The DMK on Tuesday expelled M K Alagiri, the suspended leader whose continuing tirade against the rival faction and open overtures to political opponents ahead of the Lok Sabha elections has become an embarrassment for the party and its first family.
The old fratricidal war between Alagiri and M K Stalin, the younger son and chosen political heir of DMK president M Karunanidhi, has now escalated to a new level.
“Even after his suspension, instead of offering an appropriate explanation, Alagiri continued to criticise the party and defame leaders. Hence I consulted DMK general secretary K Anbazhagan today and we have decided to remove him from the DMK permanently,” Karunanidhi told reporters.
Alagiri, who has made a name for himself as an efficient election manager, however, refused to fade away quietly, warning that the DMK would regret its decision. “This is not the first time (that I am facing such action), and I am not much concerned. But the real effect of this will be seen in the coming election,” he told The Indian Express.
Alagiri said he had raised several questions about the conduct of internal elections in the DMK, and had failed to get a response. “Shall I interpret the silence as admission of guilt?” he asked, indicating that the fight is set to turn more personal and ugly in the coming days.
His hand now forced: no more guessing, time to reveal cards
For M K Alagiri, the dismissal is the moment of truth. In this complicated game beset with bluffs and undercuts, he has been asked to show the cards that he so far had kept close to his chest. The next one month will reveal what he is capable of doing, which in turn would decide where Alagiri would be after that.
He has so far kept everyone guessing by calling on Manmohan Singh and Rajnath Singh, hailing Narendra Modi, and entertaining Lok Sabha candidates from all parties except his own. But those who have been following his career are convinced he is unlikely to float a new outfit, at least not in seriousness.
On his own, he lacks the stature of a leader to ensure the victory of any candidate. With his work in the last two years, his rival and brother Stalin has weaned a large chunk of loyalists away from the south. Also, with Karunanidhi himself backing Stalin as the next leader, a majority of the DMK rank and file has accepted his leadership. This explains why there was no show of support from the second or even third rung of the party hierarchy when he was suspended in January.
This is not to say Alagiri is absolutely insignificant to the DMK’s future. The support base he claims to have could well be small, but the tiny number attains a clout disproportionate to its size in an election as tight as this one. This could prove crucial in half the constituencies in the south — DMK-led alliances had won all of them in 2004, and nine in 2009.
All leaders and candidates who lined up at Alagiri’s residence in the past couple of days are contesting from the south. This region is the home base for MDMK while, for the Congress, it is one of the few places where it still has committed voters; three of the five assembly seats it won (out of 63 contested) in 2011 are here. Even the BJP can use every single vote that Alagiri can bring in.
The possibility of garnering votes brought to his door a critic as fierce as the MDMK’s Vaiko. In the last election, when the Congress and DMK were determined to defeat Vaiko, it is Alagiri said to have led the campaign behind the scenes.
H Raja, the BJP candidate from Sivaganga, has sought Alagiri’s support. P Chidambaram is the sitting member here and won a tough election in 2009, apparently with support from Alagiri. This time, his son Karti is the Congress candidate.
Political observers sense there is another strategy these leaders seem to be employing by calling on Alagiri. The attempt to show themselves as being close to Alagiri could be staged to dissuade at least a few of the grassroots cadres from actively taking part in the polls.
What makes his destructive capability relevant is his willingness to use it. In the 2001 assembly elections, his dissent cost the DMK dear. The previous September, he was suspended after a series of clashes between his supporters and those of the Stalin group. Alagiri openly campaigned against a few senior leaders in Madurai, and made many cadres contest against official candidates.
A few see Alagiri as having walked into a trap. His outbursts against the party and potential allies such as Vijaykant have helped justify the dismissal. Even if the DMK fares poorly, it will have a very limited impact on Stalin’s career, which is linked more to regional politics. But forced into a corner by his more politically adept brother, it is Alagiri who has to display what he is capable of now.