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DMK succession war: Stalin won’t entertain Azhagiri again in politics

With Karunanidhi no longer around to back his elder son, the DMK cadre will rally around the new leader

analysis Updated: Aug 13, 2018 19:42 IST
Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi with his sons MK Stalin and MK Azhagiri. On August 14, MK Stalin will likely ascend to the post of Thalaivar or President of the DMK. (PTI)

As patriarch M Karunanidhi lay ill in Chennai’s Kauvery Hospital on August 7, his family and aides knew it was endgame for the political legend. Karunanidhi’s younger son MK Stalin, working president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) , was the one everyone looked up to for the decisions.

Stalin met Edappadi Palaniswamy, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, to seek permission for a burial at Marina beach. The government denied permission stating that Marina was a burial ground only for chief ministers who had passed away while in the seat of power — this list includes CN Annadurai, MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa. Under Stalin’s watch, a group of lawyers marched to the residence of acting chief justice of the Madras High Court Hulavadi Ramesh at 10.30 pm and a midnight hearing commenced. The judge adjourned hearings for the morning and a tense Stalin and top DMK leadership stood guard near Karunanidhi’s body which was in state at Rajaji Hall. Eventually, the DMK won the legal battle. As soon as the information reached a tense Stalin, the floodgates opened and the next leader of the DMK broke down, sobbing in relief.

The DMK top leadership has rallied around their new leader in force. Come August 14 and the working committee of the Dravidian party will meet. A date will be set to hold the general body meeting when Stalin will ascend to the post of Thalaivar or President of the DMK.
And what of the thus far feuding family? Karunanidhi was the only shield for elder son MK Azhagiri. The former Union Minister was dispatched to Madurai by his father in the late 1980s to oversee the party in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. Stalin, Azhagiri’s younger brother, remained in Chennai, directly under the eye of the DMK supremo, trained by him to take over the mantle eventually.

Azhagiri and Stalin had never seen eye to eye but father Karunanidhi perhaps hoped that the enmity would subside if they were separated geographically. Azhagiri built his base steadily in Madurai and other southern districts. In the 2009 bypolls, he earned notoriety for his “Thirumangalam formula” – for allegedly bribing voters of the Thirumangalam constituency in Madurai. The crisis became deeper when the office of the Maran-owned Dinakaran newspaper was torched in 2007, killing three employees. The newspaper’s crime – to publish an opinion poll that established Stalin as the preferred successor to Karunanidhi.

In 2014, as crucial Lok Sabha elections loomed, Azhagiri dug his own grave. An angry altercation with his father resulted in his expulsion. By then Stalin, under the guise of inner party elections had ensured that his loyalists were put firmly in place in Azhagiri’s strongholds.

With Karunanidhi no longer around to back his elder son, Stalin’s path is clear. He will not entertain Azhagiri again in politics. Stepsister Kanimozhi understands too well that if she is to have a space for herself within the DMK, she will have to toe Stalin’s line. She is doing just that.

As for Azhagiri, his comment to the media at Marina Beach on Monday shows that he is gearing up to fight for a slice of the DMK pie. “I have no issues within the family but I have issues within the party,” said the elder son. “I will reveal all details in two to three days,” he added. The DMK has gone into silent mode, warned by Stalin not to speak on the subject of Azhagiri.

But Azhagiri’s backing within the party is small. His most vocal supporters have all been either suspended or thrown out of the party. The powerful Maran brothers too continue to have swords crossed with Azhagiri, preferring to back Stalin instead. The might of their money and media power combined is likely to ensure that Azhagiri does not rise again. And with the top leadership of the DMK rallying around Stalin, the rank and file too will come together. For the DMK, 2019 is crucial if they are to establish themselves as a firm opposition to the BJP. And 2021 is even more crucial since this is Stalin’s first chance in the sun with a shot at becoming the Chief Minister.

Sandhya Ravishankar is a Chennai-based journalist and the author of Karunanidhi: A Life in Politics, published in May 2018

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 13, 2018 19:41 IST