Dravidian major DMK has got its new leader – MK Stalin, the longest-serving political apprentice to his father M Karunanidhi who passed away earlier this month. Being coronated as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party chief to fill in the vacant post caused by the death of his father was easy for Stalin, as he was the preferred political heir to the DMK patriarch. Karunanidhi never made a secret of it, much to the chagrin of his elder son MK Alagiri, whom he later threw out of the party for anti-party activities.
The impact of sibling rivalry that sizzled every now and then was stamped out by Stalin through systematic purging of the party and weeding out of his elder brother’s trusted lieutenants from party posts.
Alagiri, known as the South Tamil Nadu strongman, was also defanged by former AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa as police stepped up heat on his henchmen. As many of them were eliminated and shorn of governmental support, the strong man became weaker and weaker.
The fight in Alagiri, however, has not died down and in this, lies Stalin’s first challenge – to neutralise his elder brother politically – and the biggest one is to bring the DMK back to power and national political reckoning.
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Although Stalin was running the DMK show for the past two years, for the first time from Tuesday he will be completely on his own. At 65, Stalin, the longest serving political apprentice to the chief of the regional party, has had a ringside view of politics as strategised by his father, who was both practical and flexible. But the Kalaignar was rigid when it came to the interests of the state, party and family but not necessarily in that order.
Stalin would need all the qualities and political acumen of his father as he confronts newer challenges in the state when two of its tallest leaders – Karunanidhi and former chief minister and AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa – are gone.
The current dispensation in Tamil Nadu, led by a combine of two warring AIADMK leaders, but stuck by glue of power, is getting unpopular. But whether Stalin has the capacity to take advantage of the political situation that presents itself or fail like he did in the previous general elections in Tamil Nadu (though fought under the shadow of his father) where the victory margin was very narrow, remains to be seen.
Stalin clearly has a plan – to discredit the AADMK government as a bunch of thieves looting the state and trained his guns against the BJP-led central government. Stalin in his acceptance speech charged the BJP with communalising the country and gave a clarion call to all likeminded parties to come together to defeat the central and state governments.
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For Stalin, the challenges are many and the first acid test he faces are two bye-elections in the state, including in the constituency represented by his father Thiruvarur. Another one, Thiruparankundram was necessitated due to the death of sitting AIADMK member.
As charged by Alagiri, Stalin had not only lost 2016 general elections but also RK Nagar bye-poll held after Jayalalithaa’s death. It was a humiliating defeat for the DMK has its candidate lost deposit in the bye-poll in which rebel AIADMK leader and Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran emerged as a popular winner.
The two bye-elections are in Dhinakaran territory. Besides, Alagiri has announced his candidature in Thiruvarur as a challenge to his Stalin. DMK leaders are maintaining a stoic silence and apparent indifference as advised by their perception strategist not to give over-importance to him and make him more popular.
Then immediately after the bye-elections, Stalin has parliamentary elections to think of. Going by his opening remarks on Tuesday, he has already indicated his alliance preference – Congress. After the Lok Sabha general elections, Stalin has to turn his attention to the other challenge to bring his party to power.
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Other than electoral contests, Stalin has the biggest challenge—to emerge as a powerful Dravidian leader in the mould of Periyar, Anna and Karunanidhi. Moreover, political space for manoeuvring for him also is limited because of the strong ideological moorings of the Dravidian movement and philosophy. Stalin will have to stick to the core ideals of the DMK and cannot make any compromise with infringement on the rights of the state and dilution of federalism. This also brings the DMK under Stalin in direct confrontation with the BJP and the central government.
Stalin, however, will have to dig deep into the political lessons taught by his father to prepare for the 2019 general elections, and bring flexibility to his seemingly rigid anti-BJP stance at present.