A year on, DMK chief Stalin tightens grip on his party
Having stepped into his father’s rather large shoes as the DMK president, MK Stalin has completed an eventful year in office, proving his mettle as a leader who can win elections and also ensure the party is under his thumb.
Besides executing a smooth and seamless transition from the late Dravidian patriarch M Karunanidhi, he has succeeded in maintaining the image of the DMK as the government in waiting.
Though his coronation, 21 days after his father’s death, had no resistance, there were doubts about his ability to take the party on the path to victory. And the answer came in the form of the Lok Sabha elections this year in which the opposition DMK and its allies nearly swept the state and neighbouring Puducherry, winning 39 of the 40 seats.
The DMK is also the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha and is making its presence felt on the national level. It is the only party in the country to carry out a campaign against the Centre revoking Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
“Under Stalin, the DMK has acquired a new and vibrant profile. His stewardship has seen the party on the path of victory, proving political pundits wrong that there is a leadership vacuum in Tamil Nadu after the demise of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. Election results are enough proof that he is a mass leader with acceptance not only within the party and the coalition partners but among the masses,” TKS Elangovan, MP and DMK’s organising secretary, says.
In the run-up to the elections, 66-year-old Stalin displayed maturity and accommodation in painstakingly cobbling up a strong alliance, comprising eight parties and working out the campaign strategy.
Though the DMK had won 13 of the 22 assembly seats that went to the by-poll along with the national elections, the party could not dethrone the AIADMK government of Edappadi K Palaiswami (EPS). As such, it turned out to be a case of so near and yet so far since the chief ministership of the Dravidian heartland continues to remain at arm’s length. All the same, Stalin does not allow the cadre disheartened by enthusing them at frequent intervals that a regime change is close at hand.
Another shot in the arm for Stalin was the victory, even though by a slender margin of 8,141 votes, in the Vellore Lok Sabha poll, which was rescinded earlier and held earlier in August. As such, this was akin to a by-poll in which the opposition had emerged victorious in decades.
Even those on the other side of the political divide admit that the year had been fortunate for Stalin. But they feel, he is frittering it away by promoting dynastic politics.
“No doubt, one year has been very good for Stalin. Greatly helped by the prevailing anti-Modi wave, the DMK swept the polls. However, he had spoiled the good fortune by anointing his son as the heir apparent and catapulting him to lead the DMK youth wing without having to toil like others,” AIADMK veteran and a former MP Anwar Raajhaa says.
“While it took decades for Stalin to assume leadership, he has brought his son within a year, which will blunt the DMK in the 2021 assembly elections,” he adds.
For the BJP’s Karu Nagarajan, Stalin remaining a prisoner of the family and wedded to the anti-BJP platform is unpalatable.
“In the short span of a year, Stalin has amply proved that it is the family that counts and nothing else. He had the opportunity to be different. But, he hasn’t. Till now, Stalin appears not to realise his responsibilities as the leader of the Opposition in the state and president of a party with a large chunk of MPs,” Nagarajan, the BJP’s state secretary, says.
“His stance on Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370 is a cause of concern. Rather than being blinded by opposition to the BJP, he should see the national interest. Further, he should not be carried away by the campaign against developmental projects and function as a responsible leader,” Nagarajan adds.
Stalin has indeed consolidated his position, silencing other claimants to Karunanidhi’s political estate including his Madurai-based elder brother MK Azhagiri, who even attempted to kindle the sibling rivalry by announcing a rally to their father’s memorial on Chennai’s Marina Beach, which proved to be a flop. His half-sister Kanimozhi, MP, who was instrumental in forging the DMK-Congress election tie-up, remains on the margins.
However, Stalin has a few challenges and the biggest one confronting him is making the DMK youth-friendly and attracting the generation next voters. And, infusing young blood into the party appears to be no easy task.
“The youth are no more flocking to the DMK. In order to capture the youth, the party had given seats to youth in the LS poll but all of them turned out to be sons of party veterans, inviting the charge of dynastic politics,” says analyst C Lakshmanan.
“Further, his son and actor Udayanidhi was accorded prominence and made a star campaigner in the elections. Later, he was elevated as DMK’s Youth Wing chief in the hope of winning over the youth, but, it remains to be seen whether the gamble pays off,” Lakshmanan, an associate professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies, says.
Now, banking on the There is No Alternative or TINA factor, Stalin is said to be focused on the assembly elections scheduled for 2021. Party sources say the DMK has activated its well-oiled election machinery well in advance. And 2021 could possibly be a watershed in Stalin’s political career.