On January 4, 2017, the DMK headquarters at Anna Arivalayam will see the members of its General Council get together for its first meeting after the 2016 assembly polls. It is expected that the party‚Äôs Treasurer and Youth Wing chief, 63-year-old MK Stalin, would be appointed the Working President of the DMK, making him the de facto leader of the party, even if a notch below the 92-year-old President and former CM, M Karunanidhi.
Since 2012-13, when Stalin undertook a major internal cleansing of the party by installing his own men at various posts across the state, he has left little doubt that he is the heir apparent and a force to reckon with. The few who stood by his brother Alagiri then also jumped ship to Stalin‚Äôs side later, or vanished altogether. For all practical reasons, Stalin is now the number 2 in the party. What he has tried ever since, and mostly failed in, is to project himself as the most important decision-maker of DMK, even above Karunanidhi. With his impending appointment as the Working President, he is still not there yet.
That Stalin is still not entirely welcome to taking over the party is perhaps best illustrated by Karunanidhi‚Äôs response to RK Radhakrishnan of Frontline. When the question of a working president was posed to him, Karunanidhi asked, ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs a working president? Do you mean to say that I am incapable of working?‚ÄĚ
The reluctance notwithstanding, Stalin will indeed be taking over most of the responsibilities of his father. Drawing lessons from the messy affairs of the Samajwadi Party recently, perhaps Stalin‚Äôs prolonged battle for his delayed ascension proved better for the state and the party.
Stalin‚Äôs appointment as the Working President of the DMK will officially kick-off the reign of next-generation leadership in Dravidian politics. With Sasikala‚Äôs takeover of the AIADMK, and Stalin at helm, the stage for the future battles is set ‚Äď it will be Sasikala vs Stalin. The arguments pitting Karunanidhi against Jayalalithaa will soon be a thing of the past.
January 4 will also be an important landmark for Dravidianism. While most leaders of the DMK until Stalin have been ideologues, and contributed to the strong ideological foundation of the party, Stalin has projected himself to be malleable to ‚Äėmodern thinking‚Äô. Read the Frontline article on this.
Stalin, however, comes with decades of political and administrative experience. He has served as the Mayor of Chennai and Deputy CM of the state, apart from having campaigned for several elections. He has a better understanding of government and party dynamics than most other leaders now.
Many argue that he has not proven to be a good opposition leader just yet. Lost amidst lack of charisma and undeserving ego, Stalin never seemed to have the panache to take on Jayalalithaa, according to many. But in Sasikala, there is an opportunity for him to go for an all-out attack and gain some political mileage. Sasikala‚Äôs image as a corrupt person with family in tow levels the playing field for Stalin.
Electorally however, Stalin will now face increasing pressure to prove himself. While he has been credited with the limited success of the DMK in 2016, in preforming better than 2011, there was a narrative created by his camp to blame Karunandhi for the loss. Whatever the truth may be, he cannot shy away from responsibility now.
But overall, for the state of Tamil Nadu, what does this mean? Not much. Unless his ascension significantly recharges the DMK, giving it the capability to defeat the AIADMK and take control of Fort St. George, this is just a logical next-step in a long, drawn-out transition.