Outside Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters, the mood among DMK cadres waiting on their MLAs is subdued. The executive party meet is underway and the rage over Jayalalithaa seating Stalin on the 8th row at her swearing in is the topic of choice. A slight diversion on why the party lost this time coughs up the usual narrative of the EC's inaction and AIADMK's alleged mass money distribution drives. “Money power. It is all money power,” says a member from Tenkasi. “We have given no money. We have won on our strength, that is the good thing. We have won by narrow 1,000 vote margins in many constituencies,” he says. Passing around cups of ginger coffee, he pauses and mentions his unhappiness with alliances and seat-sharing. “Why so many seats? I feel if we had contested on our own or if the smaller parties had contested with the Udayasuryan symbol, we may have won. And even those few constituencies cold have made a difference.”
The familiarity of ‘Irratai Ellai’ and ‘Udayasuryan’ on reaching the polling booth, can and will never die. Etched on walls of homes, painted on slabs of rocks in small towns and cities alike – these symbols play a make or break when voters choose. While DMK projected minor parties like IUML, MMK and Puthiya Thamizhagam as strong alliances, none of them contested under the party symbol. “As for the Congress, they are a national party, so we cannot say they deserved less seats. Kalaignar is a wise, shrewd politician, and we trust his judgment, whatever it may be. DMK could have won many of those seats, is all we are saying.” Another cadre quips on the freebie culture - "The hand has gone from a symbol of blessing," turning it to gesture a 'give me', "into a hand only interested in taking more and more."
Introspection is underway both within and on the yards of Arivalayam. “You know, the PWF played spoilsport,” says a cadre from Villupuram. “They did exactly what we thought they would, take away 500 of the votes that deserved to go to us and serve us a loss. We feel stabbed in the back by the DMDK.”
Back on the subject of money power, the EC blaming has halted for a change. “There are constituencies where our men may have given money without any clearance from the party leadership, there’s no way to prove that.” Another member from Royapuram interjects – “Did we win because of that? I don’t think so.” The DMK’s initial infighting had left a few members disillusioned. “This has been an eventful election for us because the introduction of a newer, younger crop into our party can tend to take time and a toll on the functioning. But things have smoothened out now.”
The talk moves towards Stalin. "We're all debating what the way forward is. He's the way forward. It’s about time for Thalapathi. We were waiting quite a while."
This election is a big breakthrough for Stalin, says a senior member of the party from Madurai. “He went where his father could not physically venture into and managed to mobilise his cadres very well.” Does the old guard feel sidelined? “No. We don’t see much insecurity. We do feel there are some people who haven’t got the time and attention they deserved. But the crop that Stalin has brought in is good,” a member from Royapuram says.
On announcement that MK Stalin was elected leader of Opposition, the cadres disperse and a huge commotion ensues as MLAs hurry out. "Money power, usual internal party squabbles of how one didn't help the other was what we majorly discussed," a party source said. "MK Stalin being elected is a major gamechanger, and this is going to particularly change Tamil Nadu's politics. We have openly welcomed him," DMK spokesperson Saravanan said. On being asked about the claims that there was money distribution by cadres that party leadership may not know of, he said - "The ones who won were candidates well known to the public. There was no chance of money power winning from them. We don't have that kind of money. We just don't."