How MK Stalin swept Tamil Nadu to bring his dream to fruition
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance (Secular Progressive Alliance) won the Tamil Nadu elections with a degree of comfort (157 to the rival grouping’s 77), giving DMK chief M K Stalin, 68, an opportunity to finally fill the role he has been training for since his teens.
Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin was born on March 1, 1953, to five-time chief minister MK Karunanidhi and his first wife, four days before Russian communist leader Joseph Stalin’s death. He remained in his father’s shadow till August 2018, when Karunanidhi died at the age of 94. Indeed, even in the 2016 election, Karunanidhi was the DNK’s chief ministerial candidate.
Stalin’s political journey began when he was 13 years old where he helped organise party functions. In his early 20s, he was arrested during the Emergency. Stalin completed a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Presidency College in Chennai and reports say that he wrote his exams from prison. He has often recollected that along with others arrested during the protests at the time, he was thrashed badly in jail. In 1980, he formed the DMK youth wing when he was 27. He became secretary in 1983 and held the position until 2017; it has now been passed on to his son Udhayanidhi Stalin, a popular actor and producer. Stalin was at the forefront of several DMK protests. He worked his way up to become party treasurer, became the first directly elected mayor of Chennai in 1996, was re-elected in 2001 and later became deputy chief minister.
Although Stalin was destined to be Karunanidhi‘s political heir, his journey wasn’t easy. Stalin lost his first electoral outing in 1984, when he was 31, from Chennai’s Thousand Lights assembly constituency but won the seat in the following elections, in 1989. Starting 1996, he was elected for three consecutive terms from the constituency. Since 2011, Stalin has represented a newly carved constituency, Kolathur from where he was elected for the third time on May 2.
Along the way Stalin’s growth was marked by challenges within the party and the DMK’s first family. Stalin was able to get the better of V Gopalsamy or Vaiko, a strong orator who was considered Karunanidhi’s natural heir. Vaiko quit and formed the MDMK. Interestingly, the party contested the assembly elections as the DMK’s ally and under the latter’s rising sun symbol which is credited to Stalin’s deftness in handling political relationships. For years, Stalin and his now estranged elder brother M K Alagiri jockeyed for power. But Stalin, once again, was able to win the trust of his party cadre and his family members. He remains undisputed today with his cousins the Marans not in active politics and his half-sister Kanimozhi , a MP, helping serve as his bridge to Delhi. The party’s succession is already in place with Stalin’s son Udhaynidhi Stalin winning the Chepauk constituency.
Stalin led the DMK to a sweeping win in the 2019 parliamentary elections , with the party winning 38 out of 39 seats, owing to an anti-AIADMK-BJP wave , but it is his latest win that will likely cement as his standing as the next (or emerging) icon of Dravidian politics. With the death of AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa in 2016 and Karunanidhi in 2018, there was a vacuum that Stalin has an opportunity of filling.
Stalin’s campaign focussed on strengthening Tamil Nadu’s linguistic identity and autonomy, besides promising jobs and growth. He has been highly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and called the AIADMK of being subservient to the BJP-led Centre. Stalin has said that he will solve people’s grievances within 100 days of becoming chief minister. He collected these grievances from people across the 234 constituencies during his campaign. “I am Kalaingnar’s (M Karunanidhi) son. He delivered what he promised. I assure you every problem submitted here will be solved within 100 days,” Stalin said in January.
His first challenge will be to immediately handle the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, one most likely exacerbated by the election.
Stalin’s close aides say that he is risk-averse and cautious. As a first sign of that, Stalin appealed to his cadre to leave the streets empty and celebrate from their homes so as to prevent further spread of Covid-19.