Congress will profit from DMK's sibling rivalry

  • Amulya Ganguli
  • |
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2010 11:42 IST

By Just as sibling rivalry can cause fissures in a corporate empire, political parties too can break up for similar reasons.

One recent example was the disintegration of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra because the two cousins, Raj and Uddhav Thackeray, could not get along with each other. Now, another state-based organisation, the DMK of Tamil Nadu, is facing an identical problem.

The main reason for the tiff between the two brothers, MK Azhagiri and MK Stalin, is the preference shown by their father, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, for the latter. In the Shiv Sena, too, the selection of Uddhav by his father Balasaheb Thackeray to lead the party led to Raj walking out and forming his own outfit, the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS).

In Tamil Nadu, the tension between Azhagiri and Stalin hasn't yet reached a stage where one of them will leave the party. But the possibility is on the cards because the former has made it clear that he will not accept anyone other than his father as the leader.

Since Karunanidhi has already indicated that he wants Stalin to be the next chief minister, there is little doubt that Azhagiri will go his own way if and when such an event takes place.

Arguably, a major reason why regional parties are more prone to such ruptures is the fact that their leaders have no future outside their respective states. The Shiv Sena, for instance, is not only confined to Maharashtra, but the two cousins, Uddhav and Raj, have never shown any inclination to expand their political horizon and try to secure a foothold outside the state.

The result is that the limited space for the display of political ambitions leads to an intensification of their battle for supremacy within the party. To avoid this possibility, Karunanidhi tried to separate Azhagiri and Stalin by sending the former to join the union ministry while anointing the latter as his successor in Tamil Nadu.

Azhagiri, however, proved to be a fish out of water in Delhi. His lack of knowledge of any language other than his mother tongue of Tamil meant that he could not converse with most of the people in his ministry and could not understand what was going on in parliament.

Such is the gulf between the north and the south in India that most Delhiites could not even pronounce his name. So, Azhagiri changed his name to Alagiri while he was in the national capital. It may have that particular episode which convinced him that he would forever be a misfit in the wider political field to which his father had transferred him.

He must have also suspected that it wasn't the wish to enable him to play a larger role which made Karuninidhi send him to Delhi but only to clear the field for his favourite younger son. Besides, the chief ministership of a large state like Tamil Nadu is obviously a bigger prize than a minor ministry at the centre. As is the custom, a regional party is almost always denied a major ministry like home or finance or external affairs because of its limited outlook.

The gainer from the DMK's possible split is likely to be the Congress, which has also benefited from the Shiv Sena's disintegration in Maharashtra. This is the advantage which an avowedly national party has over an essentially local party. When such a party is first formed, it usually manages to edge out the national party from the state by articulating the local aspirations with greater vigour.

The DMK's gains from 1967 in Tamil Nadu at the Congress' expense were the result of its greater identification with local sentiments. But, then, the inevitable ego clashes take over. In the DMK's case, the party first split when the charismatic film star, M.G. Ramachandran, decided to go his own way in 1972  by forming the AIADMK,  which is now led by another former film star, Jayalalitha.

Since the political fortunes tended to swing between the DMK and the AIADMK, the Congress did not have much chance to recover its earlier prominent position in the state. But a time is now coming when it may be able to do so.

For a start, the AIADMK has recently been losing ground to the DMK to suggest that Jayalalitha's earlier popularity is fading. If the DMK begins to suffer because of the Azhagiri-Stalin rift, the people of the state may have no alternative but to return to a  party with an all-India outlook and a more stable leadership.

The lesson from these events is that a regional party does not have much of a future if it does not break out of its restricted base. What is more, its leaders have to shed their feudal approach to the party hierarchy and allow other leaders to develop instead of focussing only on their own children.

In the DMK, Karunanidhi's obsession with his sons had forced a prominent young leader, V. Gopalsamy or Vaiko, to leave the party in 1993 because he saw no future for himself in the party. Now, the same reason may compel Azhagiri to chalk out his own path.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at


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