If Jayalalithaa’s death shook the foundations of the AIADMK, Karunanidhi’s death will test Stalin’s leadership.
With the death of M. Karunanidhi marking the end of an era in Tamil Nadu politics, the next elections may witness redrawing of battle lines between M.K. Stalin and T.T.V. Dhinakaran.
The political narrative and electioneering methods to be deployed by Stalin, the son and political heir of Karunanidhi, and Dhinakaran, nephew of Jayalalithaa aide Sasikala, are yet to be tried and tested in a big election.
If Jayalalithaa’s death shook the foundations of the AIADMK last year, Karunanidhi’s death could also bring to fore the family squabbles that have been looming over his party since the last few years, and test Stalin’s leadership.
Options before Stalin
One of the foremost political tasks for Stalin as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader coming out of his father’s shadow would be to recalibrate his party’s relationship with the all-powerful Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi.
While Modi as the Prime Minister will arouse mixed approbation among the DMK voters, the BJP as a party is largely despised in Tamil Nadu. While the BJP may want to choose between the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) as poll partner, the BJP is greatly unwelcome among the cadres of these respective parties.
To add to this discomfort, the PM’s office cold shouldered Stalin several times in the past when he sought an audience with the PM to discuss state issues. Besides, poll statistics suggest that the DMK has never benefitted electorally in its alliance with the BJP, which is considered a “North Indian Hindi-Hindutva” party.
Another choice for Stalin-led DMK is to align with the Congress and forge a larger coalition of anti-BJP parties in Tamil Nadu. Such a coalition could include a number of smaller parties and someone like Kamal Haasan, who has managed to acquire enough ‘dislikes’ for many of his foot-in-the-mouth statements.
The 150-year-old Congress had lost political power in Tamil Nadu half a century ago to Annadurai of the DMK. Ironically, these two parties could come together to fight the BJP in the Lok Sabha and the AIADMK in the Assembly elections.
Rise of Dhinakaran
As for the AIADMK, the party’s fortunes are already dwindling especially after the second major split following Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016. The party witnessed the first split after founder M.G. Ramachandran’s death in December 1987, with wife Janaki and protégé Jayalalithaa heading rival factions.
The legacy war in the AIADMK took an eventful turn when Dhinakaran, once the blue-eyed boy of ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa, posted an impressive victory from her constituency R.K. Nagar last year. His win surprised political observers.
Known for great organisational skills and considered to be the brain behind Amma’s political comeback and her social welfare schemes, Dhinakaran is organising his new party Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (note the word Dravidian is missing) on the lines of what the BJP is doing in other states. If he gets a favourable verdict in the MLA suspension case, it can put the current government in trouble in terms of strength in the House.
Tough times for AIADMK
The AIADMK, currently run by the O. Panneerselvam-E. Palaniswami faction, has earned unpopularity even among its cadres over the ‘burial drama’ after Karunanidhi’s death.
Although it is on the right side of the central government, the party is losing its credibility for not being able to get any development work done in Tamil Nadu. A coalition with the BJP will not only ruin the AIADMK’s electoral chances but also rob the BJP of any support it may envisage due to Modi’s charisma.
Gauging this sentiment, the BJP is already said to be assessing the possibilities of piggy-riding on superstar Rajinikanth’s bandwagon of fan clubs. But the actor’s legendary hesitancy in jumping into the political arena could result in a no show at the box-office for the BJP.
Tamil Nadu is witnessing a tectonic shift in its political landscape. The era of hackneyed Dravidiniasm and silver screen make-believe politicking is long over. There is a genuine yearning for development and empowerment without compromising on Tamil pride.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’