Actor-politician Kamal Haasan, on his 64th birthday today, said his Makkal Needhi Maiam party is ready to contest by-elections on 20 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu, whenever they are held. Three months ago, Mr Haasan had indicated that his party would contest the 2019 general elections, but was "not in the mindset" to contest the by-election in the state. At the time, only two seats in the state were vacant owing to the death of the incumbents, DMK's M Karunanidhi and AIADMK's AK Bose.
"Nobody knows whether the by-elections will be held. But we are ready to contest whenever they take place," Kamal Haasan told reporters in Chennai today. "I am not the one who believes in making promises. I am seeking suggestions from people," he added.
The last by-election in the state -- on J Jayalalithaa's seat RK Nagar in Chennai held in December last year -- had been swept by TTV Dhinakaran. The nephew of VK Sasikala, who shot into prominence after the death of J Jayalalithaa, had fractured the AIADMK, pushing 18 supporters to rebel against the party leadership.
This by-election became necessary after the Madras High Court last month upheld their disqualification. Besides, the Tiruvarur seat represented by M Karunanidhi and Tiruparankundram seat, represented by AIADMK's AK Bose, have been vacant.
The by-elections -- the schedule for which is yet to be announced by the Election Commission -- are seen as a test for the E Palaniswami-led AIADMK government. The outcome will have a bearing on its survival.
After the disqualification of the 18 lawmakers, the ruling AIADMK has 116 members (including Speaker P Dhanapal) in the 234-member House, where the majority mark is 118. The DMK and its allies together have 97 lawmakers (DMK 88, Congress 8 and IUML 1) in the assembly.
Kamal Haasan had launched Makkal Needhi Maiam or MNM -- which translates to "People's Justice Centre" -- in February. The actor-politician has been sharply critical of the AIADMK government for some time, has had frequent run-ins with state ministers on the issue of corruption and came out strongly against the government for its handling of the anti-Sterlite protests.
Kamal Haasan's venture into politics came after another Tamil cinema icon, Rajinikanth, spoke of plans to form his own party. Both have been looking to fill the leadership vacuum in the state after the death of AIADMK matriarch J Jayalalithaa in December 2016 and M Karunanidhi in August.
With inputs from PTI