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From ‘commander’ to chief, MK Stalin rose through the ranks of DMK

MK Stalin was elected as the DMK president, a post his father, M Karunanidhi, held for 49 years till his death earlier this month, after a meeting of the party’s general council.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2018 22:49 IST
M Manikandan
M Manikandan
Hindustan Times, Chennai
MK Stalin,DMK chief,Stalin
DMK working president M K Stalin addresses during the party's General Council Meeting at Anna Arivalayam in Chennai on August 28.(PTI Photo)

Named after the Soviet communist dictator Josef Stalin, Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin was not the original heir apparent of late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. He is Karunanidhi’s third son from his second wife, Dayalu Ammal.

Initially M K Muthu, Stalin’s step-brother from Karunanidhi’s first wife, Padmavathi, was being groomed as his successor. Karunanidhi tried to mould Muthu into a film star to counter his bete noire, M G Ramachandran (MGR), who was then the reigning super star of the silver screen and his political opponent. Muthu not only disappointed his father but also broke his heart by defecting to MGR’s AIADMK.

Like his father, though, Stalin had started making a mark for himself from a young age, starting his career with the Gopalapuram Maanavar Mandram (Gopalapuram student’s forum). His initial headquarters was the local barber shop in the locality. However, it was during the Emergency that the then recently married, 23-year-old Stalin shot into the limelight when he was arrested under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in 1976 and jailed.

It was then that Stalin, so far only known as Karunanidhi’s son, started carving out an identity for himself. Apart from his father, Stalin often credits former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who declared the Emergency, for bringing him into politics by having him arrested under MISA.

“It was a shock to party cadres to see the name of Stalin in the party mouthpiece, Murasoli, arrested under MISA along with hundreds of DMK workers,” recalls D Ravikumar, general secretary, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. Ironically, the DMK today is in alliance with the Congress.

Even after the Emergency was lifted, Stalin did not reap any immediate benefit from ‘sacrifices made.’ He worked hard to build the DMK youth wing and became its secretary in 1984.

Although Stalin was given a DMK ticket to contest the assembly elections in 1984, it was only in 1989 that he first won from the Thousand Lights constituency in Chennai. However, it was his stint as mayor of Chennai Corporation from 1996- 2001 that brought his administrative acumen to the fore, when was credited with dramatically improving the city’s infrastructure.

When the DMK regained power in Tamil Nadu in 2006, he was made the local administration minister in his father’s cabinet. He was then already a four-time MLA. Within the party, too, his stars had been rising. In 2003, he was elevated as deputy general secretary, considered the fourth most powerful position in the party heirarchy. Subsequently, in 2008, he took over as treasurer of the DMK – considered the third most powerful post in the party with control over its resources – his eventual elevation was sealed.

When Karunanidhi underwent a spine surgery in 2009, he appointed Stalin as deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Though senior DMK leaders urged Stalin to take over as party president after age-related ailments rendered Karunanidhi inactive in 2016, he indicated he was not in any hurry to bypass his father. However, after prolonged discussions, the DMK’s by-laws were changed to make Stalin the working president in 2017.

Ahead of the 2016 assembly elections, Stalin led the ‘Namakku Naame’ (We for Ourselves) campaign. Long known as the ‘Thalapathy’ (commander) by his followers, he wanted to take a fresh approach. He discarded the traditional white dhoti/veshti (sarong worn around the waist) and campaigned in a T-shirt and trousers to appeal to younger voters. However, faced with a formidable opponent in J Jayalalithaa, the DMK managed to bag only 89 of the 234 seats. Unexpectedly, the AIADMK and Jayalalithaa had bucked the trend of the state alternating between the two Dravidian parties. This result was seen as a huge setback to Stalin’s leadership abilities.

Since 2016, the DMK has lost by-elections in Thirupparankundram, Thanjavur, Aravakkurichi and recently RK Nagar. With his elder brother, Azhagiri, unfurling a banner of revolt against him – Azhagiri had expected to be re-inducted into the party after Karunanidhi’s death but that has not happened -- Stalin has to prove that he has what it takes to keep the party together and lead it to electoral victory.

The immediate tests would be the Thiruvarur and Thirupparankundram assembly seats where by-elections are due following the deaths of Karunanidhi and AIADMK’s A K Bose. With the general elections due in 2019, it remains to be seen whether the Thangai Thalapathy (golden commander) can make the transition to Thalaivar (leader).

First Published: Aug 28, 2018 22:49 IST