The diligent versus the dramatic, the crafty versus the impulsive, the two warring sons of DMK president M Karunanidhi have little in common except their name. Now M K Alagiri and M K Stalin, the first and second sons of Karunanidhi and his second wife Dayalu, have reignited their fraternal fight for power.
Karunanidhi had seen his successor in Stalin and begun grooming him very young. Though younger by a couple of years, Stalin was the first to enter public life — as a 14-year-old campaigner for his uncle Murasoli Maran in the Lok Sabha election of 1967. He was inducted into the DMK general council in 1973 at age 20. What catapulted his career was a stint in prison after being detained under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act in January 1976 during Emergency. After his release about a year later, Stalin became an important second-rung leader of the party. In 1980, the party launched a youth wing with Stalin as its leader, which he remains.
In contrast, Alagiri was sent packing to Madurai the same year, apparently to manage the edition of party organ Murasoli. This is widely interpreted as an attempt to prevent a clash between the two sons.
According to those in his camp, Stalin proved his mettle during a difficult decade when the DMK was relegated to the opposition by matinee idol MG Ramachandran, who had split the party to form the AIADMK.
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Alagiri had his electoral baptism in the 1989 assembly election. MGR having died, the DMK won over half the assembly seats in southern Tamil Nadu. When Vaiko left to form the MDMK in 1994, Alagiri helped check an erosion of the cadre base. The reward came in the form of assembly tickets to many of his supporters in 1996, increasing his clout. But unlike Stalin, he did not hold any position in the party, even a formal membership.
The open confrontation began in the late 1990s, and matters reached a head in 2000 when general secretary K Anbazhagan, based on a direction from Karunanidhi himself, instructed party cadres not to have any dealings with Alagiri. The elder son’s anger was reflected in the assembly polls the next year. His men openly campaigned against DMK candidates, and many contested as rebels, leading to defeat for even senior DMK leaders.
Alagiri returned to favour after a spirited byelection campaign against the AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa at Andipatti, but was painted villain again in 2003 for his alleged involvement in the murder of senior DMK leader T Kiruttinan, a widely respected leader in Madurai who had sided with Stalin. But again, his arrest by Jayalalithaa’s police brought the family together.
In the 2004 Lok Sabha and 2006 assembly elections, Alagiri helped secure the fortunes of candidates fielded by the DMK-led front. After the spectacular victory of 2009, when the alliance won nine of 10 seats in south Tamil Nadu, Alagiri, a first-time MP, was made a union minister. By then, he had been acquitted by the trial court of the Kiruttinan murder, and he was subsequently made south zone organising secretary, a long-forgotten post brought back to life.
Stalin’s career, in contrast, has been staid, unhurried. After contesting and failing in 1984, Stalin became an MLA for the first time in 1989. In 1996, when his party returned to power, Stalin became the mayor of Chennai, widely seen as an apprenticeship before being appointed successor to Karunanidhi.
When his party secured a majority again in 2006, Stalin became a minister for the first time. This was during his fourth stint as an MLA, his supporters always point out, seeking to stress how he worked his way up. Three years later, on the back of the spectacular Lok Sabha victory, Karunanidhi elevated Stalin to deputy chief minister. That the announcement came just a day after Alagiri was made a minister at the Centre spoke about the precautions their father had been taking.
Over the years, Stalin rose to become the party’s deputy general secretary and then its treasurer, the third in hierarchy after Karunanidhi and general secretary Anbazhagan. The two nonagenarian leaders have made it clear that Stalin was their choice to succeed Karunanidhi.
True to style
The present flareup reflects their contrasting natures. Alagiri was all sound and fury over his suspension and that of his men, while Stalin has made an effort to appear composed. When Alagiri was charged with instigating his men to put up protest banners, Stalin directed his to desist from burning Alagiri’s effigies or staging any protest.
Over the last couple of years, Stalin has managed to wean away even hardcore supporters of Alagiri from Madurai. Those who view him as a cold, calculating politician say he exploited the opportunity to launch an offensive against Alagiri after the latter’s ill-timed and miscalculated comments during a recent interview.
Alagiri may find himself out in the cold once again, but in a party that is a family, one of a father and two sons, there are no permanent outcasts.