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MK Stalin Elected DMK President Unopposed, Tackling Brother Alagiri is First Big Challenge

With prince-in-waiting MK Stalin now at the throne of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, keeping the flock together and registering electoral victories are among his main challenges.

Poornima Murali | CNN-News18

Updated:August 28, 2018, 5:24 PM IST
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Chennai: MK Stalin was elected as the president of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) unopposed on Tuesday, around three weeks after the demise of his father and party patriarch Karunanidhi.

Chants hailing Stalin as ‘Thalapathy’ rented the Kalaignar Arangam where the meeting was underway even as the General Council members cheered with loud applause.

DMK Principal Secretary Durai Murugan was elected Treasurer, succeeding Stalin, a post he vacated recently in view of his proposed elevation.

Stalin's election, amid a rival claim for the position by brother and expelled leader Alagiri, triggered celebrations outside the DMK headquarters in Chennai.



With the prince-in-waiting now at the throne, keeping the flock together and registering electoral victories are among Stalin’s main challenges.

While Karunanidhi struggled to become a tall leader over a period of time, Stalin’s journey in politics has been quite different. Having started campaigning for his father at the age of 14, he slowly emerged from the shadows of his larger-than-life father. It was Karunanidhi who created that space for Stalin in the DMK.

Stalin was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act during the Emergency in 1977. Twelve years later, he won a seat in the 1989 Assembly elections, but lost the snap polls two years later. Since then, he has never had to face defeat in the Assembly elections.

Stalin’s administrative mettle was proven when he was the Chennai Mayor in 1996. This is when he reinvented himself and focussed on modernising the administration.

“I have no doubt about Stalin’s administrative ability as he has proved himself as a good Mayor when he was on the job for less than two years. He took bold steps then,” says political analyst Sampath Kumar.

Kumar, however, has an advice for Stalin — re-induct brother Alagiri, who has raised the banner of revolt, into the party. “Karunanidhi was a Chanakya who embraced everyone in the party and kept all the district secretaries and key members of the party happy. He had great support from party cadre. Stalin has to follow the same. He has to be careful and include Alagiri in the party. Stalin should keep all district secretaries in good humour and include newcomers. Otherwise, he will find it difficult to tread the political path in the absence of a charismatic leader like Karunanidhi. I think Stalin will be a good leader. He would prove to be a good leader,” Kumar said.

Stalin also became the deputy chief minister eventually when Karunanidhi made it clear he would be his successor. But he gained prominence in 2015 ahead of the Assembly elections, when he went in for an image-makeover. Ditching the veshti, Stalin wore formal shirts and pants, and rode a bicycle wearing a pair of sports shoes and sunglasses. While the DMK lost the 2016 elections, it became the single-largest party.

On Tuesday, Stalin became the president of the DMK — a post held by Karunanidhi for more than 50 years.

Pundits say it won’t be an easy ride. “First challenge is within the party — how he is able to integrate or move along with the cadre and senior leaders. You can’t have people like Alagiri go out and make noise. His immediate challenge is to make sure no senior leader or district secretary or disgruntled member takes part in the September 5 rally (called by Alagiri),” says senior journalist RK Radhakrishnan.

“The other thing is to manage the relationships with like-minded political parties and also adversary parties. There he has had his first failure. He invited Amit Shah and the BJP chief refused to turn up for the August 20 event. This kind of embarrassment should be avoided as a leader. You use this as a forum to bring together other political parties. It should also show the strength of the DMK to pull any leader to the south whenever the party wants to hold a meeting. These two are the big challenges. These will determine what kind of a leader Stalin will be in the short term,” he adds.

Stalin has been at the helm since October 2016 when Karunanidhi became inactive in politics. On Karunanidhi’s 93rd birthday in June 2013, Stalin invited all parties, except the BJP. Many said Stalin’s plan to bring in a galaxy of prominent leaders on one platform was a masterstroke. The event was attended by then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah.

This time, the DMK has invited both national parties and regional strongmen for a condolence meeting on August 30. While the DMK initially said Amit Shah would attend, it is Nitin Gadkari who will attend the event on behalf of the BJP. This is the second time many strongmen will come together on one platform for a DMK event.



Stalin’s first test will undoubtedly be the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “2019 is the test for Stalin as a leader. He has to deliver a minimum of 30 seats for the DMK because you have TTV Dinakaran and the (AIADMK) government pulling in different directions. Stalin has to keep his flock together. But remember, the Stalin’s leadership has not tasted electoral success. Polls in 2011, 2014 and 2016 were all lost despite the fact that he was leading from the front. He is under very serious pressure to deliver,” says Radhakrishnan.
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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