At a time when the AIADMK has chosen the late Jaya’s personal aide to lead the party, M K Stalin re-enters the scene with greater credibility and better clarity of his own role in the DMK, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
As he moves along from being the party treasurer and leader of the opposition in the state assembly, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s youth wing secretary M K Stalin has moved one more step closer to the top job.
With nonagenarian father and party president Muthuvel Karunanidhi falling seriously ill, the party general council, meeting in Chennai on Wednesday elected Stalin as the ‘working president’, after amending the DMK constitution for the purpose.
Owing to age-related ailments and more especially the fallout of skin rashes and throat infection, the latter requiring hospitalisation and tracheostomy only a fortnight ago, Karunanidhi himself did not attend the general council meeting, a first since the founding of the party, and more so after his taking over the party reins after the death of founder and former chief minister C N Annadurai.
For Stalin, it has been a long journey forward, but only step by another baby step, tottering all the time, not necessarily owing to his own deficiencies, if any.
Even as he began claiming up the party ladder from his student days, and suffered imprisonment and physical hurt during Indira Gandhi’s infamous Emergency, the DMK lost power in the 1977 assembly elections, never to return until charismatic actor-politician M G Ramachandran had left the scene.
Yet, when the party returned to power in the post-MGR polls of 1989, and began alternating the roles with MGR’s AIADMK, now under an equally charismatic and even more determined Jayalalithaa, feuds within the DMK’s ‘first family’ had begun taking their toll on Stalin’s own elevation.
Karunanidhi would fight Stalin’s war against party second-liner and more famous political propagandist in Vaiko, then known by his christened name V Gopalswamy.
But Karunanidhi would also promote Stalin’s older brother Mu Ka Azhagiri, alongside, who was alien to politics until then, and to whom, too, politics was alien, and equally so.
Later on, their half-sister, Kanimozhi, would also vie for party honours, occasionally getting the ageing father’s ears and also some recognition or other.
On the side, Stalin’s late cousin, ‘Murasoli’ Maran would always have the closest of ears of Karunanidhi, followed by his politician-son, Dayanidhi Maran, who again was as new to politics and power as Azhagiri was only a decade earlier.
Today, Stalin’s famous patience has paid off even as family competitors for the honours have fallen by the way side. The Marans, including Dayanidhi’s brother Kalanidhi, seem to have blotted their copy-book vis-à-vis the ‘old man’. They are also caught in the web of 2G scam related cases.
So is Kanimozhi, against whom the trial court verdict was reserved long ago. It’s another matter that she is now a Rajya Sabha member and heads the DMK women’s wing -- but nothing more.
Karunanidhi, rather than giving away more, seemed to have drawn the red line as an afterthought and amends, following the 2011 assembly poll debacle. He also sacked Azhagiri from the party, for the second time in a decade, but did not revoke it until faculties began failing him.
Thus, Stalin, who was made the DMK youth wing leader in 1980, continues to be its all-important secretary, although past 60. If he plans to give up the party treasurer post after the current elevation, he did not provide any hints.
Truth be acknowledged, the uneasy crown of ‘Prince Charles of Tamil Nadu politics’ still sits uncomfortably on Stalin’s head. But there is no denying that he has become more than heir-apparent in the party’s scheme of things.
It’s not without reason. Be it the 13 long years of DMK’s vanvas from political power (1976-1989), or more recently as the chief election manager and propaganda head of the party since 2009 (when Karunanidhi as chief minister became wheel-chair bound after a spinal surgery), Stalin has become the beacon light for GenNext party cadres.
Noticeably, the time lag has also provided for smooth transition in his case, from the DMK’s founding generation to the next, where he belongs. This also provided time and space for Stalin to ensure that the party general council was overwhelmingly for and with him.
In the present-day context, the Yadav father-son big fight in Uttar Pradesh has rendered greater relevance and credit to Stalin’s approach to politics and the political leadership of his own father.
In the past, whenever Stalin was tipped for a higher post, family promotions and elevations of the kind elsewhere in the country have drawn inevitable parallels.
It was the Abdullah clan in Jammu and Kashmir, the father-son Badal duo in Punjab. There were also occasional references to the Gandhi-Nehru ‘dynastic rule’ in the Congress at the national level, but Stalin sat out to defy all logic and abuses targeting the ‘first family’ of Tamil Nadu in his own way.
Where he had differences of opinion with the father, Stalin ensured that it did not get out-of-hand, and more especially to the media space.
It has since paid dividends for Stalin. More importantly, it has ensured that the party cadres have greater respect now than when Karunanidhi had ‘imposed’ him on the party in the post-Emergency era after half-brother Mu Ka Muthu, pitted by the father against MGR in films en route to politics, had come a cropper.
According to party sources, Karunanidhi had begun acknowledging his failing health and inability to discharge his political functions, hence it was his own decision to hand over the reins to Stalin after his decades-old wait of patience and perseverance.
The sources have also indicated that Karunanidhi’s advice for Stalin was not to mix family and politics as he himself had done, more especially in the past two decades. The older man also reportedly reminded his son that there had to be a DMK alive and active, beyond him, beyond their times.
Stalin’s conduct of the very imaginative ‘Namakku Naame’ street campaign in the May 2016 assembly polls, showed him in a better light than whenever the party had lost elections under father Karunanidhi.
It also proved a remote point that wherever the DMK won polls under Karunanidhi, it owed mostly to the breakaway AIADMK’s weaknesses.
Today, when the rival AIADMK has chosen the late Jaya’s personal aide, Sasikala, to lead the party, and possibly even the state government later, replacing Chief Minister O Pannerselvam, Stalin re-enters the scene with greater credibility and better clarity of his own role in the party -- and be accepted as such by his contemporaries and the rest from within.
Yet, Sasikala would be no write-off, and more certainly the AIADMK as a party and poll machine. Even more so if Sasikala were to let OPS continue in his present role, and he too continues to be an effective, efficient and accessible CM (as evidenced during the post-Vardah cyclone-relief work).
Either way, to quote the famous like of yesteryear villain P S Veerappa from the classic Tamil film Vanjikkottai Vaaliban, it would be “Sabaash, sariyaana potti” (“Great! Let the contest begin!”)...
PS: In the film, the veteran was referring to a dance duel between actresses Vyjayanthimala and Padmini.
Image: M K Stalin seeks the blessings of his father and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi after being elected as working president at the party’s general council meeting, in Chennai, on January 3, 2017. Photograph: PTI Photo.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.