The towering mass leader space is vacant in Tamil Nadu. MGR and Jayalalithaa, and to some extent even Karunanidhi, occupied that space and promised messianic deliverance. Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth may think that space is there for taking.
The film Kaala sought to deliver a powerful messianic message and seemed to be the perfect political launch pad for Rajini although it was ill-suited to Rajini’s politics. So far, Kamal Haasan’s Maiam has sought to project him as a messiah who will deliver the people but there has been no message. Kamal’s films don’t quite provide a launching board for his politics and there is therefore no seamless transition for him from films to politics. The Maiyam songs released on Monday (June 25) only reinforce that message-less quality.
Ithu Nammavar Padai has six songs. They are mostly fun, uplifting and folksy dance numbers with earthy beats. Their lyricist Snehan, a lieutenant of Vairamuthu, has penned catchy and soulful lyrics for films. For Maiam songs, Snehan has had to rely on vague generalities and the idea that Kamal is the Nammavar, our man, who has come to redeem the people.
The diagnosis or the problem statement comes in the last song, and it’s a weak one. Any startup should seek to solve a problem. For Kamal’s Maiam, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem in Tamil Nadu that they have diagnosed and would like to solve. The refrain in “Naattu Nadappu Sariyallada” is that politicians are looting the country and they don’t get much done. And that’s not terribly original.
The rest of the songs seek to drive home the message that Kamal is “our man” (Nammavar) who will ensure that people get justice. But what is the source of that injustice? Who is being unjustly treated?
Maiam songs are almost nihilistic. They have no legacy, tradition or belief to uphold or even counter. There is one reference to renewing nationalism, followed by another to saving rationalism. There is a call to action and there is talk of unity. There is a promise that better days are ahead and good governance is coming. How? Well, Nammavar will bring it along. How, again? Because he understands world politics and he is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.
Tamils are fond of Kamal. They may even be proud of him for aspiring to be a world-class artist. They allow his narcissistic indulgences in his films because he is indeed a home boy who is head and shoulders above most mainstream film personalities in India.
But what Kamal is and understood to be by Tamils contradicts the foundations of his political aspirations. He wants voters to take him as an MGR-like hero who will lead them but his image is that of a thoughtful, nuanced and moderate man. He has been a brave contrarian on the Cauvery issue and steadfastly insisted that only goodwill between the peoples and the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu can solve the Cauvery problem. He has no harsh words for Dravidian politics, no thoroughgoing critique of its practices to claim to offer a credible alternative.
Kamal seeks to portray himself and his party as an outsider to the political system. His party boasts of having no political veteran in its ranks. Maiam’s core leadership may consist of politically inclined people but they have no experience in the cut and thrust of street politics.
To succeed, Maiam may need to deliver a powerful enough critique of what is. Not delivering one may make his party a fit candidate for alliances with the broadest spectrum of parties, but allying with any party may well be suicidal, as it has been for nearly every political party in the state that has sought to be an alternative.