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The Economic Times

Stalin finds his feet ahead of state polls in 2021

Stalin BCCL
DMK President, MK Stalin at a conference
Chennai: When MK Stalin took over as the president of the DMK in late August last year, his first speech contained a disclaimer and an assuring promise: “I am no Kalaignar (moniker for M Karunanidhi) but I have the courage to try.”

When Stalin made that statement, his older sibling MK Alagiri was lurking to grab power, a strident BJP was jockeying for pre-poll alliances in a state devoid of its Dravidian towers J Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, and a tottering AIADMK ridden with factionalism was slowly steadying itself. The cheers of the DMK cadre on Stalin’s elevation as the president of the party were accompanied by murmurs in political circles about a “leadership vacuum” in Dravidian land.

Forward a year, Stalin stands to claim one of the largest electoral victories in Tamil Nadu and has kept up his strong anti-BJP rhetoric post elections too, leveraging issues such as language imposition and Kashmir’s status dilution to his advantage in Tamil Nadu.

Insiders, allies and political advisers say they can see traces of fatherto-son inheritance in Stalin’s political acumen and leadership style. While there were situations when Stalin veered from the script and turned controversial where Karunanidhi would have deftly held on to his guns, they agree that the 67-year-old nevertheless had performed where it mattered.

Stalin arrested an eight-year victory drought for the party at the hustings that seemed to cast a perennial shadow on his stature as a politician. In May 2019, the DMK alliance swept all but one Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, making Tamil Nadu count among a handful of states where the BJP performed poorly; in the words of actor Rajinikanth, who has now openly come out in support of the BJP, an “anti-Modi wave” swept Tamil Nadu. DMK’s victory in 2019 follows several losses by varying margins in elections since the 2011 state Assembly elections, one of the lowest points being its loss of deposit in the RK Nagar by-poll won by TTV Dhinakaran, VK Sasikala’s nephew.

“Once he took over as president, there was a need to prove himself, and he did that effectively,” said Tiruchi Siva, DMK’s parliamentary party leader for the Rajya Sabha and a long-time associate of Stalin.

To his partymen, Stalin is a chip off the old block. “Many have asked about the differences between Stalin and his father. My take is that you cannot find one: his announcement of a protest to be conducted by MPs in Delhi, seeking the release of political leaders in Kashmir, is a key example. Karunanidhi would have done just that,” said a DMK leader on the condition of anonymity.

Analysts said some characteristic differences had showed up, too. Despite his success in consolidating power within the party, Stalin could be perceived as lacking in the killer instinct in capitalising on an opponent’s weakness, such as when the Edappadi Palaniswami government was short of numbers in the Assembly, said political observer N Sathiya Moorthy. Since the death of Jayalalithaa in December 2016, the AIADMK had been at its most vulnerable with multiple power centres and dwindling Assembly strength because of Dhinakaran’s external activations, an opportunity, that some may have felt, let go of by Stalin.

The recent elevation of his son, Udhayanidhi, as the DMK’s youth wing secretary, a position that Stalin had held for 34 years, also raised a few eyebrows.

In the recent elections, Dhinakaran and actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan proved to be less of a threat and the foreseeable battle appears to be between the two arch-rivals, DMK and the AIADMK, barring actor Rajinikanth as a contender in wait for the state electoral season in 2021.

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