CHENNAI: The DMK moves forward under new leadership but faces challenges from a former member. Will the party stick together unlike its political rival in the aftermath of its longtime leader?
In a long awaited coronation, MK Stalin, the son of party patriarch M Karunanidhi, took helm of the DMK. Elected unopposed at the party's general council meeting, he began his speech by saying, “We are not against (God) believers”. It was a curious start to his tenure, perhaps moving the party beyond rationalism.
He wasted no time in going after the ruling AIADMK and BJP, saying in part, “We have to come together to prevent saffronisation of this country and throw out the spineless ruling party in the state”. Despite a visit by the Prime Minister for the funeral service, he went after him and the BJP in no uncertain terms. Perhaps a signal in the direction the party will take come 2019. Though, in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies. The Hindu editorial points out how the BJP would do well in 2019 with the right allies in the state, “…circumstances have changed now and with politics being as fluid as it is in the state, the BJP is hoping to get a foot in the door. While officially the DMK is part of the UPA, the BJP will look to lure it away; it is, currently, a more attractive option than a beleaguered AIADMK”.
What the BJP will look to avoid is a repeat of 2004, when the DMK walked out of the alliance which drastically reduced its chances of regaining power. History also isn’t on BJP’s side. Tamil Nadu has been a tough nut to crack for them. With 39 seats from the state, it’s an uphill task next year.
As someone who began his political career in his teens, the long journey was one always beside his father. It’s been an often tumultuous journey filled with scandal, but right now he’s the leader and the face of the opposition. Locally, he’s come out vehemently against the ruling government at every turn. His task will be to revive the DMK electorally after spending years at the side of his father.
One outside factor still looms large over the DMK in general and Stalin in particular - his brother MK Alagiri. After being ousted from the party, Alagiri hasn’t missed an opportunity to criticize his family and former colleagues. His stance in the past couple of weeks has shifted. Late last month, he struck a conciliatory tone, as he stated his willingness to accept his brother’s leadership if he was allowed to rejoin the party.
However, this week, he held a rally of his supporters to Marina beach to mark the one month anniversary of his father’s death. After being expelled in 2014, a defiant Alagiri questioned the ruling DMK leadership if they will dismiss those who are loyal to him, i.e. his fellow rally attendees.
An estimated crowd of a little over 10,000 attended the rally and for Alagiri, this was meant to be a show of strength. Sporting black shirts and holding up DMK flags, many former members of the party who have aligned themselves with Alagiri were in attendance including former Madurai Mayor Thenmozhi Gopinathan. Speaking about the rally, Alagiri said, “There is no motive. Rally is only to pay homage to Kalaignar”.
The sibling rivalry could prove to be a distraction. The onus is now on Stalin to take a call. Going into 2019, a unified DMK with or without Alagiri will stand the party in good stead against the BJP. There are smaller parties to contend with, two legends of cinema who have entered the fray; this will be a leadership test for MK Stalin.