By Sanjay Pinto

Politics is not quite ‘chicken soup for the soul’. Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen make good bedtime inspirational stories. But for the hustings, Ogden Nash and his ‘candy is dandy but liquor is quicker’ hits the spot like nothing else. The tragedy is that corruption and allurements are the brazen template. Challenging that optic is considered comedy! Even to get a crowd to listen to you, requires conveyance and return gifts of  biriyani and booze and some pocket money. Now this is where Kamal Haasan’s ‘Manmadan Ambu’ (Cupid’s arrow) from his tinsel town avatar needs to morph into a vote catching salvo. There can be no magic mantra to convert box office success into ballot box gains but here’s my prescription for Tamil Nadu’s new ‘Nammavar’.

Politically Accurate, Not Politically Correct.

In the reality show that politics truly is, the average voter is shrewd to the extent of  ‘what’s in it for me?’ Movie style punchlines and emotional clarion outbursts of idealism will make headlines but not garner lines at the polling booths. So while statements like ‘education is privatised but liquor is a government monopoly’, or ‘the Cauvery tangle must be resolved through dialogue’, or coverting the Rs.6000 cash for each vote into a daily figure, spread over 5 years, do make perfect sense, they elicit an inevitable ‘easier said than done’ sigh. TASMAC is a Golden Goose that no government wants to kill. And dialogue as a solution to the water sharing dispute has failed over decades. Instead, a practical blueprint on entrepreneurship and employment generation will be more effective, considering the target audience will be the educated youth.

Cure Better Than ‘Disease’. 

A day after the launch of Makkal Needhi Maiam, I noticed a huge hoarding blocking a pavement on TTK Road in the vicinity of Kamal Haasan’s office. Now this is just what his followers must studiously steer clear of. Big convoys on the road, bouncers on stage, larger than life size cut-outs  project him as just like the rest of them. Not the Change Agent or the ‘tool’ he wants to be. Soaked in politics of aggrandisement, it’s not going to be easy to prevail upon his workers to chart a new course. But reining them in is going to be crucial. Any indiscipline or excesses by his followers is going to be magnified by his rivals. Committing the same follies of the ‘system’ you seek to replace will dent credibility.

Hands That Help Vs Lips That Pray.

Long before his political plunge, Kamal Haasan has been actively involved in social service. For decades, his birthdays would be marked by blood donation camps and charity. That alone gives credence to his battle cry ‘I’m not in this for fame or money’.  Political leg work is arduous and time consuming. The basic structure of his fan club edifice must endure and not be sacrificed at the altar of electioneering. For a self proclaimed atheist, there can be no better example of the hands that help, as opposed to the lips that pray. On that note, playing down atheism in a largely religious State may be prudent.

Guided Missile, Not Loose Canon. 

The actor turned politician is witty and intelligent enough for political rebuttal. The ‘seed’ analogy for the ‘paper flowers’ dig was brilliant. But strategically, he will need to suffer rivals gladly, without getting provoked or falling into traps. Equally important is that his followers exercise the same restraint and caution. As a leader, he must lay down Rules Of Engagement for his cadre. Below the belt barbs while engaging with adversaries will be counter productive when you take the moral high ground. Kamal has it in him to be a guided missile, not a loose canon. 

No Coterie, Please. 

A true leader will be accessible to his people 24×7. In this digital, social media age, direct interface with those you yearn to serve and represent is a sine qua non for good  politics. Even if it’s an hour a week, or 10 minutes a day, a facebook town hall and twitter and whatsapp engagement will establish a strong rapport with the ‘Makkal’. Look at how External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has utilised the social media to the hilt. A start was made at Havard. Replicating this at home is vital. Responding to messages or emails will be challenging given the time constraint. That’s a key element of public life. From what I know of Kamal Haasan, he is the sort of person who loves a personal, signature touch to his interaction and is not a Round Robin style communicator. The political role must not alter his DNA. Direct access sans intermediaries and hangers-on will adversely affect his popularity and also engender corruption and nepotism. Recently, Ullaganayagan offered the media biriyani instead of sound bites. Going ahead, a monthly breakfast meeting with Opinion Makers in society will help the former Vasool Raja MBBS star feel the pulse of ‘We The People.’

A Super, Not Superficial Team.

To tweak a proverb, ‘Tell Me Who Your Followers Are And I Will Tell You Who You Are’. Having the right lieutenants will make or break a politician. By the looks of it, Kamal Haasan seems to have a mixed bag at the moment. There are some super folks around him, and also some superficial blokes, about whom, the less said the better. Some of them behave like they are already Ministers! A friend who is also a brilliant political strategist, posed a pertinent question on twitter the other day. What is Kamal Haasan’s eco system? Nammavar will do well to focus more closely on the Chosen Ones.

Like Akbar’s Din-ILlahi, Kamal too has been keen to imbibe best practices from other parties. But who will be his Birbal?! That will require corporate style recruitment on merit, in sharp contrast to a Big Boss reality show! 

Fame Vs Popularity. 

That people will come to see a film star but not vote for him, has become a cliche. But it’s also a ground reality that must not be ignored. Just like a hard earned PhD is miles away from an honorary doctorate, fame and popularity are not quite the same. As an actor, you can afford to not respond to fan mail, you can speak in riddles and throw celebrity tantrums. As an aspirant for public office, a whole new set of Dos and Don’ts stare you in the face.

The Kamal Haasan I’ve grown up watching, liked and interviewed, has it in him to make a difference. If there’s one thing my years in television journalism before my foray into Law, has taught me, it’s that you just cannot write off anyone, especially in the unpredictable world of politics. My mind tells me that the road ahead will be more than uphill for the aspiring ‘poll star’. My heart weighs in favour of his audacity of hope.  

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)