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Stalin, Tamil Nadu's own Prince Charles

By N Sathiya Moorthy
March 09, 2015 18:48 IST
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In Tamil Nadu politics, Stalin is often compared to Prince Charles of England, the perennial crown prince anointed to be king one day, but whose time has still not come.

Will the 2016 assembly election be his to lead the DMK in? In the case of an electoral alliance, prospective allies would rather accept M Karunanidhi, the war veteran and elder statesman as their leader. It’s more about the age factor, and personal egos of parties.

Stalin may then have to wait, at least in the interim, says N Sathiya Moorthy. 

On March 1, on his son and party treasurer M K Stalin’s 62nd birthday, the DMK’s nonagenarian patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi declared that he does not have any ‘desire’ to become Tamil Nadu chief minister for a sixth time.

Maintaining silence on that occasion, Stalin, however, at the party’s executive committee meeting a week reportedly declared that Karunanidhi would continue to head the party and the government, if the DMK was returned to power in the state assembly polls, due in May 2016.

It was not the first time that Karunanidhi had said that he would retire from active politics. Nor might it be the last time that he would allow himself to be persuaded to reconsider the decision -- this time, more than on any other occasion in the past.

Between the two events, however, party cadres and Stalin sympathisers, both inside and outside the party, had hoped against hope for Karunanidhi to pronounce Stalin as the DMK’s chief ministerial hopeful. But it was not to be.

Winding up his speech at the executive meeting, he only referred to general secretary K Anbazhagan -- older to him by a year -- indicating that it was past lunch-time, and said, “I thought I would quench your hunger, but ‘Perasiriyar’ (or professor) is feeling hungry.”

Neither did he accept or reject Stalin’s declaration that the patriarch alone would lead the party in the assembly polls. With that Karunanidhi also left his audience and the larger party across the state clueless and confused even more -- and one more time.

In Tamil Nadu politics, Stalin is often compared to Prince Charles of England, the perennial crown prince anointed to be king one day, but whose time has still not come.

Karunanidhi has often come up with statements, comments and observations that would soothe Stalin’s ruffled feelings at times about having had to wait this long, and confuse him and the rest on other occasions as well.

This has gone on almost from the late '90s, when Stalin began playing a larger role than earlier in the party’s alliance talks and choice of candidates for elections at all levels.

In recent times, he has all but taken over the party leadership, reportedly dictating terms even to Karunanidhi and the rest. This was visible throughout the party’s organisational polls at all levels through last year.

In between, the presence of older brother M K Alagiri was a red-herring. But after his suspension from the party and Karunanidhi declaring that he was no more a son, Stalin’s grip over the party has tightened even more.

If earlier his supporters might have to share, say, around 5-10 per cent general council space with Alagiri’s followers, it’s now all Stalin’s. He has also successfully patched up with once-estranged half-sister and Rajya Sabha member, Kanimozhi.

Stalin’s hand was seen in the elaborate district and lower-level organisational elections through last year, with his chosen aides getting re-elected at different levels and in different places.

This was different from the posture Stalin had assumed for himself -- conferred on Karunanidhi, rather reluctantly -- after the twin defeats in polls, one for the state assembly (2011) and the other to the Lok Sabha (2014).

In both, the rival All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam returned with huge numbers.

With that, Stalin also seemingly gave up his chief ministerial ambitions, at least for a while. Once again, he was seen professing and promoting Karunanidhi as the party’s chief minister nominee.

Not any more, it seemed, after his birthday bash, but it was only short-lived, until the executive committee meeting a week later.

Karunanidhi’s compulsions for declaring his ‘desire-free’ approach to the chief minister’s post is not without reason. After a long haul, he seems to have accepted that he is not able to stir the GenNext voters as he was able to do with an older generation or two.

His age, experience and alacrity, despite being wheel chair-bound, used to be considered an asset to the party until not very long ago, but not anymore. The new-generation voter sees in all this an intense desire of Karunanidhi not wanting to give up the top job, even if it’s to his son and heir-apparent.

Earlier, Karunanidhi was seen as promoting Stalin and Alagiri in politics, to the detriment of the party and at times the state and its larger interests.

After the 2G scam, however, he was also seen as defending the corrupt and indefensible in politics.

There used to be a time used to be when Karunanidhi was credited with being the grand old man of state politics, capable of stitching together an electoral alliance that was invincible.

The sweeping 2004 parliamentary polls, when the DMK-led alliance won all 40 Lok Sabha seats including Puducherry, was a case in point. The ruling AIADMK was routed then, followed by the loss of power in the assembly polls that followed two years later.

