With elections 2019 clearly showing that both actor-politician Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi and Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiiyam cutting into young voters of traditional parties, adding up to about eight per cent, Udhayanidhi’s first task may be to arrest the trend first, and try and reverse it too, ahead of the assembly polls, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
At a time Rahul Gandhi in the national ally Congress is living down the party’s ‘dynastic image’ and the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam rival has no scope for doing it nearer home to such a degree in the near future, the Opposition DMK in Tamil Nadu seems singing solo.
The party has named ‘actor-politician’ (?) Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of party president M K Stalin, as the youth wing chief, as if not to belie post-poll social media claims to this end.
The term ‘udhaya-nidhi’ in Tamil means ‘rising treasure’. At 41, it could not have been a better name for the ‘rising son’ in what is dubbed Tamil Nadu’s ‘dynastic party’ of the ‘Rising Sun’, the DMK’s election symbol.
Before Udhayanidhi, father Stalin (66) had occupied the youth wing post for 30 long years, well into his late fifties, when alone the late patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi condescended to elevate him as treasurer in the parent party.
Including Udhayanidhi now, at least four from the Karunanidhi’s family are holding key positions in the DMK. Apart from Stalin, who by dint of hard and decades of work became party president after the patriarch's death, half-sister Kanimozhi is the women’s wing secretary. Both Kanimozhi (Thoothukudi MP) and Karunanidhi’s grand-nephew, Dayanidhi Maran (Central Chennai MP), who was under a cloud both within the party and outside until recently, were elected to the Lok Sabha in the recent polls, with huge margins.
The list discounts Stalin’s estranged elder brother and one-time Union Minister, M K Azhagiri, whom the father himself had sacked from the party. With that all ended much of the talk of ‘family rule’ in the DMK, as by then the rest of the ‘dynastic nominees’ had acquitted themselves well in their positions, even in the midst of 2-G kind of criminal cases hanging over their heads.
Pending CBI appeals in the Delhi high court, the trial court in Delhi has acquitted Kanimozhi and then DMK Telecom Minister A Raja in the 2-G case. However, cases of the telecom kind hang over Dayanidhi still.Yet, coupled with the fact that the TN voters have elected the two, as also Dayanidhi Maran in elections 2019, by huge margins should be considered as a public acceptance of their role as ‘people’s representatives’.
Needless to say that in a post-Karunanidhi party, where the Stalin leadership has proved its mettle in elections 2019, that too against the all-pervasive ‘Modi effect’ across the country as only the rival AIADMK’s late Jayalalithaa had done in elections 2014, the Udhayanidhi succession will not be challenged or contested. The question is if the coincidentally declared cancelled LS polls from Vellore, now slated for August 5, will be seen as a public referendum on his ‘dynastic elevation’.
Udhayanidhi can be expected to campaign for the DMK candidate and any victory for the party will be hailed as his acceptance, it will not be the case if the party were to lose that he will take the responsibility, as Rahul Gandhi has done in the case of the nation-wide reversal for the Congress-UPA (barring ‘Dravidian’ Tamil Nadu). There is no knowing why the party should have hurried the ‘coronation’ of the ‘yuvraj’, ahead of the Vellore vote and more so without waiting for the state’s full-acceptance of Stalin’s leadership in the much-expected assembly polls, due in May 2021.
With all poll adversaries having bitten the dust in elections 2021, if there is still any genuine reason for the DMK to bring in, or rope in Udhayanidhi, and entrust him with the job of injecting fresh blood into the youth wing, there can only be one. That is the possibility of superstar Rajinikanth actually making good his repeated announcement of making a direct entry into elections 2021.
Clear enough, Rajinikanth will not join or even align with the DMK, as both his fans and even voters preferring him would want to see Rajini only as a chief ministerial candidate. With Stalin firmly in the saddle, and DMK cadres unlikely to accept an ‘outsider’ even of Rajinikanth’s popularity and charisma, the superstar would have to find another berth -- and could be the real challenge to the party, instead.
Though not acknowledged as much, the youth wing has been the mainstay of the DMK, like with other cadre-based parties. Stalin’s long stint, especially during the party’s years in wilderness (1976-89), running mainly through the ‘MGR era’ in TN politics, only went on to reinforce this belief. Hence, the need for having a youth wing leader who would not face challenges or even veiled competition from within.
Though Stalin’s successors in ‘Anbil’ Mahesh Poyyamozhi and ‘Vellakoil’ M P Saminathan, the immediate predecessor to Udhayanidhi, had their mentor’s blessings through and through, it will not be same as having one from the ‘first family’, especially one with some kind of a public exposure as Udhayanidhi has, especially to the younger generation, as a film actor to their sensibilities, compared to the yester-year actors with their ‘over-acting’.
