In his address to DMK cadres as party president, Stalin said spread of communal forces in the country must be stopped at all costs.
In M.K. Stalin’s first address as the DMK president, the loudest cheer from the audience came when he spoke of secularism, and sent out a clear message that the party will thwart the Sangh juggernaut.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) underwent a once-in-a-lifetime change on 28 August 2018. In the party’s general council, Stalin, ‘Thalapathy’ to the party faithful, took over as the president after his father, M. Karunanidhi, the Kalaignar, led the party for nearly 50 years.
Stalin’s transition from Thalapathy to Thalaivar (the leader) is going to determine the next chapter of the century-old Dravidian Movement.
While delivering the presidential address, he described the four founding principles of the movement: self-respect, egalitarianism, secularism and rationalism.
The concept of self-respect was the backbone of Periyar’s early foray into social activism. He founded the Self Respect League after walking out of the Congress in mid-1920s. The ideological positions on caste, feminism, superstition and religion that would come to define the Dravidian Movement were developed during these years.
The Self Respect League amalgamated with the Justice Party and was subsequently christened as the Dravidar Kazhagam in 1944. Out of this, was born the DMK in 1949 and the party went on to form the government in Tamil Nadu in 1967. Over the next 50 years, Kalaignarheld ‘self-respect’ as his highest form of ideal. From this ideal, was born his enduring sense of justice and commitment to equality.
In the general council, there were numerous references to the concept of self-respect. Leader of the DMK’s women’s wing, Kanimozhi, spoke about its importance to the party, movement and its leadership over the years. Although astrologers had considered the date chosen for the general council as inauspicious, the rationalism of the party leadership did not waver.
In his opening remarks, Thalapathy stressed on the egalitarian principle under which people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
The biggest applause was reserved for his remarks on and around secularism. There was a categorical statement on how the spread of communal forces in the country must be stopped at all costs. In the recent past, there have been efforts to saffronise institutions, either by the state or by non-state actors with the tacit support of the state machinery.
Under Kalaignar’s leadership, the DMK has been able to maintain a consistent ideological line, which could be traced back to the early Self Respect League days. One of the major ideological planks during the Kalaignar era was the push for a more federal structure and decentralisation of state powers.
The next 10 years, the first decade of the Thalapathy era, will be vital to advance this principle as the delimitation deadline is scheduled for 2026 and there are already moves to browbeat states into accepting diktats devised in Delhi.
Thalapathy’s speech shows that although the party will start a new innings under a new leader, its ideological commitments and core principles remain unchanged. It also indicates that the new wave of enthusiasm and energy that will come from the new president will be directed at both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its brazen attempts to bulldoze established, constitutional institutions.
Manuraj Shunmugasundaram is advocate and DMK spokesperson.