After the 2G scam, the situation has changed, and even prospective allies are being put off by a series of DMK’s electoral reversals, attributable to the 2G scam and the likes -- even against perceptions of mal-administration under the ruling AIADMK.

Among the DMK leaders in particular, and other proven leaders across the political spectrum barring maybe the ruling AIADMK supremo and former chief minister Jayalalithaa, Stalin is also seen as being fairly efficient and relatively honest (both qualities attributable since his days as deputy chief minister under Karunanidhi, 2006-11).

Stalin is believed to have created an impression among the non-committed voters that he wants to do things, and do things differently and better, if only given a chance. And non-committed voters today constitute up to 35 per cent of the state’s electorate -- down from a possible 50 per cent.

Apart from the massive victories that the AIADMK now has to its credit in successive elections in 2011 and 2014, in which he had herded the DMK almost single-handedly, Stalin still faces a major hurdle ahead of the assembly polls.

There is nothing to suggest just now that the DMK has even a fighting chance in the assembly polls without a strong alliance.

Among the prospective partners, the Pattali Makkal Katchi has already announced former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss as its chief minister candidate. With this, the PMK has also unilaterally moved away from the Bharatiya Janata Party-National Democratic Alliance combine of the parliamentary polls.

Actor-politician Vijaykanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam party is hoping for the BJP to name its chief the NDA's chief minister candidate. After the Delhi assembly elections and Srirangam bypoll, it is not an unlikely expectation.

That would leave Stalin with the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Vaiko, his one-time bête noire inside the DMK, and a few caste and religion-centric parties concentrated in parts and polarising otherwise.

Over the past months, Vaiko has been playing hot and cold over alliance issues, sending confusing signals all around. So is the revived Tamil Maanila Congress founder, G K Vasan, the former Union minister who broke away from the ‘vote-less’ Congress after the Lok Sabha polls.

Indications are that many of the prospective poll partners would consider the DMK option only after the AIADMK makes its decision about taking them in. And Jayalalithaa can be expected to delay her decision as far as possible, if only to keep them all guessing and the DMK confused.

That would include the BJP, which has lost its steam after the Delhi and Srirangam polls, the Congress and the two communist parties. All three of them stood exposed when they contested the Lok Sabha polls on their own.

Jayalalithaa can even cause the assembly polls to be advanced if she were to get a favourable verdict in the Karnataka high court in the ‘wealth case’, where the trial court had convicted and sentenced her.

Traditionally, Tamil Nadu has stood with the ruling party almost until fresh elections are announced. There would then suddenly be a sea-change in the voter’s demonstration of what he might have decided very long ago in the career of that government.

Having been complacent through the five years, the ruling party is often caught napping when the change gets noticed. The next thing they hear is that the Tamil Nadu voter has rejected them, one more time.

In the past however, there have been noticeable shift in the voter-mood, though left undemonstrated, after the new government’s first year in office. Between the two ‘Dravidian majors’, whoever was in the opposition, would be seen as the natural alternative -- and it would have also demonstrated its prowess in the department.

Not this time round, though. Even four years after the previous assembly polls in 2011, followed by the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, the DMK does not seem to have shown up as the government-in-waiting, either to the cadre or the voter.

If the DMK or a party-led alliance has to come to power, then the voter would have to be persuaded against the ruling AIADMK and enthused enough in favour of the former -- all by himself, for him to vote out the latter, in sheer disgust.

Yet, if it has to be an alliance, prospective allies would rather accept Karunanidhi, the war veteran and elder statesman as their leader. It’s more about the age-factor, and personal egos of parties and leaders much smaller than the DMK. Stalin may then have to wait, at least in the interim, and the ‘desire-free’ Karunanidhi may have to step in, all over again.

Stalin, like his father, has proved to be a patient fighter, who would not easily give in. He has been at it since the '70s, when the M G Ramachandran charisma held sway across the state for a full 17 years -- including 12 years in which the actor-politician was the state chief minister.

Against this, brother Alagiri withdrew from the field almost immediately after he lost his minister’s post at the Centre after the DMK withdrew from the United Progressive Alliance government -- and went under after the assembly poll defeat in 2011.

To the extent, as a DMK old-timer points out, all the rest of them, barring Kanimozhi, too, ran away in the face of political adversity.

N Sathiya Moorthy is director, Observer Research Foundation of the Chennai Chapter.

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