Mass outreach key in building Stalin as a ‘people’s leader’
Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin has been building his image quite differently from his predecessors and as chief minister his latest outings seek to project him as a people’s leader.
On Saturday, on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, Stalin chaired a gram sabha meeting at Pappapatti, a remote village in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district. It’s a communally a sensitive region which has seen several caste related clashes and in the past had not allowed Dalit representatives to contest elections. It has been chronicled that even if a Dalit was elected, the winner would resign in a few days.
Stalin’s choice of Pappapatti is not a random one but one chosen by design like much of his visits to police station, public parks and schools in the last few days. It was during Stalin’s tenure as the rural administration minister in 2006 that rural elections were held in the village along with two other communal villages (Keeripatti and Nattamangalam) after several years and they had become reserved constituencies.
Stalin credited Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for this achievement and also the then Madurai collector T Udhayachandran. “This was achieved by the officers Ashok Vardhan Shetty and T Udhayachandran. Udhayachandran was your collector then, and now he is my personal secretary,” Stalin told the villagers. He left, vowing to make Tamil Nadu the number one state in the country and took an oath to prevent violence against women and children. Across the state, millions of people participating in the gram sabha meetings took up a pledge to treat everyone equally regardless of their gender, caste, and religion.
On his way to the gram sabha, Stalin did a pit stop in a paddy field to meet women farmers. He tweeted a photo with them saying, “I listened to their demands.”
On September 29, the chief minister entered the Adhiyamankottai police station in Dharmapuri district, sat on a police officer’s chair and spent about 10-minutes going through the register, the daily records and interacted with the police officials about their workload. He was in the district travelling to inaugurate government schemes. A day later, he took an unannounced inspection to the government-run Adidravidar Welfare Student Hostel in Dharmapuri. Stalin asked the students about the hostel facilities and the food provided. In June, he made a similar surprise inspection at six public distribution shops or ration shops in Chennai.
The chief minister has also been setting fitness goals. A few weeks after the won the assembly elections for which results were declared in May, Stalin was seen cycling on the road to Mamallapuram on a Saturday morning, stopping at a local tea shop and obliging locals with selfies. Fitness, however, has always been part of his routine through his entire political life that began when he was a teenager. Early morning walks, yoga, gym and cycling once in a fortnight or so are part of the 68-year-old’s lifestyle. He recently had a relaxed chat with morning walkers inside the Theosophical society campus. He was accompanied by the present health secretary M Subramanian. Stalin and Subramnaian have been morning walking partners since the early 1990s.
The fitness strategy is in complete contrast to his late predecessors, AIADMK’s supremo J Jayalalithaa who died after a month-long stay in a hospital in 2016. His father M Karunanidhi had been using a wheelchair since 2004 until he passed away in 2017. “These aren’t planned activities. It’s been part of his routine and now as chief minister when people see him work and exercise it will motivate them too,” said a DMK leader close to Stalin, not wishing to be named.
Stalin has also managed to successfully subvert BJP’s criticism that DMK is anti-Hindu by positioning his close aide Sekar Babu as the minister of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments and has partaken in several announcements for the welfare of temples. It has silenced the ‘free temples campaign’ led by right wing ideologies in Tamil Nadu for now.
Political experts say that Stalin is inventing himself and through him reinventing the DMK’s image. DMK is known for its thuggish masculine image and criticisms of land grabbing which have not happened so far as Stalin is said to keep a close watch on leaders and cadres from indulging in such activities. As DMK president, Stalin attended several gram sabha meetings in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 assembly elections to connect with the rural masses. Tamil Nadu heads to local body polls in nine newly carved districts next week.
“The party solidly stands by him. He consolidated his leadership position even before the election. But people didn’t know what kind of a leader Stalin is. They’re watching. So now as chief minister, Stalin wants to earn a good name. He wants to be in everyone’s good books,” said political commentator Maalan Narayanan. “He doesn’t want to offend anyone or any sector. He doesn’t want any controversies.”