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Tamil Nadu is trapped between politicians who are acting & actors who are politicking

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Kamal Haasan is known to possess untamed energy, he is looking for mahout who can control that.

People, public opinion and political consciousness are words that no longer have any relevance in the politics of Tamil Nadu. This is true not just for the state but for all of India today, where there has been a continuous erosion of the ideas of ‘what is political’ and ‘being democratic’. In fact, we are about to hear the chant: “politics is dead and long live the politicians”.

In what other way does one explain the phenomenon of actors becoming politicians and politicians becoming actors? Actors want to swoop down to grab the high-chair without building their politics ground up. This is the age when politics can be conducted with hashtags, and without mass mobilisation on the streets. Is there any surprise that politicians are merely acting like the guardians of progress, development and democracy in Tamil Nadu while popular cinema actors pretend to be messiahs of change?

Politics in the state has hit a new low. There are the tactics of O. Pannerselvam and Edappadi K. Palaniswamy for the sake of survival and power; and the recent quick-footed legal moves by T.T.V. Dhinakaran to meet the challenge of the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly disqualifying 19 MLAs . These acts along with their script writer and director, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), can stage a coup at any film awards event.

The truth is that All India Anna Dravida Kazhagam is slowly but steadily disintegrating. Even if they operate in factions of the OPS & EPS combine or the TTV Dhinakaran-led Sasikala interest group, their survival depends solely on the retention of power, not the soul of J. Jayalalitha that they all evoke everyday.

Political power is the sole ventilator of this EPS-led government which is being kept alive by the maneuvers of the BJP government at the Centre and its cronies in the state. This is a puppet government which has outlived the legacy of J.Jayalalitha and the mandate that AIADMK had received in May 2016 under her leadership.

The role of cinema and the enigmatic influence wielded by the actors and actresses in Tamil Nadu politics are the subject of a great debate. The political environment that sparked the rise of MGR as the popular mask of the DMK party, and J. Jayalalithaa as his successor in AIADMK is vastly different from the prevailing political culture today. Cinema is more a tool of corporate business interests today rather than an instrument of social churn and change that it once was in the state.

A lot can be read into the rapid political rise and fall of actor Vijayakanth. Other aspirants will now be cautious before they jump into fray and not nurse the fantasy that anyone who criticizes the DMK and AIADMK can become an instant alternative. People want to see credible, performing alternatives.

The promotion of Rajinikanth’s brand of politics and his marketing potential does not extend beyond the corporate and business confines of cinema even if he is emerging as a remote controlled seat-holder for the BJP. There is little content to his politics that can be stretched beyond the duration of reel time and he needs to see the trap set by his political promoters and the fan club members starving for power.

That brings us to Kamal Haasan’s political moves. Unlike Rajinikanth, he has fashioned himself into somewhat of a public intellectual and a passionate voice of social dissent. But he too cannot be removed from the clutches of cinema as a corporate tool. He also handles with panache the demands of show like Bigg Boss and the delivery of Twitter punches.

If Kamal Haasan chooses to launch a political party, he has to manage his past observations, where he said that he wants to work along with Rajnikanth. He should be aware of the hidden hands of RSS-BJP nexus that propel Rajinikanth — even if he conducts ideological pilgrimages to meet Marxist ideologues.

First Kamal Haasan met Pinarayi Vijayan. Now, after his meeting with Arvind Kejriwal, he has expanded his battle to one against against communalism and corruption. The meeting Thursday has opened another window. Kamal Haasan is known to possess untamed energy, he is looking for a mahout who can control that.

Like cinema, politics in Tamil Nadu thrives best on speculation, uncertainty and confusion. We must not forget that Kamal Haasan is a great actor and a much greater make-up artist. But he may be too emotional for politics. The people of Tamil Nadu have a much greater challenge: to steer clear of the politician-actor nexus while ordinary people and social activists suffer neglect and punishment for protests in the streets.

Ramu Manivannan is a professor & head of Department of Politics & Public Administration, University of Madras, Chennai.

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