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DMK’s sonny-come-lately

MK Stalin has waited in the wings for quite some time. A DMK victory this time could see him become numero uno, reports PC Vinoj Kumar

Karunanidhi’s other son, MK Azhagiri, harboured hopes of succeeding his father. But he saw to it that there were no rivals to Stalin. In 2000, the DMK general secretary issued a diktat to partymen to dissociate from Azhagiri
Greater responsibilities await MK Stalin, deputy general secretary of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and son of party chief M. Karunanidhi. It is only a question of time when he would succeed his father as leader of the party. Party leaders say he would be the automatic successor to Karunanidhi, though there are other senior leaders in the party. “There are no rivals to Stalin in the party. He will lead the party after Karunanidhi,” said a senior DMK leader. However, it might not be a coincidence that the path is clear for Stalin’s smooth takeover of the party.

Karunanidhi’s critics say the DMK chief had not only planned the growth of Stalin in the party, but also saw to it that there were no rivals to him. At one stage, Stalin’s brother MK Azhagiri harboured hopes of succeeding his father. But he did not get the support of his father, who always stood by Stalin. In 2000, DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan, presumably under instructions from the party president, went to the extent of issuing a diktat to partymen to dissociate themselves from Azhagiri. The move was seen as a bid to clip Azhagiri’s wings and clear the path for the smooth succession of Stalin. Stalin, who was regarded influential in the northern districts till a few years ago, has of late managed to extend his influence to the southern districts, which were considered Azhagiri’s boroughs.

Even Vaiko’s expulsion from the DMK has been linked to his rivalry with Stalin in the party. “Stalin could not match Vaiko’s oratory. When Vaiko became popular among party cadre in the late 80s, especially among youth, Karunanidhi began to sideline him in the party. He was insulted in the party and finally expelled in 1993,” says a senior Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader.

Stalin became interested in politics at a very young age. When he was in college, he was part of a drama troupe that staged plays on political themes. His father was not very happy about his involvement in theatre. “I was not very good in studies,” admitted Stalin in an interview to Sun News recently. Stalin completed his graduation in history from Chennai’s Presidency College. There are stories about his ‘pranks’ as a student, when his father was CM.

Stalin was arrested under misa along with several DMK leaders during the Emergency in 1976. “His arrest under misa brought him into the political limelight,” says a DMK leader. In 1982, the party constituted a five-member committee to strengthen the youth wing. As a member of the committee, Stalin travelled all over the state to build up the youth wing from scratch. In 1984, he was appointed secretary of the youth wing. At 54, he continues to hold the post.

During the 1984 Assembly elections, he lost from the Thousand Lights constituency. In 1989, he was elected from the same seat. He could not retain the seat in 1991, when the Congress-AIAMDMK alliance swept the elections riding the crest of a sympathy wave that followed Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

In 1996, when the DMK returned to power, he won one more time from the Thousand Lights constituency. Soon, elections to local bodies were conducted throughout the state. Corporation elections were held after 22 years. Stalin contested for the post of Chennai mayor and won by a thumping majority. As mayor, Stalin built several flyovers and handed over garbage collection and disposal in parts of the city to a private agency.

In the 2001 Assembly elections, Jayalalithaa returned to power. Stalin retained his Thousand Lights seat. In June 2001, the AIAMDMK government arrested him and his father on charges of corruption in the flyover case. But no chargesheet has been filed in the case till date. In October 2001, he became mayor once again after he defeated the AIAMDMK’s N. Balaganga in violence-marred elections. The AIAMDMK government curtailed his financial powers. He could not complete his second term as the government passed two Bills, the Tamil Nadu Municipal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2002, and the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Second Amendment) Act, 2002, that prevented mlas and mps from holding elected posts in local bodies.

Nobody in the party would admit on record that Stalin has been anointed Karunanidhi’s successor. Stalin himself steers clear of it. When he was the Chennai mayor, he had said, ‘The DMK is not Sankara Mutt that the successor has to be nominated in advance.’
Party leaders say Stalin is quite committed to party ideologies, but does not harp on them like his father. In true Periyar tradition, he is a rationalist and does not consult astrologers like many politicians in the state. He criticised actor Vijaykanth for starting a party on the advice of astrologers.

In the ongoing campaign for the May 8 Assembly elections, Stalin is one of the star campaigners for the DMK-led front. He is seeking re-election from Thousand Lights. And should the DMK emerge victorious in the elections it would bring him within striking distance of the coveted post of chief minister. Karunanidhi however insists that he himself would become chief minister if the DMK-led alliance wins. When asked in an interview if Stalin would be made CM and party president, he said, “When the results are announced and if DMK gains a majority, none other than I will become the CM.”

But his political rivals believe the astute politician has other plans. They say the manoeuvring to install Stalin as CM some time during the middle of the term would begin soon after a DMK government is formed. “Karunanidhi’s life’s ambition is to put Stalin in the CM’s chair. He initially groomed Stalin’s brother, MK Muthu, but that did not work out. Then he brought in Stalin, who has seized the opportunity,” says an MDMK leader. He believes that if the DMK wins, it would make Stalin a minister first, and give him an important portfolio like home. “He would be made the CM after some time. Or else, he might be made deputy CM, but that would depend on the number of seats they get,” he says.

All senior leaders including K. Anbazhagan and Arcot Veerasamy are staunch Karunanidhi loyalists and would not stand in Stalin’s way if he were to be elevated to DMK president or made chief minister
Nobody in the party would admit on record that Stalin has been anointed Karunanidhi’s successor. Stalin himself said once when he was mayor, “The DMK is not Sankara Mutt that the successor has to be nominated in advance.” The DMK general council is the body that elects the president of the party. Elections are held every five years to different posts in the party starting from the branch units at the grassroots level to party president. There are about 1,500 members in the general council comprising union, town and district secretaries and representatives of the various wings of the party.

The last elections in the party were held in 2003 when Karunanidhi was re-elected as party president for the ninth time in a row and Stalin was elevated to the post of deputy general secretary. In party hierarchy, Stalin ranks below Anbazhagan and party treasurer Arcot Veerasamy. The party has two other deputy general secretaries, Parithi Illamvazhuthi and Sarguna Pandian, besides Stalin.

According to top DMK leaders, all senior leaders in the party are staunch loyalists of Karunanidhi, and none of them would stand in Stalin’s way if he were to be elevated as party president or made CM. Anbazhagan has been the DMK chief’s trusted lieutenant for many years and has been content with the number two position in the party. Illamvazhuthi, a former deputy speaker, and Sarguna Pandian, a former minister, are loyalists as well.

The DMK is contesting 130 seats and has allotted the remaining 104 seats to its allies. It has to win 118 seats, at a fairly high success ratio of over 90 percent, to form a government with independent majority. If it falls short, the Left parties and the Pattali Makkal Katchi have assured outside support. They claim they would not insist on a coalition government. Congress leaders say their priority is to win the polls and not worry about the post-poll scenario. If the DMK fails to get the majority, the party high command would decide on whether to join the government or not. In the event of a DMK defeat, Stalin might still be made party president in 2008 when Karunanidhi’s current term comes to an end.

May 13 , 2006

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