Karunanidhi's posters could do little in the dark, to match up to the gigantic LED hoardings of his son.

How MK Stalin made Karunanidhis grand birthday celebrations all about himself
news Politics Sunday, June 04, 2017 - 09:17

A restless audience of over thousand DMK workers and supporters had waited three hours at the YMCA ground in Royapettah for this moment. Till then, speeches by top opposition leaders from across the country had received muted response and scattered applause, for the men and women had scant regard for Hindi speakers and just about tolerated being addressed in English.

But as DMK working President MK Stalin walked up to the stage, the sudden spike in energy was palpable. Whistles tore into the silence even before the 65-year-old leader walked up to the podium.

To his left, mostly hidden by trees, were three large banners of his father and DMK chief M Karunanidhi. The black and white pictures of the party's patriarch were at least 50 years old and reminded spectators of the event they had gathered for - M Karunanidhi's 94th birthday celebrations. But the posters could do little in the dark, to match up to the gigantic LED hoardings of his son, that dominated the ground in the heart of the city.

Stalin, meanwhile had begun addressing followers with words that Tamil Nadu had come to associate with his father for the last 60 years of his political career. "Yen anbu udan pirapukale (My loving siblings)," started Stalin to raucous applause.

The DMK leader did not stand on formality for too long. He proceeded to glaze over his father's achievements, welcome Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, TMC leader Derek O Brien and the other dignitaries present, thank his party workers in a hurry and slowed down finally to narrate an anecdote he deemed appropriate for the gathering.

The story dated back to over 20 years ago, when Karunanidhi had organised the Desiya Unnadi Todaka Vizha, a national unity meeting, in Chennai. Leaders from across the country including VP Singh, NT Rama Rao and Biju Patnaik were in attendance. "Before the meeting, a demonstration was held in the city. As youth wing secretary of the DMK, I led 30 lakh people from T Nagar to the beach. At Anna Salai, we had set up a stage for the leaders and when we passed them during our march, they were completely stunned," said Stalin, as the audience listened on.

"A few days later, when I went to Delhi, I was granted an appointment with VP Singh, who was the Prime Minister then. A friend of mine, introduced me to him as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi's son and he started laughing. He asked, 'Are you introducing him to me? Do I not know who he is? He is the leader who led lakhs of youth in a single demonstration.'," he concluded, beaming at the crowds, that had broken into applause.

Stalin’s short, self-congratulatory stroll down the past with these memories ensured that those present at the event knew who this celebration was really about – it was about Stalin, and projecting himself as the leader of DMK who had the same stature as the others on the dais.

"When a party celebrates a leader's birthday, it can never be a personal event. It is always a political event," says political analyst Gnani. "This function was meant to ensure certain political realignment for the party's progression. People have already accepted Stalin as the face of the DMK," he adds.

This sentiment, was however not shared by all supporters that streamed into Gopalapuram on Saturday morning, to catch a glimpse of Karunanidhi. The men and women from across the state, had arrived, despite Stalin asking them not to. "So, what if you can't see the God, we can at least see the Gopuram. That is a blessing in itself," said M. Subramani, a 42-year-old supporter of the party.

 "Stalin can say what he wants, but our hearts beat to meet Karunanidhi," quipped Parvathi from Coimbatore. "Even if they hold elections today, Kalaignar will recover and become Chief Minister," she added.

Thirty-year-old Sasi, from Salem, offered a more thoughtful explanation as to why Stalin's diktat was not followed. "Karunanidhi may be 94 years old but he is still the guiding light of the party. He is the one who will show Stalin the way," he explains.

But at the YMCA grounds, ahead of the arrival of various political leaders, songs celebrating Karunanidhi were now interspersed with new praises for Stalin. The famous 'Aasai Kalaignar meedhu aasai', is followed by a melody that croons, 'Stalin engal Stalin kalagum kaarkum Stalin'.

The music however abruptly stops when the leaders walk up to stage. The titans of the opposition parties, with Stalin at the centre, walk up to the edge of the platform and raise their intertwined hands together.  Stalin then proceeds to sit in the middle of a row filled with his guests, while his half-sister and DMK MP Kanimozhi was relegated to the back row along with TR Baalu. Dayanadhi Maran, meanwhile, was forced to crane his neck up to the stage of leaders, as he was seated in a section near the rest of the audience. Who was really the centre of attention at this diamond jubilee celebration of Kalaignar's political journey, could not have been any clearer.

Senior journalist RK Radhakrishnan, who has been closely covering the DMK, explains the change in focus. "There is a wide acceptance of Stalin as the face of the party, but at the national level he is yet to be seen as the face of the DMK," he says. "He wants these parties to know that he is the guy in charge," he adds.

"It must be tempting for Stalin to indulge in projecting his personality. Especially at a time when he is facing no resistance. But the DMK cadre won't accept the 'Jaya-fication' of the party easily," the senior journalist warns.

At the venue of celebration however, acceptance poured in for the 'Thalapathy' from the visiting leaders. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi who spoke just ahead of Stalin said the DMK leader has a difficult job at hand. "He has to fill the shoes of a very great man but he is walking in right direction. I am confident that one day we will speak about Stalin the same way we speak about his father," he said. At that point, the audience, seemed to have forgotten their animosity for the English speaking politician, as they greeted his words with a large round of applause. 

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