Post-Karunanidhi era seems uncertain for Tamil politics

With the demise of Karunanidhi, the DMK finds itself at a crucial juncture in the state’s politics. Political scenario of Tamil Nadu will not be the same after the passing away of Karunanidhi

By IPA/Harihar Swarup

How will the political scenario unfold in Tamil Nadu after Karunanidhi? The Tamil state has already seen how the events shaped after demise of Jayalalithaa. A well entrenched party like AIADMK is on the verge of split and it has been reduced to a minority in the state assembly. Tamil Nadu will not be the same after the passing away of both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. With the demise of Karunanidhi, the DMK finds itself at a crucial juncture in the state’s politics. In the post Karunanidhi and post Jayalalithaa era, new battle lines are being drawn and new ideologies are taking shape in the state.

When DMK founder CN Annadurai died in 1969, the political space was quickly occupied by Karunanidhi, well-known as scriptwriter who helped AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran evolve as an actor-politician. Since MGR’s death in December 1987, Karunanidhi’s archrival, Jayalalithaa held the reigns of AIADMK, winning polls in 1991, 2001, 2011 and 2016. Since last year, after death of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi’s retirement, the two Dravidian parties have been floundering. The leadership transition has been rather smooth in DMK (as it appears now) with Karunanidhi’s second son MK Stalin anointed working president in January 2017. But with Karunanidhi leaving behind an impressive legacy, Stalin’s style of functioning will be watched.

A rudderless AIADMK with many of its claimants for the mantle is still in disarray. Chief Minister Palaniswami, Deputy CM Panneerselvam and breakaway faction chief TTV Dinakaran are far less charismatic. This leadership crisis would pave the way for alternatives. The new entrants cannot be in the class of Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa. “Earlier, it was the leaders who got the votes, now votes will decide the new leader”, said a DMK leader.

The vacuum has attracted two Tamil film stars. While Kamal Hassan has been working hard for a year, actor Rajinikanth has been re-organising his fan base that promises to be building blocks of his political party. His political intent is not yet clear, but his associates and advisors close to the BJP say they are keeping their fingers crossed. There is talk of the Sangh Parivar dreaming of a grand alliance including Rajnikanth and a breakaway group led by Panneerselvam.

Though Stalin has emerged as a successor of Karunanidhi, his performance has been dismal so far. Consider the last major electoral test the party faced. RK Nagar in Chennai was an assembly seat held by Jayalalithaa before she died. When elections were held in 2017, with AIADMK split into two factions and each of them putting up their candidates, it was predicted as easy win for the DMK. When results were announced, the DMK was in third position. Karunanidhi’s son MK Alagiri blamed his younger brother and working President Stalin for the defeat. “Not just RK Nagar, the DMK will not win any poll till he (Stalin} is at the helm”.

Karunanidhi groomed him first as the mayor of Chennai and later inducted him into his ministry and made him the state’s first Deputy Chief Minister. Known for his low key manners and ability to take his party senior and ability to take the party seniors along, Stalin was a study in contrast to his elder brother. Alagiri who used to be party’s strong man, controlling the southern district of the state, is known to be a brash

The comment indicated that despite Karunanidhi’s best efforts to ensure family succession to the party’s leadership, the sibling rivalry refused to subside. For the longest time, Stalin was his father’s understudy, the chosen won, to eventually succeed.

Karunanidhi groomed him first as the mayor of Chennai and later inducted him into his ministry and made him the state’s first Deputy Chief Minister. Known for his low key manners and ability to take his party seniors along, Stalin was a study in contrast to his elder brother. Alagiri who used to be party’s strong man, controlling the southern district of the state, is known to be brash. His supporters had attacked the Madurai office of Dinakaran, a daily owned by his cousins Marans, when it published a survey that did not portray him in a flattering light.

“The DMK is the first regional party to win on its own in an Indian state and it has never ever faced a leadership crisis. Unlike the DMK, the AIADMK which witnessed leadership crisis, things will be fine for the DMK, asserted the party’s south secretary M Subramanian. “There is no alternative to our Stalin as his political heir”, he said.

Having worked as a Union Minister in Manmohan Singh’s UPA-II, Alagiri can claim, administrative experience. However, he was expelled in 2014, just ahead of Parliament elections because of alleged anti-party activities.

The DMK, founded in 1949, will be hoping that the party will be spared the succession chaos that plagued the AIADMK after the death of founder MGR and that of Jayalalitha in 2016. A political analyst says: It is unlikely that the party will split after the death of Karunanidhi. He has shaped Stalin for past five years to drive the party. Stalin has been doing well in recent years. Since cadres and office bearers have accepted him, there will not be any split post-Karunanidhi.

Since Alagiri has been out politics for some time, he will not be in a position to control the party. Initially, he had strong support in Southern Tamil Nadu but most of his loyalists have now moved to Stalin. Unlike, AIADMK, the DMK is expected to function smoothly under Stalin’s leadership, DMK sources said.

The thalapathi (commander), as Stalin is fondly called, hopes to get support of senior leaders and that they should be loyal to him.

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