DMK’s biggest challenge: Replacing Karunanidhi

DMK’s biggest challenge: Replacing Karunanidhi

On July 28 when he was wheeled into Kauvery Hospital, M Karunanidhi had just stepped into his 50th year as DMK president.

Never in the history of any political party in India has a leader reigned control of an outfit for half-a-century.

And replacing the indispensable workaholic Karunanidhi, who propelled the DMK to power four times after he gained control of the party in 1969, would be the biggest challenge for his son M K Stalin, for he would now step in to fill his father's large shoes.

Karunanidhi enjoyed a special relationship with Stalin  —  his second son with his wife Dayalu Ammal  — and groomed him in politics that is often rustic.

That Stalin began his career in the DMK as a grassroots worker, was jailed during Emergency and learnt lessons under the shadow of Karunanidhi helped him achieve the DMK's saddle, demolishing opposition from within the family.

The challenge for the DMK lies outside— that of bringing the party back to power in Tamil Nadu where it has been out of power since 2011 — and ensure its standing in the national politics.

Stalin has to master the art of cobbling up coalitions from Karunanidhi by shedding his rigidness and be large-hearted while dealing with alliance partners, political observers say.

The growing popularity of rebel AIADMK leader T T V Dhinakaran is also a challenge that Stalin has to deal with in the coming days besides facing new entrants like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, they say.

As far the DMK is concerned, the party is firmly in control of Stalin as desired by his father Karunanidhi.

Prof Ramu Manivannan, head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, said the biggest challenge for Stalin would be to replace Karunanidhi's leadership and his skills in building a coalition despite pestering differences.

Manivannan said Stalin's elder brother M K Alagiri, the Madurai strongman who was expelled from the DMK in 2014, is not even a contender for any position, leave alone the President’s post, in the DMK.

"The party is secured with pre-determined leadership transition. The way the leadership transition took place in the DMK demonstrated the way the party functions. Stalin is in full control of the party and Alagiri does not even seem like a contender. The party was being silently reigned by Stalin for long," he told DH.

A R Venkatachalapathy, professor with the Madras Institute of Development Studies, said the leadership of the DMK was a settled question and Stalin has been in the saddle since 2011.

"This is not just my opinion, but the ground reality," he told DH, discounting the possibility of Alagiri raising a banner of revolt against Stalin.

On the challenges outside, he said everything in Tamil Nadu was in a state of flux and it would be too early to speculate on what would happen in next elections.

"If the Assembly election witnesses a three or four-cornered contest, it will help the DMK," Venkatachalapathy said.

According to Manivannan, Stalin would have to turn into an extrovert like his father to run the DMK as the latter did.

"Karunanidhi was a veteran in building coalitions and the quality of leadership he possessed cannot be replaced overnight. Stalin will have to learn lessons from his father’s leadership and should be an extrovert," he said.

Stalin will also face no opposition from stepsister Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP, who has sworn loyalty to Stalin a million times and she remains his best bet to strengthen critical contacts in Delhi.


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