Five-time Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s death three weeks ago brought elder son Alagiri out in open revolt against his younger brother.
Bengaluru: M.K. Stalin, 65, took over as the president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Tuesday, just over three weeks after his father, party patriarch and regional powerhouse M. Karunanidhi, passed away.
Stalin had the support of all the party’s 65 district unit chiefs.
His sulking elder brother M.K. Alagiri, 67, expelled from the DMK for “anti-party activities” in 2014, chose not to contest the election.
Karunanidhi’s death on 7 August was followed by a very public rebellion by Alagiri, who claimed a week later that all his father’s “true supporters” saw him as his rightful heir.
It seems to have divided the five-time Tamil Nadu chief minister’s family down the middle, with his daughter, MP Kanimozhi, 50, accompanying Stalin as he filed his nomination papers Sunday and later tweeting a photo of them sharing a hug.
Kanimozhi is Stalin and Alagiri’s stepsister, and observers saw the photograph as a statement to the cadre and Alagiri.
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For Stalin, holding the post has been a coveted goal, having earlier served as party worker, youth leader and treasurer. He was named Karunanidhi’s heir apparent five years ago and appointed the working president of the DMK last year as Karunanidhi’s health began to fail.
Alagiri, who believes Stalin’s leadership is leading the DMK to ruin, issued a warning recently that the party would face “dire consequences” if he was not re-inducted. He has also announced a show of strength on 5 September to prove his purported sway over cadres, and is said to be “biding his time”.
However, as he prepares to lead his party in a political landscape transformed by the death of its two biggest stalwarts in quick succession (AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa died in December 2016), experts say Stalin doesn’t have much to fear from Alagiri’s public revolt.
Alagiri, experts told ThePrint, simply doesn’t have the backing of the cadre.
“All the leaders in the party and the cadre back Stalin. He is undoubtedly the leader and nobody can replace him,” said a DMK leader.
“It is as it was with Arun Shourie, who was expelled from the BJP. He can raise issues, but can he stop the Modi juggernaut or create a difference? I don’t think so,” the leader added. “Similarly, Alalgiri’s statements and actions will have no impact on the party.”
Political analyst Sumanth C. Raman said Alagiri will be an “irritant”, but with no traction. “He (Alagiri) will be the obvious challenger only if the DMK fails under Stalin and loses a few elections. Till then, he will keep trying,” he added.
“He has been sending feelers that he wants to rejoin the party. We don’t know who his followers are as, to date, no DMK leader has openly come out in his support,” Raman said.
“Alagiri is doing this with the sole purpose of taking control of the DMK. However, we do not expect anything to happen in the next few weeks or months,” he added.
The ‘clear leader’
The DMK cadre is said to have clearly communicated to the brass that they see Stalin as their new leader. They reportedly saw Alagiri’s outburst at the Anna memorial just after his father’s funeral as premature and unnecessary, given the general atmosphere of grief.
“This is not the time to challenge the leadership. People have still not recovered from the emotional loss of Kalaingnar’s death,” said another DMK member.
He said Alagiri could have waited before voicing his disapproval of Stalin’s leadership. “Any political leader… is questioned after their performance is monitored. They are not challenged as soon as they assume leadership. If you have a grouse, give him a few years, may be 10, and then raise your voice of dissent,” the leader added.
Political analyst K.N. Arun said he didn’t see the feud getting resolved anytime soon, but added that Alagiri stood alone in the party.
“It is very clear by the way Kanimozhi has thrown her weight behind Stalin that there is no one else who can come to power. Even the disgruntled elements will have to stick with Stalin for now,” Arun added.
Speculation has it that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may try to court Alagiri as it looks to make an impact in a Tamil Nadu, where the two biggest parties suddenly find themselves without leaders they have looked up to for years.
However, Arun said any such attempt is likely to fail as the people of the state wanted either a unified DMK or AIADMK. “The people will reject any form of splinter groups that may be formed from either party,” he added.
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