When the Chennai-based research centre Peopleâ€™s Studies released the results of its political survey last week, it came as no surprise that TN CM Jayalalithaa remains the most popular CM candidate in the 2016 TN Assembly elections.
What did raise eyebrows however is that the survey showed that DMK leader MK Stalin was more popular as a CM-nominee than his father and DMK patriarch M Karunandhi, who came third in the race. Following this, Karunanidhi has announced a tour to his constituency of Thiruvarur in which he is expected to announce several schemes from party and MLA funds. The timing of the announcement is not lost on anybody.
Speaking about the survey, the director of the research centre, S Rajanayagam, told The Times of India,
â€śPeople Studies director S Rajanayagam, who conducted the survey with the support of college students, said the result was surprising. "It was an open-ended question to respondents, with no names mentioned. But the choice of candidates was logical and rational. Whether the head of party accepts or not, the ground reality is that voters, even those who don't vote for the DMK, preferred Stalin over Karunanidhi.â€ť
Quite understandably, the DMK has downplayed the survey results, not wanting to talk about the sensitive issues, for spokespersons too are politicians, and they do not want to be seen as choosing sides between Stalin and Karunanidhi at this juncture.
For DMK insiders however, this is not too much of a surprise. For years now, Stalin has been systematically taking over the party, starting ground up from the youth-wing chapters and district secretaries. The district secretaries of the party have traditionally held huge clout in DMK, and almost all of them are now Stalin-loyalists.
Stalin too has smartened up. In the past, his Chief Ministerial ambitions have come between him and his father, with the public fallout being not too pretty. So, he has adopted the policy of humility in public and aggressiveness in the background. As the Stalin juggernaut rolled within the DMK, gaining strength from district to district, unit to unit, he made public statements pointing to his father as the CM candidate.
Karunanidhi too has hinted several times in the past couple of years about Stalin being the future of DMK. Yet, his latest announcement, many would say, betrays his ambition to remain at the top of the pyramid, at least till the 2016 elections.
The mixed-signal from the patriarch is holding one decision on tenterhooks â€“ the possible declaration of Stalin as the CM candidate.
Political observers and many within the DMK believe that it is only a matter that the announcement on Stalin is made. The announcement, which could happen towards the end of the year, will lead to the party-cadre being enthused and work with full vigour in the final phase of campaigning. This also lays the foundation for the future of the DMK.
However, there are others who believe that Karunanidhiâ€™s political capital should be spent one last time against Jayalalithaa. If victory in the upcoming elections alone is to be kept in mind, then DMK could benefit from a grand Jayalalithaa-Karunanidhi face-off. Framing the elections as one last battle between the two stalwarts, the people of TN could be asked to choose between the two legacies. The charisma, political aura and good-will of Karunanidhi far outdoes Stalinâ€™s, and is still worth a lot of political currency. And for this reason, it could very well be argued that Stalin not be declared the CM candidate before elections. It makes even more sense given the political and financial power of Jayalalithaa.
Even so, it is too early to say with certainty what will work for the DMK. But this is the real question DMK is grappling with at this stage, and before taking on the mighty Jayalalithaa, DMK would have to take a final call on this and strategize accordingly.