All’s not well in the DMK. It has been so for a while, but as the campaign for the assembly election in Tamil Nadu peaks, tensions within the Karunanidhi family are spilling over. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s elder son M.K. Alagiri told this newspaper that his father’s party did not know to use his skills. He will not vote for any party this time, he said. A day earlier, the 91-year-old Kalaignar had announced that he would head the government if the DMK was voted to office and that his son and heir, M.K. Stalin, would need to wait his turn.
Stalin, 63, is the face of the DMK campaign and the prince-in-waiting has dropped hints of wanting to be king.
At the heart of the DMK’s crisis is the shrinking of a party that originated in a mass movement that upheld the ideology of social justice. The party split in the 1990s over the successor question. Vaiko and his followers had to leave the DMK when Stalin’s ascent to the top of the party became imminent. Even earlier, sibling rivalry had forced Karunanidhi to dispatch Alagiri to Madurai in south Tamil Nadu to avoid a clash between the brothers. Stalin stayed on in Chennai, became the city mayor and went on to hold ministerial positions in the Karunanidhi government. The fiefs of the brothers were clearly demarcated and Alagiri lorded over the DMK in the southern districts for more than three decades. His unconventional methods helped win the party a few elections but the strong-arm methods have harmed it in the long run. With factions emerging around family members, loyalty to the leader has trumped ideological fidelity as the main qualification to rise in the DMK.
Kalaignar might feel that he needs to be at the helm to steer it or the ship will be lost in the choppy waters of Tamil politics. Few doubt his capabilities as an administrator. But his plea for another term in the CM’s office may be seen as a lack of trust in his party and successor.