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Journalism of Courage

From Ilaya Thalapathi to DMK chief, Stalin comes out of Karunanidhi’s shadows

While Stalin's rise in DMK's ranks has not been meteoric in his five-decades-old political career, it was only after his brother Alagiri’s ouster from the party that he got the much-needed elbow room, and only after Karunanidhi retired from active politics did he emerge as the working president.

Stalin pens letter to Karunanidhi: 'This one time, can I call you Appa?' A file picture of DMK chief M Karunanidhi with his son MK Stalin (PTI)

DMK leader M K Stalin, who was elected as the party president on Tuesday, will be well aware of the huge boots he has to fill. As he steps into his new role, Stalin will know comparisons with his father Karunanidhi, who passed away on August 7, are inevitable and will carry the burden of a legacy that comes from being the ‘leader’s son’.

While Stalin’s rise in DMK’s ranks has not been meteoric in his five-decades-old political career, it was only after his brother Alagiri’s ouster from the party in 2014 that he got the much-needed elbow room, and only after Karunanidhi retired from active politics did he emerge as the working president.

Stalin was born to Karunanidhi and his second wife Dayalu Ammal on March 1, 1953 — four days after Soviet Communist leader Josef Stalin’s death. In fact, how Stalin came to get his name is a part of DMK lore. The day Stalin was born, Karunanidhi, then an emerging DMK leader, was at a condolence meeting for Joseph Stalin. As someone informed him about the birth of his second child, Karunanidhi instantly named his son after the Soviet Communist leader.

At a young age of 14, Stalin took political plunge and campaigned for his uncle, Murasoli Maran, who was contesting for a Lok Sabha seat. However, his first major showing was in 1967 during the anti-Hindi agitation. That year DMK ousted the Congress to come into power in Tamil Nadu. Six years later, in 1973, after graduating in history from Presidency College, Chennai, the 20-year-old Stalin was formally inducted into DMK’s general council.

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DMK leader MK Stalin (Express photo by Arun Janardhanan.)

Comparisons with Karunanidhi had already begun and Stalin was seen more of a moderate, possessing neither the oratorial skills nor the political acumen his father had. Following the imposition of Emergency, the DMK government was dismissed on corruption charges and Stalin was arrested in 1976, spending a year in prison.

More misery awaited Karunanidhi and Stalin after the Emergency as MG Ramachandran, who had split from the DMK in 1972, won the 1977 elections, throwing their careers into oblivion. It was during this time that Stalin tried his hand at acting, starring in two movies (Ore Raththam, Makkal Aanayittal) both in 1988, and two television series. However, his film career came to a halt after these two movies.

A political revival for Stalin and DMK came in 1989, two years after MGR’s death. DMK won by a handsome margin riding the anti-Rajiv Gandhi wave while Stalin, who fought the Assembly elections from Thousand Lights in Chennai, secured a massive victory. At this point, his brother Alagiri was despatched to Madurai to keep Jayalalithaa at bay. Stalin has gone on to win four times from this constituency. During this time, Stalin was labelled a youth icon and came to be called ‘Ilaya Thalapathi’ or ‘Young Commander’.


Read | MK Stalin finally emerges as the undisputed chief of DMK

However, political fortunes turned again for DMK. Two years later, DMK got decimated after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. In 1996, Stalin was made mayor of Chennai and made his mark as a capable administrator. As mayor, Stalin’s pet project, ‘Singara Chennai (Beautiful Chennai)’, has been lauded for sprucing up the city’s infrastructure. For his endevour, Stalin came to be known as ‘Managara Thanthai’, or father of the city.

However, this didn’t ensure DMK a victory in 2001 and AIADMK, under Jayalalithaa, snatched power in Tamil Nadu. Soon after, Stalin, Karunanidhi and his uncle Murasoli Maran were jailed on charges of corruption. Relation with his brother Alagiri also started to plummet. In 2003, Alagiri was arrested for the murder of P T Krittinan, a Stalin supporter.

Kanimozhi greets her brother DMK working president MK Stalin after being choosan as president of DMK at Anna Arivalayam, party headquarters in Chennai (PTI/File)

When DMK came back to power in May 2006, it is said it was due to Stalin’s efforts. “Also, when he became deputy CM in 2006-11, Kalaignar didn’t give him any of the sought-after portfolios such as PWD, highways and electricity. Instead, he gave him the Rural Development portfolio and that’s where Stalin picked up his administrative skills,” a senior leader told Indian Express recently.

Express Editorial | Stalin will need more than his father’s legacy to firm up the party’s position in Tamil Nadu

Stalin used this ministerial stint to strengthen Self Help Groups in the state and that he would stand on the stage for hours to personally hand over cheques to hundreds of women from these groups. However, in his short career de-facto chief of the party, Stalin has faced two big defeats — the 2016 Assembly elections, despite his nine-month-long state-wide road trip drawing huge crowds, and last year’s R K Nagar bypoll, which was won by TTV Dhinakaran, nephew of Jayalithaa’s aide Sasikala.

With new battlelines taking place in the state, Stalin’s first priority after taking over as the DMK chief would be to forge alliances before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. His major test will be the upcoming by poll in Thiruparankundram (possibly by December 2018).

First published on: 28-08-2018 at 10:12 IST
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