When expelled Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader MK Alagiri announced at M Karunanidhi's final resting place at the Marina Beach in Chennai that he has the support of his father's "true and loyal followers", most likened him to Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam. After all, OPS — as he is also known — had also chosen late chief minister J Jayalalithaa's samadhi at the Marina Beach to announce his rebel status on that dramatic evening in February 2017.
That the GPS had led both Alagiri and OPS to the same location was not the only common factor. Both politicians had decided to revolt against the well-entrenched party hierarchy. In Panneerselvam's case, it was against Jayalalithaa's close aide VK Sasikala, and Alagiri's banner of revolt is against his younger brother, DMK working president MK Stalin. While OPS had revolted within a day of being unseated as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Alagiri went public with his battle against Stalin less than a week after Karunanidhi's death.
Those who draw the OPS-Alagiri comparison do so on the basis of the two having been in positions of political importance when Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi were around. Jayalalithaa had twice chosen OPS to act as the chief minister when she had to step aside from the post. He held the office for the third time after her demise in December 2016. Similarly, Alagiri was drafted into the Cabinet of the United Progressive Alliance as the chemicals and fertilisers minister and had presided over the fortunes of the DMK in southern Tamil Nadu.
But these facile comparisons apart, calling Alagiri the OPS of the DMK, would be wrong. In the context of the present-day politics of Tamil Nadu, Alagiri is more a TTV Dinakaran than an OPS. In fact, given the manner in which their political careers have played out, it is surprising to see how the DMK and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are mirror images of each other.
Both Dinakaran and Alagiri have had a tumultuous relationship with their party leadership. Dinakaran was shown the door by Jayalalithaa in 2011 and till her death, he was not reinstated into the AIADMK. Alagiri shared the same fate — he was expelled by Karunanidhi in 2014, and despite his attempts to broker peace using family members, the Madurai strongman was unsuccessful in making a comeback. In this sense, both are outsiders trying to take control of the party, despite the ignominy of having been discarded by the larger-than-life regional chieftains.
Just like Dinakaran tried to convey that incumbent Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and OPS had usurped the mandate given to Jayalalithaa, Alagiri's attempt is to make it seem like Stalin is not fit enough to step into Karunanidhi's shoes. On Monday morning, a Twitter handle that claims to be that of Alagiri put out a tweet with Karunanidhi's photograph, calling him "our permanent thalaivar (leader)".
During their heyday, Dinakaran and Alagiri operated in areas that were in close proximity to each other. Madurai is just 80 kilometres away from Periyakulam, the Lok Sabha constituency Dinakaran represented in 1999. Although Alagiri's clout is much diminished now, theoretically speaking, if the two have a tacit understanding, they could play spoiler in at least 25-odd Assembly constituencies in the politically important southern parts of Tamil Nadu.
Stalin knows what the duo is capable of. The by-election to the Thirumangalam constituency in 2009, when the DMK was in power, was Alagiri's tryst with notoriety. The DMK, under Alagiri's stewardship, had reportedly paid Rs 5,000 per vote to ensure the party's victory. Although Tamil Nadu had a history of cash-for-votes before Thirumangalam, this bypoll raised the cash component in elections significantly. It figured in a WikiLeaks document released in 2011, as well. "From paying to dig a community well to slipping cash into an envelope inside the morning newspaper, politicians and their operatives admitted to violating election rules to influence voters," the document read. The episode became infamous as the "Thirumangalam formula".
The RK Nagar Assembly bypoll last December, where Dinakaran triumphed, defeating both the AIADMK and DMK, saw a repeat of the Thirumangalam formula. Several households were given Rs 20 notes, with a promise that they will be exchanged for up to Rs 8,000 after the polls end.
Most Tamil Nadu observers reckon that Alagiri comes with the reputation of a politician given to using muscle power. The most infamous incident in which his supporters were allegedly involved was the firebomb attack at the office of Tamil newspaper Dinakaran in 2007, which killed three people. His supporters were enraged that a survey on who the political heir to Karunanidhi was showed 70 percent support for Stalin and just 2 percent for Alagiri. In 2011, Jayalalithaa had interpreted the DMK rout in southern Tamil Nadu as "people's anger" against the "rowdy raj" of Alagiri and his men.
In contrast, Dinakaran is a more suave political operator, but he, too, has a case under the Foreign Exchange Management Act against him, apart from being accused of trying to bribe the Election Commission to get the AIADMK's two leaves party symbol.
With Alagiri's chances of returning to the DMK next to nil, he could float the Kalaignar DMK to keep himself politically alive. Just like Dinakaran used the "Amma" moniker to position himself as the true inheritor of Jayalalithaa's legacy, Alagiri could use the "Kalaignar" title to appropriate Karunanidhi's legacy.
At the end of the day, however, both Dinakaran and Alagiri are up against formidable party units. Although Alagiri would want to ensure that the DMK under Stalin comes a cropper, it is also quite likely that he will end up like Jayalalithaa's niece J Deepa, who had also tried to grab a slice of the former chief minister's political legacy.
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Updated Date: Aug 27, 2018 22:23:18 IST