Stalin’s politics fuels new national federalism

Being a legatee of the ancient ethos of Dravidian civilization contributes to Stalin's rise as a new leader setting the national agenda.

Published: 13th February 2022 07:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th February 2022 07:46 AM   |  A+A-

Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin his father and former chief minister M Karunanidhi

Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin his father and former chief minister M Karunanidhi

Express News Service

Belonging is the praxis of cultural identity as defined by tradition. Soon after his swearing-in on 7 May 2021, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister MK Stalin changed his Twitter profile to one who “Belongs to the Dravidian stock”—“I Always Stand For Social Justice, Equality, and Brotherhood”.

Being a legatee of the ancient ethos of Dravidian civilization contributes to his rise as a new leader setting the national agenda. His illustrious father M Karunanidhi was a Dravidian icon and the kingmaker behind many a premiership. He ruled Tamil Nadu while dictating the national agenda for over a decade. The Kalaignar rarely visited New Delhi, but even Prime Ministers made it a point to keep him on their right side.

Stalin may not have reached that lofty level yet. But he is moving fast to step into his father’s shoes. While Karunanidhi mesmerised the audience with the magic of poetry and film scripts, Stalin is setting a new grammar and syntax in Southern politics. Instead of fighting solo against the Centre, he has taken the lead to forge a political alternative to the NDA. The intuitive Stalin, while acting local, is now ferociously vocal on national issues on an equal bandwidth, which shows that he has learned realpolitik well while serving in his gigantic father’s shadow.  

Last week, Stalin threw down the gauntlet to Modi after the PM acerbically referred to Tamil Nadu in Parliament. In an election rally, Stalin hit back, “Prime Minister Modi doesn’t need to certify the patriotism of Tamils. History bears witness.” He added that Tamil Nadu sees the country as one. The rhetoric showed a mass magnet maestro at work, subliminally invoking Chola glory — one of India’s greatest empires that stretched across large parts of Asia.

His words were a ringing condemnation that echoed through the ancient halls of Tamil heritage — castigation of the Centre’s mule-headed rejection of the R-Day tableau depicting freedom fighters and poets such as Subramania Bharathi. The words were swords that defended the immutability of Dravidian designation, signaling that the DMK’s identity in the Indian political establishment is non-negotiable.

Yet, Stalin is no regional exclusivist. His showed his nationalist outlook during the election campaign last summer. He thundered during rallies that his party won’t allow the dilution of the Constitution which mandates unity in diversity. The soft speaking CM, in his trademark white shirt and veshti, has taken legislative and administrative actions that indicate his ideological and economic direction. Since both Dravidians parties DMK and AIADMK have ruled the state for the past 55 years, Stalin strikes a fine balance between preserving his local base and connecting with the rest of India on common issues. On federal rights, his stand is as clear as his vision. He took on New Delhi over the NEET. He has converted the controversy into an issue of autonomy of states to run their own educational system, which is on the Constitution’s Concurrent List.

The DMK feels that by introducing NEET, the Centre is depriving poor and backward community students from becoming doctors. They could get admission earlier because the entrance tests were local. Ignoring the Supreme Court ruling in NEET’s favour, the DMK along with other opposition parties have passed law in their states against the NEET. Stalin wrote to a dozen other CMs that the Centre is violating the spirit of federalism and the constitutional balance of power. “In this regard, we consider that the state governments need to assert their constitutional right and position in deciding the method of admission to their higher educational institutions,” were his words.

NEET is just one of the many battles which Stalin has unleashed against the Centre. Soon after taking over, his first directive to officials was to replace ‘Central’ government with ‘Union’ government. “The first article of our Constitution says that India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states. We are only using that. We are not using something which does not find a place in the law. Union is not a wrong word and it implies a union of states.” His objective was to send a clear signal to Modi that the DMK won’t play second fiddle to BJP like many other non-BJP CMs. 

The spirit of federalism once again resonated in Stalin’s war cry against the proposed amendments for central deputation of IAS, IPS officers. The fresh rules give sweeping powers to the Centre for taking away officers from the state without its prior concurrence. Stalin wrote to Modi, “The proposed amendments would cause irreparable damage to the spirit of cooperative federalism that exist between Union and the States and result in concentration of powers with the Union Government. I request you to drop these proposed amendments to IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954 and instead engage with State Governments to further strengthen the federal spirit of the nation and take forward the noble ideas of our forefathers with reference to the steel frame as enshrined in the Constitution.”

There is no doubt that a new sun has risen in the Dravidian galaxy. Stalin’s social justice and inclusive mantra extends to management of temples. Traditionally, it is the Brahmins who perform the rituals at over 40,000 small and big temples under state control. Despite the Supreme Court verdict which prohibits caste-based appointments of archaks (temple priests), persons from backward classes and Dalits were kept out. Last year, Stalin handed appointment letters to over two dozen non- Brahmins of which five were Dalits. One of them was a woman, Tamil Nadu’s second female priestess. Being a pragmatic atheist, Stalin doesn’t frown on cadres following religious rituals and visiting temples.

Inspired by his late litterateur patriarch’s passion for erudition, Stalin has given up the traditional practice of offering silk shawls to dignitaries. Instead, he gifts books by noted Tamil scholars as well as volumes on Tamil history showing his commitment to Tamil literature, heritage and culture. During his first meeting with Modi, Stalin presented him a copy of ‘Sculptors of Classical Tamil’. He gifted President Ram Nath Kovind a copy of ‘Multiple Facets of My Madurai’. To Sonia Gandhi he gave a copy of ‘Journey of a Civilisation: Indus to Vagai’. The new sculptor of the Tamil narrative has arrived revealing multiple facets during his journey to the summit of power.

The pillars of statesmanship are economic initiative and political flexibility. Tamil Nadu under Stalin has joined the trillion-dollar competitive economic game. Currently, it is the second-largest economy in India with a $300 billion GDP. During an investment meet, Stalin announced that his mission is to make Tamil Nadu a trillion-dollar economy by 2030. “We want Tamil Nadu to be one of the best states in South Asia.” He directed officials to ensure a conducive environment for attracting investments. Stalin also spoke like a corporate boss to senior officials. “Let the announcements translate into deeds. Let our thoughts blossom into new announcements. Our government should always function like a machine for the people.”

Stalin is a third-generation Dravidian leader who is on course to align Tamil Nadu’s growth pace with national aspirations. The state has minimum unemployment and less than five percent of its people live below the poverty line. With more than half of its GDP coming from services, Tamil Nadu is one of the most favoured foreign investment destinations. In spite of economic development, its populace traditionally favours local parties while rejecting national outfits repeatedly. Stalin knows the virtues of sticking to DMK’s core ideology since his success lies in his ability, agility and adaptability in Indian-ising his Dravidian edifice. His bhakhtas are convinced that Stalin’s mind is set on a supreme goal — what Stalin thinks today, India does tomorrow.      


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  • narasimhan annamalainaar

    stalin is anti-brahmin like his father;
    7 months ago reply
  • H.Balakrishnan

    Dear Mr. Chawla
    7 months ago reply
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