OPINION | Ideological Stand vs Political Survival: Will Stalin Withstand BJP Juggernaut in Tamil Nadu Assembly Polls?
Having positioned the DMK on a strong ideological collision course with the Centre, Stalin has left little room for himself to manoeuvre with the BJP.
MK Stalin completed one year as the president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on August 28 and his biggest achievement in this one year was to have taken the DMK-Congress alliance to a massive victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
But this victory, wherein the DMK-led alliance won 38 of the 39 seats in the state, has had little impact on the DMK’s position in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi. The victory took the party no closer to power in Chennai. In fact, despite all internal troubles in the AIADMK after J Jayalalithaa passed away, chief minister E Palaniswamy’s dispensation has survived and managed to win just enough seats in the bypolls to the 22 assembly constituencies which were held along with the Lok Sabha polls.
Stalin and his DMK failed to ensure that AIADMK gets routed in the bypolls, like they did during the Lok Sabha seats, and that is a big failure. It shows that DMK, winning a mere 13 of the 22 seats, did not concentrate enough on the bypolls. Had it managed more seats, it could have made a bid for power in Chennai, but Stalin seems to have focused on the Lok sabha polls and let the AIADMK walk away with a lease of life in the state assembly.
Having positioned the DMK on a strong ideological collision course with the Centre, Stalin has left little room for himself to manoeuvre with the BJP. His ideological commitment has been lauded by several quarters, but how it plays in terms of political survival with a brute majority BJP at the Centre will be put to test.
His father, the late M Karunanidhi, had survived alliances with the BJP and the Congress without diluting his own ideological position. The DMK also fought through the Emergency era and spent several terms out of office. The present situation may be Stalin’s biggest test.
As the party and its president face a formidable test, it is Stalin’s family that seems to be rising within the party. His son and actor Udhayanidhi Stalin has been appointed the DMK’s youth wing chief. The post has a symbolic significance as Stalin himself held it for years till he was made treasurer of the party.
The projection of Udhayanidhi, though publicly welcomed by DMK leaders, only adds to resentment of family politics within the party. It also affects the image of the DMK at a time when it has a tricky road ahead.
The momentum the party had in the Lok sabha polls is unlikely to carry through till 2021 when the assembly polls are scheduled in Tamil Nadu. In fact, the E Palaniswamy dispensation, with support from the Centre, seems poised to pull through its term and Stalin seems to have missed the bus to pull the dispensation down.
At this juncture, projecting family isn’t exactly wise. And, it’s not just the son who is rising in the DMK. Stalin’s son-in-law, Sabareesan, has been discreetly projecting himself as another power centre in business and political circles in Chennai. He even travels with Stalin for political meetings with alliance partners, especially the Congress.
There is no doubt that the DMK had turned firmly into a family party even when Karunanidhi was alive, but this may not be the juncture in which Stalin’s family begins its rise.
After his first year at the helm, Stalin has not marched ahead to cement the DMK’s future and the question of whether he will ever become chief minster remains as punctuated as it was before. He has not shown that he can strike a decisive blow on opponents outside the party, but has only cemented his place as the undisputed leader within.
In this backdrop, his family’s individual ambitions ought to take a backseat and first achieve the party’s ambitions. Unfortunately, the party is but run by one family, and the next generation in the DMK seems to only be vindicating that reality.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)
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