DMK youth wing secretary and the son of the party chief, Udhayanidhi Stalin, has begun his campaign in Tamil Nadu ahead of the 2021 assembly elections. Notably, he has begun this journey in the Kongu (western districts) region, a traditional stronghold of the AIADMK, setting a clear challenge to the ruling party.
But even as large crowds welcomed Udhayanidhi at the Coimbatore Airport on Wednesday, questions have been raised over how much of the DMK's campaigning ahead of the assembly polls will rest on the young leader's travel and presence. Reports suggest that Udhayanidhi's tour has already been compared to his father MK Stalin's 'Namakku Naame' state tour, in 2015. Dubbed 'Namakku Naame 2.0' by his supporters, the tour will see Udhayanidhi covering 100 municipalities and as many district headquarters as possible.
"While our party chief MK Stalin will handle 60% of the campaigning, Udhayanidhi is expected to handle 40%," says a source in the DMK, on the condition of anonymity. The Youth Wing secretary already held a meeting with the cadre and party executives in Namakkal on Thursday and is expected to convene another meeting at the party headquarters in North Coimbatore on Friday.
"We want him to cover the Kongu region to solidify our vote base and keep the support from this region in the Lok Sabha elections intact for assembly polls," says a DMK leader. "After the Kongu region, he will move on to other districts," he adds.
Udhayanidhi's meteoric rise within the party, while largely accepted, has caused dissatisfaction amongst senior leaders who believed they were not given their due. From VP Duraisamy, DMKâ€™s former deputy general, who alleged that he had to plead with Udhayanidhi for a Rajya Sabha ticket despite being his senior to Ku Ka Selvam, a Chennai West leader for the DMK, who left when an associate of Udhayanidhi was given the post of district secretary, the rise of Stalin's son, has caused some divisions within the party. Both these leaders quit the DMK and joined the BJP.
"When it comes to postings, there will be murmurs, this doesn't mean party members are against Udhayanidhi. They could just be unhappy with his decisions. As he grows in the party, naturally the youth wing leaders who work with him will gain prominent positions," says the DMK source.
As far the campaign is concerned, the DMK believes Udhayanidhi is the right man for the job as of now. "He is an actor, which works in his favour as he is immediately recognisable. He also has a certain charisma when he interacts with the cadre," explains the source. "Udhayanidhi's role in this campaign is not to draw crowds or voters alone. It is mainly to encourage our cadre and district workers, to ensure they are ready for the upcoming elections," he adds.
DMK sources tell TNM that unlike MK Stalin, Udhayanidhi is seen as approachable by cadre, even at the district level.
"Over 20 lakh people have enrolled into the youth wing through his online campaign," says a DMK source. "He is important for the campaign because he can attract youth voters which forms a large part of Tamil Nadu's voter base. He can connect with people and is a star campaigner for the DMK, after his father. We have noticed that he is able to draw large crowds. And this in turn bolsters our cadre," he adds.
Udhayanidhi is understandably dogged by allegations of nepotism and while the DMK acknowledges his rise in the party is unlike any other, they also deem it necessary.
"Look at an AIADMK, what happened when J Jayalalithaa died? The party split and is still having internal issues," says the source. "For the DMK to remain strong in the coming decades and maintain the grasp it has on its ideology, having a member of Kalaignar Karunanidhi's family will help. It allows for undisputed succession and also leaves party cadre agreeable to decisions made regarding the same."