Within a year of taking over as DMK chief, M K Stalin has led the party to a massive victory in the Lok Sabha polls, built his image as the DMK’s unquestionable leader, and has emerged as an Opposition icon from South India.
Stalin took charge as party chief on August 28 last year. He was fighting the ruling AIADMK, which had emerged as the third largest party in Delhi in 2014 elections. The DMK is in the same position now.
While Stalin silenced rebel factions in the DMK, including that of his elder brother M K Alagiri, a DMK MP added that he also got his sister Kanimozhi in his camp.
“When Kalaignar (M Karunanidhi) died, there was a question about Kanimozhi’s political future. With no plans for a revolt, she was ready to support Stalin. And Stalin had clarity about Kanimozhi’s stake in the party. Instead of offering her a Rajya Sabha seat, he sent her to Thoothukudi to contest the election. She was expected to emerge as the face of DMK in Delhi. But after elections, Stalin assigned crucial roles to different MPs instead of keeping a single face of the party,” he said, citing assignments given to MPs like Tiruchi Siva and T R Baalu. “Stalin was keeping everyone in good humour, leaving no room for a revolt or complaint,” the MP added.
M Subramaniam, former Chennai corporation mayor and an aide of Stalin, said Stalin’s first year as DMK president was a real victory. “Election results were the real proof, many DMK candidates won by margins of up to five lakh. His handling of alliance partners was also a lesson for other parties. He has become a leader who united many voices,” he said.
However, Stalin could not resist the controversy that grips many parties in India — the elevation of his son Udhayanidhi Stalin, a film producer-cum-actor-turned-politician, as head of DMK’s youth wing.
P Ramajayam, a political analyst with the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy in Trichy, said that other politicians manage to get top posts for their children even if have no political background.
“Stalin could have done the same. But he made his son a youth leader, which
demands nothing but extensive travel and meeting people. This is exactly how Stalin emerged in politics, climbing ladders,” Ramajayam said.
Many observed that Stalin’s “consistency in choosing his battles” helps him a lot. Be it anti-Hindi protests or anti-Centre campaigns or statements attacking Narendra Modi at the peak of elections, there were few voices in the Opposition to match Stalin’s, except that of Mamata Banerjee.
Significant year ahead for DMK
The next year will be crucial for Stalin and the DMK as the party faces the long-pending local body polls and Assembly polls of 2021. DMK has been out of power in Tamil Nadu since 2011. This year Stalin succeeded in poaching two strongmen of rival T T V Dhinakaran. A slow revival of AIADMK under Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and the BJP’s generous support for it may be the only threat for Stalin now.
Stalin was the leader who first proposed the name of Congress’ Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister candidate when there was no consensus among other Opposition parties. The same spirit was seen when he attacked the Centre over the Kashmir issue. He was the first to slam the Centre’s announcement of 10 per cent reservation quota for economically weaker sections.
“Above all, his tours across the state continue even after a year of becoming party chief, instead of sitting in Chennai and controlling the party,” said Ramajayam.
However, there are some issues underneath the calmness in party hierarchies. Sabareesan, Stalin’s son-in-law, wields significant power in party operations, and a change of style Stalin brought in the functioning by centralising power, like late J Jayalalithaa ran her party, are factors that are affecting many second-level leaders in the DMK.
According to C Ponnaiyan, organising secretary of AIADMK, Stalin’s self-styled management and influence of his family will lead to DMK’s disintegration.
“Many stalwarts in DMK are unhappy with the power given to Stalin’s legal heirs. Stalin is not a good orator like his father or a knowledgeable man. It is the extraordinary money power DMK earned from 2G scam that enabled him to take control of the party,” Ponnaiyan said.