It won’t be fair to blame Stalin entirely for what the media chooses to focus on or if people choose to get misled, but it is his problem to solve.

MK Stalin is at the verge of becoming a caricature and its his problem to solve
news Opinion Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 13:58

As he hits the road for his journey across Tamil Nadu, if there has to be one illustration of what’s going wrong with Stalin’s political campaigning, then it is that we are hearing the most about his attire and clothing. Of all the political and social issues which Stalin could be grabbing attention for, this is what the media is talking about and what his campaign team want to project.

Here are the burning issues in Tamil Nadu right now: There is caste-violence and intimidation, a young lady DSP has committed suicide, economic growth is slowing down and people are becoming more and more dependent on freebies, alcohol abuse is claiming lives, lawyers are wrecking havoc at the Madras High Court threatening the very institution of judiciary, the government is alleged to be under an authoritarian leader who has no inner-party democracy and one could argue that with the BJP trying to break in, there could be increasing religious polarization in some parts of the state. But of all these things, what has Stalin grabbed attention for? It’s his pink shirt, black pants and sports shoes. He has talked about all the above issues, but are mere statements enough?

What’s worse is this – the excitement over his attire is not the only illustration of his faltering campaign.

So far there have been several gaffes. Take for example his recent statement stating that his ongoing ‘Namakku Nammey’ road-trip across TN is not to do with the 2016 Assembly elections. The absurdity of distancing his road-show from the elections, which is about 7 months away, is unfathomable. Jayalalithaa has declared war on account of the Assembly elections, having commanded her men to start working at the booth level. Anbumani Ramdoss, for whatever he is worth, has declared himself a CM candidate. And Stalin is still saying that he is here just to listen to people and understand their problems, and pass it on to his father?

Add to it the woes of being compared with the kinds of Rahul Gandhi and Anbumani Ramdoss, and being called a copycat.

Yet another uninspiring aspect of his campaign so far has been the focus on social media and cinema-style event and video productions. Our Twitter timelines are flooded with rants, Facebook posts with event announcements and email inboxes with stylish photos, but the superficiality of it all is lost on nobody. Few weeks back, when his slogan “Mudiyattum Vidiyattum” was trending, the tweets were evidently engineered, using social media influencers. Stylish videos make for great optics, but if that’s all he wants, then he should join his son for a flick with comedian Santhanam. Does he and his team really think that they can create a politcal buzz on the ground through engineered Twitter trends and HD videos on Facebook? That he released a statement thanking Jayalalithaa for following Facebook posts perhaps shows how much he is over-rating social media.

Even for a casual observer, which is more than what we can say for the average voter, there is a sense of confusion and indecisiveness attached to what he is up to right now. Who is he? What exactly is he offering? What is his central message? Which is that one issue over which he offers conviction and change?

Within the party too, there have been murmurs over changing power centres and his shadow-boxing with Karunanidhi. While it is true that the party is completely under his control, he must not confuse clout with popularity. He could decisively overrule anyone, but he cannot yet claim to do so with the heartfelt approval of others. And having the ability to overrule with genuine approval, which his father has, is what makes a party officer-bearer a political leader.

With an overbearing father, and quite a few old loyalists who are still with the patriarch, Stalin is still suffering an identity crisis. People just know him as Karunanidhi’s son who is a DMK strongman. And when your opponent is Jayalalithaa, that can be quite disappointing.

Here is what he is actually faced with: The political narrative in Tamil Nadu, in the minds of the people, is still about two stories. One, the massive notional loot due to the 2G scam, and two, the largesse of Jayalalithaa through welfare schemes and the several lakh crore she is bringing in through investments.  Whether true or not, DMK is still seen as a corrupt party which made away with a lot of money, and Jayalalithaa as a leader who is showering the poor with freebies. People might be unhappy with slow econimic growth, but do they hold the government responsible for that?

It won’t be fair to blame Stalin entirely for what the media chooses to focus on or if people choose to get misled, but it is his problem to solve. And looking at how he has allowed every issue to slip away, from alcohol prohibition to caste violence, the prospect of political success seem dim.