The stage is set for M K Stalin, son of DMK president M Karunanidhi who died on August 7, to formally take on the mantle of party leadership. Stalin was long groomed for the role but has rather big shoes to fill. His father, who headed the party for 50 years, was a multifaceted personality who cast a long shadow. He cleared the path for Stalin—sidelining competitors to the throne, including his other son M K Alagiri, over the years—and ensured that a battle for leadership on his demise would be most unlikely. Accordingly, Stalin filed his nomination for party president on Sunday, unopposed, with the endorsement of all the party’s district secretaries. Even Alagiri’s rumblings since Karunanidhi’s death have not created any fears of the party splitting.
But this does not mean the path that lies ahead of Stalin, who at 65 is finally ready to lead on his own, is without challenges. Party cadre have noted a streak of authoritarianism in his sacking of local party leaders. Under his leadership as working president—a role he took on in January 2017 after his father’s health began to decline—the party’s candidate lost his deposit in the bypoll to the RK Nagar constituency necessitated by AIADMK supremo and then CM J Jayalalithaa’s death.
He had also taken a lead role in the 2016 elections to the state Assembly. While the DMK improved its tally, Jayalalithaa still overcame anti-incumbency and flak over the 2015 Chennai floods. Since her demise, amid a power struggle in the AIADMK, the DMK is seen as having failed to have successfully played the role of a meaningful Opposition.
Meanwhile, there are already rumblings about Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi appearing prominently in public events and posters. After all Stalin had worked his way up through the ranks. It may be premature to judge where he will take the party. It could spell the end of the Dravidian age in Tamil Nadu, which for all its faults has reaped dividends for the state, or it could mean a rejuvenation, a return to the ideals of the movement, and more.