The announcement of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi today that his son MK Stalin would be his political heir is far from surprising, although it lays to rest the speculations of a bitter power struggle within the family.
With this long-pending announcement, what can be safely concluded is that his older son and Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers MK Alagiri has been talked out of his ambition for the top post in the party. While making his decision public, Karunanidhi would have ensured that his daughter and Rajya Sabha MP, Kanimozhi’s interests are also taken care of.
By his sheer political presence and work in the party for the last four decades, Stalin has been the heir apparent of the DMK for a long time. However, Karunanidhi refused to acknowledge him as his successor, despite several appropriate occasions, because of the stiff opposition from his older son Alagiri.
Other than the two brothers, there was a third element, although less significant, to the power struggle in the Karunanidhi household — Kanimozhi, whose political future also depended on her father’s unflinching support. Both Kanimozhi and Alagiri would have felt uncertain with the prospect of Stalin as the leader.
In the recent past, there have been stories in the local media that Kanimozhi and Alagiri had joined hands against Stalin’s accession. But Stalin debunked it as pure conjecture and said that there was no bad blood between him and his siblings. The murmurs arose from Kanimozhi’s absence at a recent protest rally of the DMK against the Jayalalithaa government. While Kanimozhi maintained that she was absent because of a bad back, the rumour was that she was sulking.
In the past, Alagiri had covertly and overtly said that he was no less qualified for the top post of the party than Stalin. Indirectly opposing his younger brother, he had said that he would accept only Karunanidhi as his leader, whenever Stalin’s name came up.
Often, their supporters fought the battle, through posters and slogans, while they made cryptic remarks about the party’s future. Perhaps out of certain assurance, Stalin, has been relatively cooler than his brother and always looked in control. If he appeared to be slightly distant from the party cadre outside Chennai earlier, in the recent past he has made up for this apparent shortcoming and has toured the districts while taking an active role in the reorganisation of the party apparatus. He also cut his teeth in high level administration under his father as the Deputy Chief Minister during 2009-11.
The timing of the announcement is also not surprising. The party district secretaries are scheduled to meet on January 6 to discuss the plan for the 2014 parliamentary elections. The announcement of his heirship ahead of the meeting would give Stalin a clear headstart to take a more substantive leadership role during the poll preparations and campaign.
Given that the AIADMK is betting its life on the upcoming elections, Karunanidhi would have probably thought that delaying the succession plan might be unwise. The party certainly needs a face for the future.
In the coming elections, it is now certain that Stalin will be presented as the future of the party. He has the charisma, considerable political and administrative experience and connect with the party cadre across the state. While Jayalalithaa has announced that she would go it alone in the elections, the DMK is mostly likely to rope in actor Vijayakanth’s DMDK, besides its regular allies such as the Congress.
Vijayakanth’s magical 10 per cent vote-share and the ongoing power crisis in the state can be tremendously advantageous for the DMK, which suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2011 assembly elections.
The succession might be easier it appeared earlier, but the real test for Stalin will be managing the chronic sibling rivalry within the family on a day-to-day basis and proving himself to be a good administrator. He is also no match to his father in oratory, literary skills and political chicanery.