Members of the party including reputed former bureaucrats and police officers, social media influencers and well-meaning citizens have quit the party blaming its leader and his operative style for the poll debacle. The party was founded in February 2018 with the vision of providing the people of Tamil Nadu clean governance at a time when the AIADMK was still regrouping after the demise of J Jayalalithaa and the DMK had lost its patriarch M Karunanidhi. Over the past two years, MNM attracted the attention of many in urban TN. Kamal’s personal charisma and his open criticism of both the Dravidian heavyweights, as well as PM Narendra Modi, ensured that the party opened its electoral account in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with a modest performance of 3.7% vote share.
Subsequently, MNM grew from strength to strength as its leaders regularly toured Tamil Nadu holding grama sabha meetings and promised fresh, clean politics of progress which attracted several prominent citizens from various walks of life as they saw a future in the party. Ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls, the party also managed to conjure up an alliance under its leadership with Sarath Kumar’s AISMK and Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) and contested in 154 constituencies only to lose in all the constituencies including Coimbatore South where Kamal Haasan lost to BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan by a fraction. MNM’s vote share also dipped to 2.84 per cent, which has obviously resulted in several party leaders quitting their posts and even giving up primary membership.
Does this mean it’s a curtain call for MNM? Or, has the party merely reached the crossroads earlier than expected? If Kamal Haasan had hoped to repeat the MGR phenomenon or the more recent Vijayakanth model of politics and emerge as a viable alternative to the DMK and AIADMK, it would have been a different story. But, if the actor-politician is serious about politics as a calling and genuinely wants to work for public welfare irrespective of electoral success, this electoral drubbing could be just the reality-check he needs to shift gear for course correction.
Kamal could learn a lesson or two from the rise and rise of Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), which has now emerged as the third-largest party in the state even in the absence of any charismatic crowd-puller. While Seeman’s NTK has been vociferously active for over a decade now, the party entered the political fray only in the 2016 assembly polls and got just a 1.1% vote share. However, it had contested independently with the same vigour in every poll since then and now commands a vote share of over 6.5% - emerging as a major force. The NTK, which holds slain LTTE chief V Prabhakaran as its mascot and openly proclaims Tamil nationalism, and is limited in its outreach as a result when compared to the more palatable ‘centrist’ ideology of MNM. Yet, the former has made significant inroads, which could perhaps be interpreted loosely as having satisfied the minimum criteria for what the 21st century TN voter expects from its leaders: persistence and conviction in one’s ideology.
While it’s not possible to form an opinion on whether there is any merit to the allegations made against Kamal Haasan by his former party colleagues, the fact is that leaders who join a party believing in its ideology seldom give up. And that is the stance of the MNM founder, who said in the aftermath of the desertions that he would remain in politics as long as he was alive, and was also confident that his party would soon witness a transformation. It is now up to Kamal to seize the opportunity and show the TN voter he is serious about politics, irrespective of the outcome. It’s time to go long or go home.