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Sunday, April 18, 2021

V Sabareesan: Tamil Nadu’s first family’s premier son-in-law

If the DMK is elected to power, Sabareesan, Stalin's strategist, facilitator and sounding board, is expected to be one of the most powerful faces in the state.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: April 4, 2021 4:05:39 pm
Sabareesan, who is in his 40s, comes from a non-political family belonging to Tirunelveli. He and Senthamarai had a love marriage, and have two children. (Express Photo/ Arun Janardhanan)

Days ahead of polling in Tamil Nadu on April 6, the Income Tax department raided 28 premises linked to DMK leaders. Four belonged to DMK chief M K Stalin’s daughter Senthamarai and her powerful husband V Sabareesan, apart from the premises of a close aide of Sabareesan.

If the DMK is elected to power, Sabareesan, Stalin’s strategist, facilitator and sounding board, is expected to be one of the most powerful faces in the state.

Sabareesan, who is in his 40s, comes from a non-political family belonging to Tirunelveli. He and Senthamarai had a love marriage, and have two children.

While Senthamarai has not shown any interest in politics and is busy with a school she runs in Chennai, Sabareesan himself was a non-presence in the previous DMK regime. It was during the DMK’s 10 long years in the Opposition, as M Karunanidhi gradually took a back seat due to his illness and Stalin came into his own, that Sabareesan started having a say in party matters.

People in Stalin’s inner circle say Sabareesan’s strengths are his communication skills, his good relations with almost everyone in the party as well as allies and rivals, and the fact that he is happy being in the background. “He is a good listener too,” said a source.

Be it Stalin’s sister Kanimozhi or his son Udhayanidhi Stalin or even BJP leaders in Delhi, Sabareesan has amicable relations with everyone, and friendly ties with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav. “He never pursues enmity, or targets rivals, unlike many people in power,” said a source who was earlier in Stalin’s camp.

Sabareesan is also believed to have played a significant role in recasting Stalin — who is leading his first election, at the age of 68 — as a new-generation leader. The process has been on for the last six-seven years, even as Stalin gradually consolidated the many power centres in the DMK into one. The erosion of these power centres — including M K Alagiri and the Marans — was accelerated by the controversies during the last DMK government, including around Alagiri’s strong-arm tactics and the 2G scam naming the Marans. These are believed to have contributed to the DMK’s defeat in the 2011 Assembly polls.

Stalin, who needed a trustworthy sounding board as the others were sidelined, found that person in Sabareesan. The son-in-law is believed to have played a major role in getting powerful leaders like Senthil Balaji from the AIADMK to cross over. He also tapped into Sunil Kanugolu as a poll strategist before the 2016 Assembly polls, and after the DMK lost that election, brought in Prashant Kishor. In the eventual friction between the two, Sunil left to become the poll strategist of AIADMK Chief Minister candidate Edappadi K Palaniswami.

“When Sabareesan pushed for new ideas and cinematic videos of Stalin, many asked him whether he was making a movie. But his efforts reaped benefits,” said a DMK leader. The DMK’s ‘Stalin thaan Vararru (Stalin is coming)’ has become the most popular song of this election.

“Senior leaders like K N Nehru or E V Velu wouldn’t have been able to convince Stalin about the necessity to use social media and Twitter. Sabareesan had the space to sit and convince him about these things,” said a source.

With Sabareesan’s apolitical ambitions posing no challenge to Udhayanidhi, possible issues in the DMK in the coming years could be between Udhayanidhi and Kanimozhi. Sabareesan may be called in again to do what he does best.

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