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MK Stalin's Spirited Campaign Makes it a Close Contest in Tamil Nadu

DMK treasurer MK Stalin.

DMK treasurer MK Stalin.

Chennai: MK Stalin, the long standing heir apparent to DMK chief M Karunanidhi, may have failed to oust AIADMK but a spirited campaign for over a year marked by a makeover virtually made it a close race in Tamil Nadu where traditionally the contests have been one sided.

Analysts now believe that if the DMK had projected him the chief ministerial face instead of his 92-year-old father the whole hog, probably the election verdict could have been different.

Targeting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa over "inaccessibility", 63-year-old Stalin carefully worked out the campaign beginning with his massive voter outreach programme "Namakku Naame Vidiyal Meetpu Payanam" (We for ourselves, journey to retrieve dawn) as early as September 2015.

Though his estranged brother Alagiri called it a "comedy show", he continued to vigorously canvas support for his party going for a complete image makeover -- giving up the trademark attire of Dravidian politicians of dhothi and shawl and donning sports shoes -- with an aim of appealing to the huge young electorate.

The reachout plan covered all the 234 assembly constituencies. He made it a point to directly interact with people held a string of programmes and rallies like the Vidiyal Meetru Perani.

He was seen shaking hands with passengers in bus, auto and in other public places and listening to their grievances.

During campaign in open-top vans, he consciously put him arm around party candidates and said this is "democracy and brotherhood" in DMK and mocked at AIADMK men for bowing before their chief Jayalalithaa.

Such gestures were used by DMK to portray their leader as an accessible and affable personality juxtaposing it with the perception of Jayalalithaa as an "inaccessible" leader.

Also, Stalin tried out new initiatives like "Pesalam Vanga," (Come Let us Talk), just like the Chai pe Charcha of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the people of his constituency Kolathur.

He extensively toured Tamil Nadu, addressed hundreds of public meetings and rallies and even expressed regret for some "mistakes" that happened during the previous DMK tenure and assured people that such things will not be repeated if his party was voted back to power.

DMK today is largely under his control. With his older brother and former Union Minister MK Alagiri expelled from party in 2014, there is no one else in the party who could challenge him.

It took Stalin four decades to call the shots in the party. That he is virtually the numero uno in party organisation was reflected in the selection of candidates to the May 16 Assembly elections too.

Although Stalin himself had said that Karunanidhi will be the Chief Minister which was reiterated by his father recently, his supporters strongly believe that it was only a matter of time before the mantle was formally passed on to him.

Stalin, born on March 1, 1953, campaigned for DMK in the 1967 elections when he was a 14-year old school student. He was incarcerated under MISA in 1976.

He became party's youth wing Secretary in 1984, and since then he has been holding the post though he is now a senior citizen. His growth has been steady and he became party deputy general secretary in 2003. He was re-elected treasurer for the second five-year term in January 2015.

He became an MLA for the first time in 1989 from Thousand Lights constituency from where he was relected thrice.

In 1996, he was elected Mayor of Chennai Corporation and re-elected in 2001. However, he had to exit with the AIADMK capturing power which enacted a law that barred elected representatives also holding local body positions.

In 2006, he became the Municipal Administration Minister in the DMK government and went on to become the Deputy Chief Minister in 2009.