Tamil film superstar Kamal Haasan understands optics like nothing else. And that has been on display with the choice of February 21 as the date for the launch of his new political outfit and the ancient city of Madurai as the place for it.
February 21 is International Mother Language Day, an evocation that has had strong resonance in Tamil Nadu's politics for over a 100 years. By attempting to appropriate his fledgling political movement into the historical fight against the imposition of Hindi, Kamal would also be looking to one-up the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which rode the coattails of the pro-Tamil Dravidian Movement to power for the first time in 1967.
Kamal's choice of location too is significant when you think of the fact that he seems prepared to couch his political dialect within the linguistic politics that have kept the so-called national parties firmly irrelevant to the political scape of the state.
The ancient city of Madurai is considered the nerve epicentre of Tamil culture. As the named seat of the ancient Tamil Sangams, which produced the rich body of extant works and poetry known as Sangam Literature, Madurai has for centuries commanded the attention of not just those who speak Tamil as a mother tongue, but also to the numerous foreign scholars of linguistics.
Apart from its role in the Tamil imagination as a key centre of the shared cultural identity, Madurai also functions as the 'gateway to the South' within Tamil Nadu, economically, culturally and geographically. The region referred to as Tamil Nadu's 'deep south' is demarcated in relation to Madurai.
It is perhaps for the same reason that actor Vijaykant, who launched his Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005, did so from Madurai.
Kamal Haasan, now 62 years of age, began the day with a visit to the memorial of former President APJ Abdul Kalam in Rameshwaram, about 170 km from Madurai. "Greatness can come from simple beginnings. Actually it will come only from simplicity. Glad to start my journey from a great man's simple abode," he tweeted about his visit.
Greatness can come from simple beginnings. Actually it will come only from simplicity. Glad to start my journey from a great man's simple abode. #maiam
— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) February 21, 2018
He then followed that up with a roadshow that saw him address gatherings in his hometown of Paramakudi and in Ramanathapuram, the home town of senior Congress leader and freedom struggle veteran K Kamaraj.
Kamal is set to address a public meeting at 6 pm at the Othakadai Grounds on the outskirts of Madurai. It is at this meeting that he has said he would unveil the name of his new party and hoist its flag. He is also set to deliver a speech outlining its ideological contours.
"Our long journey is set to begin tomorrow. I am set to hoist our party flag at 6 pm a huge public meeting at the Othakadai Ground in Madurai. I am about to unveil the name of the party and also explain our political ideology. All are welcome to the creation of a new epoch. #maiam," read a tweet from the actor on Tuesday.
நாளை துவங்கவுள்ளது நம் நெடும் பயணம். நாளை மாலை 6 மணிக்கு மதுரை ஒத்தக்கடை மைதானத்தில் ஒரு மாபெரும் பொதுக்கூட்டத்தில் நமது கட்சிக் கொடியை ஏற்றவுள்ளேன். புதிய கட்சியின் பெயரையும் எமது கொள்கையின் சாராம்சத்தையும் விளக்கவுள்ளேன். வருக வருக புது யுகம் படைக்க #maiam
— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) February 20, 2018
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is likely to attend the Madurai public meeting. Kamal has also met Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, DMK President M Karunanidhi and film megastar Rajinikanth ahead of his political foray.
On Tuesday, a huge crowd of supporters gathered outside the hotel where he was staying, raising slogans that referred to Kamal as the 'varungala muthalvar', which means 'future Chief Minister'.