The birthday bash in Chennai last Saturday had the trappings of an Opposition conclave. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja representing the communists, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, representatives from the NCP and the IUML flew in to greet the DMK patriarch, Kalaignar Karunanidhi, on his 94th birthday. They extolled the virtues of Kalaignar at the public meeting later in the evening. Kalaignar, unwell and confined to home, didn’t take the stage, while DMK Working President Stalin played the perfect host.
Such gatherings have, in the past, led to new political fronts. For instance, the National Front in the 1980s was born out of an initiative by Telugu Desam leader and then-Andhra Pradesh CM, N.T. Rama Rao. The NF eventually defeated Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress. With the presidential elections looming in the background, many felt the birthday lunch was an occasion for the Opposition leaders to come together and plot the future. Presidential polls, reportedly, didn’t figure in the conversations. As Kalaignar receded to the background, the meeting heralded a son rise in national politics. In his speech, Nitish predicted a government led by Stalin in Tamil Nadu soon. Others referred to his organisational abilities. The DMK’s backroom boys insisted that Rahul’s visit to Stalin’s Cenotaph Road residence was significant: Kalaignar’s Gopalapuram house was the only port of call for national leaders in Tamil Nadu all these years. At 65, Thalapathi (Commander) was turning the General.
Indeed, it was a Stalin show, from the planning to the execution of the event. His refusal to invite the BJP, once allied with the DMK, for the function was a clear political statement. In his speech, he took on the Centre for its failure to create jobs, its obsession with Hindi and beef. It showcased a new Stalin, in total control of the DMK and ready to engage with national politics. Is the father complaining?