With the AIADMK rudderless, the DMK working President is priming himself for TN’s top post. But is he ready?

Voices Opinion Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 17:54

Whatever is left of the AIADMK after the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa could be wrestling with itself to stay relevant. But looming behind them is MK Stalin, DMK patriarch Karunanidhi’s third son - he is positioning himself well for the next Assembly Elections, whenever they take place.

I still remember vividly an ardent DMK supporter fuming: “This chap is useless…doesn’t have it in him to lead the party… Alagiri might be whatever the world believes him to be, but is a go-getter…Thalaivar made a wrong choice …Only after he loses a couple of elections, they will realize…”

Stalin is laid-back, not aggressive enough for the rough and tumble of politics, is a loner, not a good platform speaker, lacks the finesse of his dad – the unflattering list is almost endless. But he has been quietly consolidating his position within and outside the party.

My hunch is many underestimate him. They don’t seem to realize that without saying anything out of step in public, he neutralized his elder brother Alagiri who was looming large in Madurai, a southern city, not too long ago.

But then murders, arson, thuggery, and the like were the latter’s stock-in-trade, making him a dreaded figure, and Stalin deftly turned the tables on him, though only after some anxious moments.

An Assembly by-election in 2009 to Thirumangalam off Madurai hit national headlines. Alagiri was pulling out all stops and pumping in money on an unprecedented scale, earning strictures from the Election Commission, but he won the seat for the party anyway, and in return got himself appointed the southern zone chief, a new post created especially for him.

When it looked like the question of Karunanidhi’s political heir was being thrown open again, Stalin became the Deputy Chief Minister. He also ensured that Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi’s daughter through another wife, was sidelined, when she was getting some media attention. 

His supporters would have us believe he had been active from his teens and become a lower level functionary pretty early. Possible, but he remained a detached prince for long. He had been detained during the Emergency, when he was hardly 22 years old, and had faced some tough times in the prison. But he did not seem to try to make political capital out of it.

Even when the youth wing was floated in 1980, obviously to launch his career, Stalin kept to himself. He became an MLA in 1989, but one would not get to see him much. Assembly reporters found it almost impossible to prise anything from the Chief Minister’s son. He would be courteous, with no airs whatsoever, but would not interact much.

He might have been an unknown quantity and even disappointing his dear dad, but the latter would not take any chances. He got Vaiko (then V Gopalasamy), a powerful speaker and a star among the younger cadres, expelled on trumped up charges in 1994.

That might have been a fatherly instinct, but if time and again Karunanidhi had been forced to declare in public that Stalin would be his heir apparent, it was obviously because of the pressure mounted on him. As his health progressively deteriorated, Stalin was elected working president of the party in January 2017.

Now he is touring the state regularly, reaching out to people at large and responding to issues of the moment effectively.

His oratorical skills might not be a patch on his father’s, but he does articulate well. Barring the time of the fracas after Jayalalithaa’s death, the DMK’s conduct in the Assembly has been generally alright.

If no fireworks, not much of a mud-slinging either. Jallikattu or NEET protests, Stalin doesn’t ratchet up beyond a point.  Alagiri has been sidelined and silenced. Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha member but awaiting verdict in the spectrum scam, is allowed a small space, nothing more. Most district functionaries are Stalin loyalists.

More important, he seems to have realized the need for alliance partners, though it is still claimed that he expects all allies, including the Congress, to fight on the DMK symbol! It is also said that he would like to have nothing to do with Dalit or Muslim parties, but slowly he could be warming up to them too.

Behind the scenes he had cobbled up a coalition of caste outfits back in 2001, ignoring the protests of party seniors. The move bombed, and then he began to track closely the pulse of the people. He learns and unlearns, that is the point.

What with AIADMK rudderless, in any case no vote-catcher among them, and no other leader in the state commanding much following, the DMK would head to the next polls the odds-on favourite. And Stalin should not be found wanting in his role as the captain of the ship.

But as Chief Minister how he will acquit himself, is a different issue altogether.