Political pundits are convinced that the state of Tamil Nadu (TN) is in for a political turmoil in the absence of two of its tallest leaders — M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa. The state, in the recent years, has seen a fall in its status as a front-ranking state in economic performance, suffered dent in industrial might and good governance.
On the face of it, things may look that conditions are fav ourable, new players to enter state politics to occupy the apparent vacuum in political leadership — given the fact that the ruling AIADMK is only held together by the greed and need of power and the anticipation that its principal rival DMK will be hit by internal squabbles that its chief-to-be and Karunanidhi’s declared political heir, MK Stalin, cannot control.
This supposition could very well come true if not for the fact that the DMK is a well-oiled cadre-based party, which is still intact. Another fact is that Stalin has in the last two years since Karunanidhi was out of political action due to illness, took complete control over the party and is a leader acceptable to the party rank and file.
With a firm succession plan in place, the DMK will not find the passing away of Karunanidhi earlier this month affecting the party structure in a large way. The succession of Stalin, in the works for the past two years, will be smooth barring the odd regional satrap exerting more pressure to up his or her bargaining power.
Knifes will be out if Stalin fails to win in the 2021 general elections to state assembly, but his first test will be 2019 general elections that will cement his position in the party and Tamil Nadu politics. The DMK is already prepared for local body polls and has been demanding they be held.
Flexing of muscles by the local chieftains is something that Stalin will have to deal with, but even on this count he managed to put in place men of his choice in key party positions in all the districts of Tamil Nadu. He has been working hard, raising issues of concern of the common man and also attacking the ruling AIADMK and the government, but cadres are a bit restless over his seeming inability to deliver the killer punch.
Now, after a 40-year plus stint as an understudy to his father, it is for the first time that Stalin will have the chance to be the authority in the party to take all decisions as far as the DMK and its affairs are concerned. Since it is an open secret in Chennai and Tamil Nadu that Stalin was the chosen one as the political heir by Karunanidhi, he is not expected to be facing trouble from DMK leaders, activists and cadres.
Trouble for him could be coming from within the family – and the first taste of it is in the growing emotional demand from within family members for taking back his elder brother MK Alagari into the party fold. Alagiri, who was also a union minister in the UPA government, was dismissed from the DMK’s primary membership for anti-party activities three years ago by Karunanidhi himself.
Alagiri has been trying for a re-entry into the party and had met Karunanidhi several times, but to no avail. How emotions played out was on display during the burial ceremony at Marina Beach when Kanimozhi, Stalin’s sister noticed Alagiri in the back rows, went up to him and escorted him to the front row and sit next to Stalin. Of course, she took permission from Stalin the moment she noticed Alagiri was missing from the front row.
Stalin is expected to address this very issue — whether to allow Alagiri return to party or not — as he takes complete and formal charge of the party that is yet to formally elect him as the leader in place of his father Karunanidhi, who was the unquestioned President of the party he was co-founder of for 50 years at a stretch.
Politics within the Karunanidhi family or the DMK’s first family is what that could cramp Stalin somewhat as he plots the future course of action and how it fights the forthcoming 2019 Lok Sabha general elections.
But, one thing is clear. It is certainly an end of an era in Tamil Nadu politics with the demise of the state’s tallest leaders Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa.
What ails the ruling AIADMK is that unlike in DMK, there was no succession plan in place and her death sparked off an intense power struggle within the party. Even today, the party is plagued with internal squabbles that will grow in intensity as elections — assembly elections of 2021 — approach. For the present it is the power that is acting like a glue and also for the reason that most of the MLAs know that without an Amma, their individual chances of winning seats were highly doubtful.
This is not so in DMK, which is on an upswing and has been highly active as an opposition party, raising issues of concern and taking an anti-Centre stand, at a time when the perception of the people of the state was that the ruling AIADMK was working as the B team of the BJP.
“It is no secret that BJP is backseat driving the government,” said political analyst Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University.
The two national parties — Congress and the BJP — largely irrelevant politically in Tamil Nadu for the past over three decades may like to try and occupy the political vacuum created by the departure of the two leaders. The political situation on the ground, with ruling AIADMK losing popularity with each passing day and DMK without its sharpest political brain seems ripe for national parties to exploit. But the Congress is hardly in a position to make any serious bid and is content with playing second fiddle to the DMK, with whom it has an alliance going. Whether it will continue or not, time will decide, but so far indications have been that DMK will fight against the BJP.
The BJP on the other hand sees in Tamil Nadu a chance of a lifetime to enter Tamil Nadu, and may work out an alliance or an understanding with the dominant faction of the ruling AIADMK. The BJP is also seriously trying to woo Rajinikanth into its fold, with a tie up, for the elections should he enter politics as he announced he would.
Then there is the other superstar, Kamal Haasan, who can articulate his ideas and thoughts well, who has announced he will be working with the Congress and has endorsed the idea of Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister candidate.
But in all these permutations and combinations will be side play as the main political battle in Tamil Nadu still will be between the two Dravidian rivals — ruling AIADMK and opposition DMK. Whether the superstars can win enough votes and seats is something that remains to be seen whether they are serious long-term players or disrupters at best.