In the Storyboard column on the third Monday of February this year, I wrote: “American motivational writer William Arthur Ward said the pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. If the MNM’s decision not to align with either of the parties is because it can defeat the leviathans this time, it will be missing the winds and drowning the sails.”
I hate to say “I told you so”, but I am repeating this here because I was but dispensing only common sense, not any exclusive wisdom. I wasn’t urging Kamal to ally with the DMK or the AIADMK; in fact, I was appreciating his courage to take on the Dravidian giants with the promise of being an alternative. While the party’s defeat can be attributed to its inexperience and misreading of the ground realities, the present crisis in the party is mostly Kamal’s own making.
The first resignation came from party’s vice-president R Mahendran. In a 12-page letter to Kamal, Mahendran said the party president was listening to the wrong people (an external consultant) without listening to party functionaries. Soon followed the resignations of general secretaries Kameela Nasser, C K Kumaravel, M Muruganandam and Santhosh Babu, besides that of another office-bearer and the party’s Maduravoyal candidate Padma Priya. Some of them were politely vague on the reasons, but those who spoke out echoed a common reason: Kamal Haasan is autocratic.
What the neo-renegades didn’t tell us is that they were willing partners in the coronation of the ‘supreme leader’. Five of the 25 resolutions the party passed on February 11 were praising Kamal. Sample No. 3: On behalf of all general body members it has been accepted that our leader Kamal Haasan, who works tirelessly day and night using all his talent, career, wealth, fame and experience to do good for the Tamil language and the Tamil people, should act as the permanent leader of the Makkal Needhi Maiam party. Hence (we) are pleased to announce that Kamal Haasan will be the Permanent Leader of the Makkal Needhi Maiam party from today.
Kamal’s decision to enthrone himself as the supreme leader was obviously based on the reading — his or his advisers’, I am not sure — that successful parties in Tamil Nadu have been unipolar and driven by one personality at a time. That’s true, but Kamal didn’t have to be in a hurry to institutionalise his supremacy, especially since the MNM so far has been known as ‘Kamal’s party’, nothing more.
M Karunanidhi had to make some deft moves to emerge on top after the passing of C N Annadurai; MGR was the heart and soul of his party when he launched the ADMK (which soon became the AIADMK); J Jayalalithaa’s ascent as MGR’s successor wasn’t smooth; but all these people had toiled their way up. All Kamal had to do was to delegate, empower and encourage his party colleagues and cement his natural leadership with earned respect.
Kamal’s obsession with Kejriwal as a model was inherently flawed. As I wrote in the February column, Delhi and Tamil Nadu are two worlds: More than 93% of Delhi’s population is urban, while more than half the population of Tamil Nadu is rural. In cities, the MNM’s performance wasn’t bad, but in villages, it couldn’t match the other aspiring alternative, Naam Tamilar Katchi. For a new party like Kamal’s, villages will need a lot of ploughing before he can sow. Harvest depends on the vagaries of the political weather, but it can’t be overnight.
I will not write off the MNM. Any party promising a change should get a second chance. Mid-March when I sat with Kamal for a chat, he made this impressive statement: You just cannot wipe MNM off the political map of Tamil Nadu. I hope that remains true.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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