Tamil cinema has always been closely linked to politics and politicians. The Dravidian movement coopted cinema and used its reach to publicise the core message of the movement. Four Chief Ministers of the State of Tamil Nadu – Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MGR, and Jayalalithaa were film professionals first, politicians later. Besides the big names, scores of actors have been affiliated with the two big parties or have started their own, over the years. Here’s a quick round up of stars and their politics as the State goes to the polls for the 2019 Parliamentary Elections.
With a week to go for the Lok Sabha elections, politicians and parties have formed their affiliations and released manifestos. As of now, Prakash Raj has been among the most vocal in his criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s brand of politics in the Centre. Kamal Haasan, Karu Palaniappan, Kushboo Sundar and Innocent are among the star-politicians who have called for a change in the right-wing government.
Superstar Rajinikanth, who has been hinting an affiliation towards BJP for a while now, said that he welcomed the party’s manifesto ‘Sankalp Patra’ that was released on Monday.
Speaking to the press outside his house, the actor-politician ducked questions about his affiliation to Kamal Haasan’s party, Makkal Needhi Maiam, but spoke at length about the BJP manifesto and his admiration for India’s river-linking project, which the BJP has promised. He said, “They have said that they would link the country’s rivers and they would appoint a committee for the same, that is a welcome move. With god’s blessings and people’s support – we don’t know what result they will give, but if the NDA front forms a government at the central level, they should first link all the rivers in the country.”
The ambitious river-linking project, which is worth millions, proposes the linking of 37 rivers through 3,000-plus dams and thousands of kilometres of canals to transfer water from ‘surplus’ to ‘deficit’ basins in the country. The project has been opposed because it will result in displacement of people, destruction of rivers, forests and the biodiversity they support. It may also worsen conflict over water.
Rajinikanth has said he believes that river-linking is needed, and is enough to eradicate half the poverty in the country, “Crores of people can be employed, farmers’ lives and conditions can be improved. Hence, I request them to implement it.”
He also added, “Please don’t mistake me, elections are a very sensitive time, I do not wish to speak anything further.” Rajinikanth, who announced his entry into politics a year ago, is not contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. And, whether or not he affiliates with BJP in the future, it is known that his comments about political parties or hints towards affiliations are enough to influence election results. The most stark example being his comment against Jayalalithaa in 1996, which resulted in AIADMK’s defeat.
AIADMK, Vijayakanth, Sarathkumar ally with BJP
Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has allied with the BJP in Tamil Nadu for 2019 elections. Part of this alliance is actor-politician Vijayakanth’s party DMDK, which has settled disagreements over seat-allocation and initially even indicated support for the opposition DMK. In a recent interview, Vijayakanth clarified, “DMK will lose. This is a fight between dharmam and adharmam. Dharmam will win. Modi is a good person and needs to come to power again.”
In a surprising development, actor Sarathkumar, leader of All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK), has extended support to the AIADMK. He was closely associated with Jayalalithaa for years before he quit the party to join the DMK in the 1990s. He later started his own party AISMK, and allied with AIADMK in 2011 and 2016, but there have been differences of opinion.
While campaigning for AIADMK candidate KRS Saravanan in Salem recently, he reportedly said that the DMK-Congress alliance was an opportunistic one, while, “Edappadi K Palaniswami (AIADMK) is running a good government and he is working for the development of the State with the Central Government’s support. He has fulfilled almost all promises made during the assembly elections and is working for the welfare of the people.”
He asked people, particularly first-time voters, to elect candidates who will “take the nation towards growth and ensure development”. He later also clarified that he will not be contesting elections.
Actor and BJP member Suresh Gopi is contesting from Thrissur constituency. He has been in the midst of a controversy, with a legal notice sent to him by the Election Commission for violating the model code of conduct by seeking votes in the name of god, a reference to the Sabarimala issue. But, there has been no major opposition from the Malayalam film industry to the BJP manifesto that promises a firm hand on the Sabarimala issue “to protect matters of faith and tradition.” It also promises construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and enactment of a Uniform Civil Code.
Telugu actor Jayaprada and several star-politicians from the North are contesting on a BJP ticket. Meanwhile, Shatrughan Sinha recently joined the Congress saying he was leaving the BJP with a heavy heart for reasons known to everyone. He is contesting from Bihar’s Patna Sahib seat, against BJP leader and union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Prakash Raj will contest independently
Since the murder of his friend and journalist Gauri Lankesh by right-wing forces, Prakash Raj has been very critical of the Modi government. He has called them out on various issues, including lack of help during floods, stifling dissent, protests over the Sabarimala issue and for propagating Hindutva.
