the right and left ideologies. But, the stand taken on other important issues will expose the ideology it stands for. Talking about a third front and projecting himself as the next Chief Minister (CM) will only help right wing forces including the BJP.”
FOLLOWING AAP MODEL?
The party seems to draw inspiration from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for its functioning style. The AAP managed to make inroads in the elections to the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi assembly in 2013 winning 28 of the 70 seats. The party also managed to form the cabinet with the support of the Congress party, followed by two successive victories in the following Assembly elections.
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The India Against Corruption (IAC) movement led by Anna Hazare played a crucial role in the election in favour of the AAP. Though Hazare allegedly initiated the anti-corruption movement with the blessings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the allegations didn't have any bearing on the alternative projected by Kejriwal.
As soon as the AAP tasted victory in 2020, the MNM leader took to twitter to congratulate Kejriwal. Haasan went on to state that ‘Tamil Nadu will follow suit next year’.
“We cannot compare the AAP and MNM here since the rural population is high in Tamil Nadu. The performance of MNM was dismal in the rural areas. The party will fare even poorly in the upcoming Assembly elections. The aspirations of replicating AAP’s performance in the state is highly unlikely,” Arunan added.
‘RURAL DISCONNECT WILL DENT HOPE’
The party contested in 36 Lok Sabha constituencies and drew a blank while it managed to garner 3.72% votes. The party contested in 19 Assembly constituencies in the by-elections with much lesser vote percentage. Though its maiden performance was claimed to be satisfactory, the setbacks it faced in the rural areas were a lesson for the party.
Commenting on the party’s performance, Kavitha Muralidharan, senior journalist told NewsClick, “The MNM managed support in the urban areas in the general elections and the Assembly by-elections in 2019. The urban upper class population saw an alternative in Haasan to J Jayalalitha and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But, the party has hardly any connect in the rural areas and the influence of the party will be further less in the upcoming Assembly elections.”
The party’s performance can be compared to that of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) which was founded by another actor Vijayakanth in 2006.
“The DMDK contested in 232 seats, with only Vijayakanth getting elected to the house. But the party managed to poll 8.45% of votes in the seats contested. Now, this being the first Assembly election without the two stalwarts in the state, M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalitha, the outcomes may throw a few surprises, but we cannot expect one from the MNM,” Kavitha added.
The rural disconnect along with the absence of any mass movements or protests on behalf of the party could play a spoiler. The party has also not taken up any major issues relating to the people to the ground, apart from the reactions in the social media platforms.
A notable initiative to the party’s credit was during the COVID-19 lockdown, during which it launched a website to support the needy. That project, too, attracted volunteers from the urban regions thus leaving a void in the rural areas.
“Kamal Haasan is still busy in acting films and hosting shows. Considering politics as one among many works won't help his political journey. The Late M G Ramachandran continued acting in films and used them effectively to propagate his political aspirations while Haasan has not taken that route as well,” said Kavitha.
‘OPINION ON MANUSMRITI DANGEROUS’
The actor has been a known atheist, but he has started to use the term rationalist to define himself in recent times. He has, in the past, taken up the issues of the rights of the working class in few of his films. The sangh parivar has called him a Communist and a Periyarist on many occasions.
But, the most recent comment on the raging issue of Manusmriti has hinted on a change of perspective from the part of the actor. A question was raised to him in the press meet held after the party secretaries meeting to which he responded, “The Manusmriti is not in practice now and there is no reason to discuss it now.”
“The comments made by the actor are highly illogical and dangerous. The Manusmriti provides ideological support for violence against women. The lockdown has witnessed an increase in domestic violence and child marriages. At such a time, his comments on such a reactionary text is dangerous,” Kavitha added.
The actor has always spoken against the caste system, even in his films. Last year, he quoted a song from his dropped film ‘Marudhanayagam’ to condemn caste violence. The lyrics were critical of Manusmriti for the existence of the caste system.
“The Manusmriti is available in book shops and is even carried in the website of the culture ministry. Calling it irrelevant cannot be accepted as the caste system, violence against the lower castes and women are still prevailing in the society,” Arunan added.
The dilution of his policies on such a crucial issue might have been prompted by the upcoming elections, but has played in favour of the BJP and sangh parivar groups which took a similar stand of that of the actor. The comment was received with apprehension among his followers, especially those with progressive values.
The opposition to Manusmriti escalated after the dalit party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan called for a protest to burn the text. Many women's organisations too joined in support of the protest after the BJP opposed the claims of VCK.
The aspirations of the party have remained high, but the actions of the leadership and the office bearers, who are more of Haasan fans than cadres, are lacking in attracting people to their fold. The party may even put up a decent fight, with the actor deciding to contest the elections, but capturing power or even becoming the third largest party seems to be a distant dream for now.
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