Backing rebels to bad-mouthing potential allies, there is nothing new in the charges raised against M K Alagiri that led to his suspension Friday. What, however, has changed this time is the steady erosion of his clout in south Tamil Nadu over past couple of years ever since the DMK lost power in the state and withdrew from the Centre.
The elder son of DMK president M Karunanidhi, who once wielded considerable influence over the party machinery in south Tamil Nadu, is now reduced to such a position where he could not prevent even the urban and rural district unit secretaries of Madurai — the heart of his fiefdom — from deserting his camp. The action against him, coming just weeks before the general election campaign is to kick off, is perhaps the clearest signal that the party does not consider him as big a threat that he once was.
The last two years were a study in contrast between Alagiri and his rival, younger brother M K Stalin, who is all set to succeed their father as the next president of the DMK. The times were especially difficult for the party after being trounced in 2011 by the AIADMK-led coalition, reducing it to third position after the DMDK. While Stalin toured the state to organise protests and address public meetings, Alagiri remained aloof, leaving the field open for the younger sibling to network with middle-rung leaders to strengthen his faction.
Karunanidhi, apparently under immense pressure from Stalin, shed his ambiguity and made it clear that he preferred Stalin as his successor. Though an angry Alagiri retorted through the media that he did not accept anyone except Karunanidhi as his leader and even indicated his willingness to contest for the post of president, the message had reached the cadre as to who was Karunanidhi’s choice.
Stalin’s rise was evident when he forced Karunanidhi to withdraw from UPA, and convinced him about the need to align with the DMDK. In the end, it was only a matter of time before Alagiri’s men read the writing on the wall and switched camps.
One after another, district-level functionaries from the southern districts began gravitating towards the dominant faction. The picture was almost complete when P Moorthi, once a vocal Alagiri acolyte who was made the rural district secretary, began to swear by Stalin’s name for the past two months. G Thalapathy, the district secretary of Madurai urban unit, had shifted allegiance over a year ago.
In his desperation to attack Stalin, Alagiri chose to go on an offensive against DMDK leader Vijayakant in a rare interview to a television channel earlier this month. The idea clearly was to disrupt an alliance that Stalin has been giving his all to forge. This was a costly mistake, as it exposed his political immaturity and opened himself to counter-attacks.
Coming as it did at a time when his influence is at its lowest, the controversy came at an opportune moment for Stalin to cut Alagiri to size. Stalin camp exerted pressure on Karunanidhi to take action, which increased after Vijayakant said he had decided against an alliance with the DMK in the 2011 Assembly polls after similar disparaging comments Alagiri made.
The final move came in cautious episodes. First, the Madurai urban district unit and its affiliated units were dissolved, followed by the expulsion of five Alagiri acolytes for anti-party activities – they had stuck posters in connection with his birthday on January 30 that rekindled the factional feud. Alagiri himself was put on notice for the damning interview.
Alagiri is no stranger to disciplinary actions, having faced ostracisation in 2001. He had his revenge by wreaking havoc in the ensuing Assembly election, before the spectacular rise in the second half of last decade brought him back in the reckoning as ‘anjanenjan’ (braveheart) of his acolytes. He might be hoping for history to repeat, but this time, however, the joke seems to be on him.