With elections 2019 clearly showing that both actor-politician Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi and Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiiyam cutting into young voters of traditional parties, adding up to about eight per cent, Udhayanidhi’s first task may be to arrest the trend first, and try and reverse it too, ahead of the assembly polls.
In the process, he should have also left not much of young voters for Rajinikanth to garner, on the premise that they could look up to a traditional party with a ‘connectable and accessible’ young leader, in the place of Kamal and Rajini, and also Vijaykanth, though not Seeman, who all could remain inaccessible for most part.
A film financier, distributor and producer before he also became an actor in the 2012 Tamil block-buster ‘OKOK’, standing for ‘Oru Kal, Oru Kannadi’, (a stone & a mirror), in what in trade parlance is known as a ‘romantic comedy’, Udayanidhi did not have any political experience before he campaigned for party/alliance candidates in elections 2019. That supporting comedy-star Santhanam’s performance and a fresh script helped the Udhayanidhi-grosser was borne out by the modest performance of his successor movies, adding up to 13 in all. Yet, for OKOK Udhayanidhi did win the coveted Filmfare Award 2013.
It is now anybody’s guess if in a state where the mighty MGR had to give up his filmi dreams after becoming chief minister the common man would accept a duel-role for Udhayanidhi. If nothing else, there are also the instances of DMDK’s Vijaykanth, NTK’s Seeman and more recently the one-and-only MNM’s Kamal Hassan, who all had to give up their filmi future once they threw their hats into the politico-electoral ring.
Though no one, either within the party or outside, openly attributed Udhayanidhi’s campaign for the DMK combine’s sweeping poll victory this year as they attribute it to the twin anti-incumbencies against the BJP/AIADMK leaderships at the Centre and the state, a veiled effort was still made by some in the social media to pronounce him as a mainstay.
Not only was it far from the truth, where Stalin slogged it out, helped by systematic cadre work, organised by established second-line leaders, there were those who pointed to the ‘negative impact’ of Udhayanidhi’s campaign style, choice of subjects and phrases.
If however it was not reflected in the results, they say, it owed to the fact that the voter had made up his mind long before Udhayanidhi hit the road, and without much fanfare or months of pre-publicity.
After Udhayanidhi’s elevation as youth front chief, DMK leaders across the board, as is the wont, are cheering and hailing him, at times with retrospective effect -- linking his campaign to the party-led alliance’s poll victory. The fact that in neighbouring Karnataka, the ruling Janata Dal-Secular chose the very day to nominate chief minister H D Kumaraswamy’s poll-failure of a son in Nikhil Kumaraswamy as the party’s youth wing chief, does not seem to have on rubbed anyone nearer home.
However, there is no denying that the Stalin leadership could not have chosen a better time than the euphoria attending on the DMK’s elections 2019 sweep, for the ‘succession’ announcement. After all, sons and daughters of party veterans, including former ministers, got DMK nominations in the polls. All of them won, and hands down -- as if to mean that the TN vote did not care anymore about ‘dynasty’ charges, as is being made out to be in ‘motivated sections’ of the social media.
That way, with the lone AIADMK member of the Lok Sabha from Theni, P Ravindranath Kumar, is the son of deputy chief minister and party coordinator O Panneerselvam (OPS), has meant that the Dravidian rival cannot point an accusing finger at the DMK. If the names of other AIADMK leaders’ sons, daughters or siblings, has not made it to the national media as such, it is only because they all lost the LS polls and by huge margins -- and not owing to charges of ‘dynastic politics’, which even the party’s BJP ally could not use as a campaign point in the state as elsewhere in the country.
Incidentally, the AIADMK has also kept to the LS poll commitment and has allotted one of the three RS seats that the party can win in this month’s vacancy of six, to the PMK, another of the partners in the BJP-NDA in elections 2019. At the time of LS poll seat-sharing talks, the PMK had said that they wanted the RS seat for party founder S Ramadoss’s son, Anbumani R, a former Union minister. So, dynastic politics does not have any meaning in TN.
It is another matter, critics of state BJP president Tamizhisai Soundararajan have started a ‘whispering campaign’ to her ‘political connections’, thankfully not within the party. Tamizhisai’s octogenarian father, Kumarri Anandan, is a one-time president of the state Congress unit and two-time LS member. His younger brother, H Vasanthakumar, was elected Congress member of the Lok Sabha from southern-most Kanyakumari constituency, defeating BJP’s Union minister, Pon Radhakrishnan, in the May polls.
But the criticism against Tamizhisai has more to do with her wanting to contest every election in the state, despite losing deposit in the previous one. Thankfully for her and the party, Tamizhisai does not have to do so this time, having lost to DMK’s Kanimozhi in southern Thoothukudi constituency, where both were ‘outsiders’. With AIADMK allies by her side, Tamizhisai lost the poll by a huge margin, but way ahead of the cut-off for forfeiting her security deposit.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.