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MK Stalin is new DMK working president: The son will get his place under the Sun

After the change of guard in the AIADMK forced by Jayalalithaa's demise last month, arch rival DMK is rebooting as well. Tamil Nadu will see a sunrise and a son-rise on Wednesday, when MK Stalin will emerge out of his father M Karunanidhi's shadows.

Stalin will take over as the working president of the DMK, with the health of the DMK chief a matter of concern. The former chief minister has been in and out of hospital in the last six weeks necessitating this handing over of the baton.

In any case, 5 December marked the end of the Jayalalithaa vs Karunanidhi rivalry that spanned over 25 years. Karunanidhi, even if he was hale and hearty, would not have liked to cross swords with VK Sasikala, the new general secretary of the AIADMK.

So even though Karunanidhi as President of the DMK will still be the top boss, Stalin will call the shots for all practical purposes. In the last three years since elder brother Alagiri was thrown out, Stalin has consolidated himself within the party. He led the charge both in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2016 assembly elections. But victory eluded him. The party came a cropper in 2014, failing to win a single seat and had to be content in the opposition last May.

That has been one of the criticism, though muted, against Stalin. His inability to win, despite complete control, spoils his curriculum vitae. But just like Sasikala, he also has the TINA (There is No Alternative) factor working for him. He is seen as the natural choice as leader and his administrative experience as former deputy chief minister and mayor of Chennai works in his favour.

MK Stalin. File photo. PTI

MK Stalin. File photo. PTI

But while waiting in the wings, Stalin who at 63 is still the president of the party youth wing, has consolidated his position. All district secretaries are his men and women and his control over the DMK legislature party is complete.

Ahead of the 2016 polls, Stalin worked with a social media management team that focused on re-branding his image. Stalin campaigned wearing coloured shirts, trousers and sneakers, discarding the politician attire of starched white shirt and dhoti. The idea was to connect better with the first-time voters.

But getting pole position within the DMK is the easier job. The tough part would be to play his cards well this year. The jury is out on how the DMK should deal with an AIADMK that is slowly getting its act together post-Jayalalithaa.

One school of thought believes that the DMK should engineer trouble in the ruling party. If even 20-odd MLAs rebel, it can bring down the Panneerselvam government. But given that the AIADMK has another four and a half years to go, power will remain a glue for everyone to stick together.

A section in the DMK also thinks that if Sasikala takes over as CM, it will make it difficult to dislodge her. The 'Chinnamma' title that she now sports also helps her in wooing the emotional AIADMK cadre. Having lived with Jayalalithaa for 33 years and advised her take several crucial political decisions, Sasikala is considered a smart political mind, who cannot be taken lightly. If there were any doubts about her ability to articulate, she dispelled them with a neat maiden performance on 31 December when she took charge.

Stalin now has three options before him. First is to wait for the Supreme court verdict in the Disproportionate Assets case in which Sasikala is Accused No 2. The verdict is expected any time. A conviction will end Sasikala's political career and the AIADMK will collapse like a pack of cards. But acquittal will only strengthen Sasikala's position.

The second is to wait for the local body elections which were postponed in October 2016. That will be the first direct Sasikala vs Stalin fight and will set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and battles after that. If the DMK is able to perform better, doubts can be created in the AIADMK cadre mind about whether it has invested in the right leader.

The third is to move a no-confidence motion immediately against the Panneerselvam government. Given that moves are afoot to replace Panneerselvam with Sasikala, a no-confidence motion will make it imperative for the AIADMK legislators to vote for the Panneerselvam regime. Replacing him soon after will, Stalin hope, reflect poorly on the ruling party. Also a twin power centre arrangement, the DMK will hope, gives scope for confusion within the AIADMK.

Stalin will also be up against the might of the BJP which will do all it can to ensure the AIADMK regime, irrespective of who heads it, does not fall. It is not in the BJP's interest to see the DMK coming to power in a snap poll in Tamil Nadu.

So far, Stalin has made the right moves. His party praised Jayalalithaa after her demise, putting up banners in Chennai. His gesture of visiting Rajaji Hall was appreciated even by the AIADMK cadre present there on 6 December.

Stalin's baptism in politics took place at the age of 14 when he campaigned in the 1967 elections. Fifty years since that moment, Stalin will hope to get his place under the sun.

Updated Date: Jan 04, 2017 12:17 PM

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