It was a slap! No, it was a nudge. No, it was a flick. Whatever it was, one thing is clear: nothing seems to be going right for the DMK. MK Stalin, son of party chief M Karunanidhi and the 'torch bearer of the DMK party', is caught in a controversy after a video surfaced on the Internet, in which he is seen 'slapping' a passenger on the Chennai Metro. Stalin travelled on the newly inaugurated Chennai Metro on Wednesday and while it was to be a 'connect-with-the-masses' event, the video is likely bad press.
The DMK is trying to regain its lost political connect with the people. In that sense, it was a good move by Stalin to take the Metro. But even if the ride was a 'hit', it wouldn't be enough for the DMK to turn the tide in its favour.
From 2011, after losing the assembly elections and once allegations in the 2G spectrum scam were made, the DMK has been on the back foot. A messy succession announcement, which saw the exit of Karunanidhi's elder son and then Union minister MK Alagiri, coupled with a total washout at the 2014 Lok Sabha polls has meant that the party is fighting for political oxygen.
The DMK is also in the doldrums as far as the coalition arithmetic is concerned, especially when it comes to having a meaningful presence in Delhi. The DMK had aligned itself with the Congress-led UPA for a greater part since 2004, and in the process distanced itself from the NDA. And now that stars of the Congress are down, the DMK finds Lutyens' Delhi a very lonely place to be in.
The AIADMK, on the other hand, has kept its options open. Today, the party is in a commanding position and it is the larger parties (read the BJP and the Congress) that are approaching it, and not the other way around. The BJP-led NDA might have the numbers in the lower house, but in the upper house it needs outside support--and it's here where the AIADMK matters.
Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa has consolidated her position as the leader of the masses--a position earlier associated with Karunanidhi. Age has meant that 'Kalaignar' is no longer is able to dedicate time to the people like he used to. He has stepped aside for Stalin, who has not been able to fill his father's shoes.
The question is: For how long will the party be under this political eclipse?
The assembly elections are due next year and if the RK Nagar bypoll results are anything to go by, Tamil Nadu is all set to break the three-decade-cycle of alternating governments between the AIADMK and the DMK. The plethora of schemes, from water to cement and from medicines to meals, seems to have struck the right chord with the people. Some call these schemes populist and political gimmicks while others see it as path-breaking welfare measures that address hitherto ignored problems. For example, the Amma Unavagam (Amma canteen), which provides food at subsidised rates, is seen as a one-of-its-kind measure to address urban poverty.
The DMK has faced many a political storm in the past. During the Emergency it faced an existential crisis. The MGR wave saw the party out of power for a Jupiter year. In the 1991 general elections, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the DMK won just one seat. But the party bounced back. But all these were comebacks made by Karunanidhi. Today, it is Stalin who holds the sceptre.
The assembly elections next year will be Stalin's biggest test as a political leader. And it'll a tough, steep climb to the seat of power at Fort St. George. A Metro ride is only a political footnote in that journey.
(The views expressed are personal. The author tweets as @vijucherian.)