Tamil actor Kamal Haasan launches new political party

NEW DELHI - An actor known for his role as a professor who teaches his students to be responsible citizens has made his official political debut in Tamil Nadu, continuing the tradition of actors becoming politicians in India.

Mr Kamal Haasan, 63, launched the Makkal Needhi Maiam or Centre for People's Justice on Wednesday (Feb 21), in an event broadcast live on Indian television channels.

"I am not advising people, I will take advice from people... This is a party for the people," he said in Tamil at the party's launch in Madurai, an industrial and education city known for its temples.

Mr Haasan, who starred as a professor in the 1990s movie Nammavar, has said he wants people from different ideologies and backgrounds in his party and would focus on fighting corruption.

He was joined at the launch by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, which was born out of an anti-corruption movement.

In the lead-up to his party's launch, Mr Haasan held a series of public meetings, including one with fisherfolk, and visited the house of the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a rocket scientist who was India's president from 2002 to 2007.

Mr Haasan's entry into politics comes after another popular actor, Rajinikanth, announced that he will launch a political party in Tamil Nadu.

"Superman Rajinikanth vs Batman Kamal Haasan - thriller set for premiere in Tamil Nadu," read a headline on Indian television channel CNN News18.

Traditionally, political power in Tamil Nadu has been dominated by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). For decades, they have practically taken turns to be in power, with national parties Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress having little presence in the southern state.

Analysts believe that both Mr Haasan and Mr Rajinikanth, 67, see a chance now to fill a leadership vacuum in Tamil Nadu politics.

Their entry into politics comes at a time when the ruling AIADMK has been weakened by infighting since the death of its charismatic leader J. Jayalalithaa in 2016.

The DMK, too, is undergoing a leadership change from its founder M. Karunanidhi, 93, to his son Stalin, who does not have the same stature as his father.

There have been several examples of former actors who have left a mark in politics in Tamil Nadu.

M.G. Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, was a successful film star before entering politics. He founded the AIADMK and was Tamil Nadu's chief minister for nearly a decade.

His successor, Ms Jayalalithaa, was also a successful movie star turned politician. She dominated Tamil Nadu politics and was a three-time chief minister.

Elsewhere in India, former actors have made an impact on politics too. In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, film star Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao set up the Telugu Desam in 1982 and in the same year, propelled the party to victory.

Still, analysts said political success for Mr Haasan and Mr Rajinikanth was not assured.

Chennai-based political commentator Badri Seshadri noted that the "MGR and Jaya phenomenon" took place when people were generally less aware and literate in the days before the Internet and social media. "Their movies were larger than life. Today, that is not the case," he said.

He added that while people are "very curious" about Mr Haasan, they do not necessarily see him as "someone who has come to redeem the state".