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OPINION | Don't Laugh Off Alagiri - Advice to Stalin as He Follows in Karunanidhi's Footsteps

The fact that Alagiri is planning to walk into the heart of Chennai to his father's resting place is akin to sounding the war cry. Alagiri is challenging Stalin on his territory. The family battle is out in the open.

TS Sudhir |

Updated:August 28, 2018, 11:23 AM IST
OPINION | Don't Laugh Off Alagiri - Advice to Stalin as He Follows in Karunanidhi's Footsteps
Combination photo of Karunanidhi's sons Alagiri and Stalin

MK Stalin became the new president of the DMK on Tuesday. Occupying the chair held for 49 years by his father, the late M Karunanidhi, will be the easy part. The real tough battle will be fought with sibling MK Alagiri, who is not willing to let his younger brother be the rising `son' of the DMK.

Tamil Nadu politics has always had a cinematic quality about it. It is not just about most of its talent coming from Kollywood — scriptwriter Karunanidhi and actors MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa having been the big names. But beyond the starry political cast, Tamil Nadu politics has always been theatrical, almost Shakespeare-inspired.

Look at Alagiri's decision to challenge Stalin's leadership within a week of Karunanidhi's demise. Alagiri had been shown the door by the party chief in 2014 after the battle between the two brothers became difficult to reconcile. Ever since, Stalin has been in total control of the DMK, stuffing the party hierarchy at every level in every district with his own men.

But Alagiri, who has been out of active politics for four years now, is unwilling to go down without a fight. After his attempts to worm his way back into the DMK with his family's support came to a nought, he decided he will take on Stalin publicly. Claiming at Karunanidhi's final resting place at Marina Beach that the cadre of the DMK are with him, he referred to Stalin as a working president who “does not work” and who is “incapable” of leading the party to victory.

Alagiri is hitting where it is certain to hurt Stalin. Even though Karunanidhi was alive, both the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 Assembly elections were fought in Tamil Nadu under Stalin's leadership. The DMK came a cropper failing to win a single Lok Sabha seat and did not manage to unseat Jayalalithaa two years later. The 2019 polls, therefore, will be Stalin's acid test. A hat-trick of failures will have the knives out for him.

What is significant is that Alagiri has decided to hold his rally on September 5 in Chennai. In the 1980s, Karunanidhi, fed up of the sibling rivalry, divided control of the DMK in Tamil Nadu between the two brothers and sent Alagiri to Madurai to look after the southern part of the state.

The fact that Alagiri is planning to walk into the heart of Chennai to his father's resting place is akin to sounding the war cry. Alagiri is challenging Stalin on his territory. The family battle is out in the open.

Alagiri boasts that he will have up to one lakh people walking with him. That may be a tall claim, but do not rule out the possibility of anti-DMK parties helping Alagiri to ensure the optics of his challenge is not a washout. Just as the DMK is poised to take advantage of the split in the AIADMK and the weak leadership of the ruling party, there will be many a vested interest looking to exploit the fissures within the DMK first family.

For now, it is unlikely that Alagiri will be able to take away a part of the DMK with him. Which is why Stalin's challenge comes not so much from Alagiri but from himself. Two years ago, ‘Team Stalin’ convinced the leader to undergo a sartorial makeover, discarding his veshti for trousers and white shirt for coloured fabric. The intention was to connect with the young voters in Tamil Nadu by looking like one of them.

But though Stalin 2.0 made for interesting photo-ops, it failed to cut electoral ice. Which is why Stalin will be under pressure to offer something new in a post-Karunanidhi and post-Jayalalithaa Tamil Nadu political theatre. He cannot afford to bank entirely on the negative vote against the ruling AIADMK. Stalin 3.0 will be necessary to present a DMK model of governance that is an improvement over the one presided over by his father.

This is because anti-incumbency will not benefit the DMK in the manner it has in the past. Tamil Nadu, barring in 1984 and 2016, has shown a tendency to vote out the government and give the control of Fort St George to the DMK and AIADMK by turns.

But this time, the hardcore AIADMK voter has a choice between the original AIADMK and the rival AIADMK led by TTV Dinakaran. Stalin cannot bank on the voter dissatisfaction with the AIADMK for Tamil Nadu to plump for him lock, stock and barrel. Which is why he needs to work on his vision for Tamil Nadu instead of presenting old wine in a new bottle.

Alagiri, if he floats a new party, is unlikely to make much of a splash. But he will be more than happy to be a spoiler for the DMK in southern Tamil Nadu, more so if he works out a tacit understanding with Stalin's rivals.

Alagiri is, therefore, presenting himself as the alternate successor to Karunanidhi who is willing to be a political freelancer for now. The plan is to hurt Stalin to create a situation where his return to the DMK becomes inevitable post 2019. ​

(Author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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