In a recent campaign speech, he responded to a question by the press. “When Kerala floods happen, he (Modi) gives 100 crores, and later sends 500 crores. And, he thinks he can spend 3,000 crores to build a statue? What an insensitive leader we have? You should raise that question. I mean, it’s in the open, (he is a) megalomaniac, ego-centered, idiot fellow (sic). He can’t do this to the country when there are no jobs, when there’s an agrarian crisis happening, this cannot be done. And, it is our money. We should ask him this question and he should be made to pay for what he has done with the tax payers money. Please, as media, spread this. Three thousand crores, sir! And a State that needs 20,000 crores to stand on its feet, which will take decades, is given 500 crores?”
Prakash Raj has been allocated the whistle symbol, and will be contesting independently from Bengaluru Central constituency. The CPI (M) has offered him support. Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which swept to power in Telangana recently, and the Aam Aadmi Party have backed his candidature.
Karu Pazahniappan, Kamal Haasan criticise ruling parties
Filmmaker Karu Pazhaniappan has offered support to the DMK alliance. He recently campaigned for DMK’s MP candidate Kanimozhi who is contesting from Thoothukudi constituency, and photos from the campaign trail went viral. Pazhaniappan, known for his articulate speeches, has said that the DMK-Congress-Communist Party alliance must be voted to to power if people wanted a secular government.
He took a dig at BJP’s saffron politics, the Main Bhi Chowkidaar campaign, demonetisation, the Rafale deal, and criticised the party’s silence over important issues such as the Pollachi sexual assault incident. “Shouldn’t the Pollachi case have disturbed the Prime Minister? He politicised the issue and instead of offering help to find the culprit, he said that the law will handle matters.”
Pazhaniappan also called out Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami of using the BJP to serve his party’s purpose, ignoring the number of times the BJP was unjust to Tamil people.
Ahead of the elections, Kamal Haasan has been clear about his opposition to the BJP, and also the AIADMK and DMK, among others. He criticised the ruling government for furthering its own agenda, and called out Modi for being a rich man’s chowkidaar, for not meeting journalists, and credited Tamil twitter for the ‘Go Back Modi’ hashtag.
He criticised the DMK alliance for its manifesto, and said that strategies such as gramasabha meetings were copied from him. He said the reason behind his political entry was to displace the DMK and AIADMK from Tamil Nadu. Recently, he also called for a third Prime Ministerial candidate at the Centre and said that leaders of several parties have been holding discussions in this regard.
While announcing the list of his party’s candidates, he said the party was yet to decide if it would support the BJP or Congress in the future. The manifesto currently promises 100 per cent profit for farmers, 50 lakh jobs through the setting up 500 skill development centres, wiping out poverty from 50 lakh BPL families, providing tap water in every household and equal wages for women labourers.
Film producer Kameela Nasser, lyricist Snehan and vanilla farmer and MNM vice-president Dr Mahendran are among Makkal Needhi Maiam’s candidates. Kamal Haasan has said he will not contest the Lok Sabha or Assembly elections.
Actor-politician Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) will contest all 40 seats (including one in Puducherry). For the first time, the party that has not had any female representation so far, has allocated 50 per cent of its nominations to women. NTK has constantly criticised Dravidian parties of not being revolutionary enough, but its own politics has been divisive, and banked on Thevar, Vanniyar and dominant and upper caste votes. In a recent meeting, he spoke supporting Hitler’s ideals.
Sumalatha Ambareesh, Pawan Kalyan foray into politics
Actor Sumalatha Ambareesh, wife of late actor Ambareesh, will contest from Mandya constituency against Nikhil Gowda, son of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy. Kannada actors Darshan and Yash have been actively campaigning for her. Sumalatha has said that her political plunge was not in quest of power; she was bowing to the requests of her late husband’s fans. Modi too, in a recent speech, said he was “grateful to Sumalatha and Ambareesh for promoting Kannada culture”. He later announced that to support her, the BJP will not be fielding candidates in Mandya.
Meanwhile, a section of the Telugu film industry, including Allu Arjun, has been supporting Jana Sena chief actor Pawan Kalyan. He has signed an alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, a key player in Uttar Pradesh politics. He has had his stint with his brother Chiranjeevi’s erstwhile Prajarajyam Party, and later with the Modi-lead NDA front. He started the Jana Sena, dissatisfied with both. The party has promised 10 lakh jobs, free healthcare, a monthly pension of Rs 5,000 to farmers, and assured it will bring land-grabbers to book, among other things.
The Lok Sabha elections, which began yesterday, are scheduled to happen in seven phases, till May 19. Counting of votes will take place on May 23. The manifestos of the Congress, DMK, Kamal’s MNM and Prakash Raj look promising, and suggest a politics that stresses upon secularism, equality, recognises marginalised communities and the need for due share of benefits. How well that translates into votes needs to be seen.