Barely a year and half after he was elected as first-time MLA, and three and a half years after he was given a party post in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), 45-year-old Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, was sworn in as a Minister at a function held in Raj Bhavan in Chennai on December 14.
At 9.30 a.m., an auspicious moment in the Tamil month of Karthigai, the Governor administered oath of office and secrecy to Udhayanidhi. The DMK, which bases its existence on rational thought and action, used to shun such beliefs at one point in time, claiming they were superstition.
In what is seen as fastest rise of a DMK member in the history of the party, Udhayanidhi has been given a portfolio with abundant public interface—Sports and Youth Welfare. Stalin had announced the construction of sporting facilities in all constituencies in the State earlier this year. This gives Udhayanidhi a reason to visit all constituencies in the State to check and review work in progress.
He will be helped by Sports Secretary Atulya Misra, who was named in a Frontline report of December 25, 2015, as among those responsible for deciding on releasing water from a Chennai reservoir and handling its aftermath. Misra was Commissioner of Revenue Administration at that time. (See That sinking feeling.)
Strangely enough, Udhayanidhi will also be in charge of Special Programme Implementation (SPI), apart from a poverty alleviation programme and battling rural indebtedness, which involve interaction and working with multiple Ministries. In effect, the SPI, which was part of the Chief Minister’s portfolio, and which seeks reports from departments manned by senior Ministers, conveys to the Cabinet the pre-eminent position the son now enjoys in Stalin’s Cabinet.
Udhay to stop acting
The departments given to Udhayanidhi were earlier handled by V. Meyyanathan, who now retains the departments of Environment and Climate Change, apart from being given a new department, that of ex-servicemen’s welfare. Udhayanidhi also told newspersons on December 14 that he would stop acting in movies and that Maamannan would be his last movie. This means that he has dropped plans to act in a movie he had planned with actor-producer Kamal Haasan.
“I will respond to my critics with my work,” he added.
Meanwhile DMK seniors are clamouring for more responsibilities for Udhayanidhi. A day before the swearing-in, Minister K. Ponmudi, who was once chided by Stalin in an oblique manner for his irresponsible comments, told newspersons that Udayanidhi should be made Deputy Chief Minister.
Not to be left out, a respected advocate and DMK Member of Parliament, tweeted: “…The youth of the State have been energised by this new dawn for Tamil Nadu politics. Hope to see you soon as Dy CM [deputy Chief Minister].”
Minister V. Senthil Balaji described his elevation as “the dawn of the future of Tamil Nadu” and “the hope of the youth”, and said that the “breeze of Chepauk [Udhayanidhi’s constituency] will now blow across the State”. He wrote a series of tweets with the theme that Udhayanidhi was the future of Tamil Nadu, and remained a step ahead of Ponmudi in praising the new Minister.
In fact, in an unheard-of demand, a sitting Minister and Udhayanidhi’s friend, Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi, publicly requested Stalin in 2021 that Udhayanidhi be made a Minister. In fact, a resolution was even adopted by the DMK in his district with a demand to make Udhayanidhi a Minister.
In 2022, on Udhayanidhi’s birthday, Anbil Mahesh was much more confident and said that Udhayanidhi would celebrate his next birthday as a Minister.
In 2019, Udayanidhi was made president of the party’s youth wing; he was picked to contest the 2021 Assembly election, and was appointed Minister in 2022. In 2017, Stalin had stated publicly that no one from his family would venture into politics.
In a programme telecast by a popular television channel in 2018, Stalin repeated the same promise. Udhayanidhi too, in a response tweet in May 2011, claimed: “I don’t hav any intention of gettin into politics.” (sic)
In June the same year, he repeated: “Kandippa politics vara maataen” (I certainly won’t enter politics). He repeated this in a few interviews later.
The Hindu reported that in March 2021 that when Udhayanidhi appeared before a DMK Assembly seat selection panel, his father wondered why he had come for the interview. “When he appeared for interview before the panelists, Mr. Stalin, who was present there, wondered why he had come for the interview since he had already been advised not to contest in the election,” a senior DMK source said.
He added: “While other panelists came out in support of Mr. Udhayanidhi, Mr. Stalin put his foot down saying that he could not be given the ticket. Party leaders said Mr. Stalin was not ready to play into the hands of his critics, who have been accusing him of promoting his son in the party.”
The son prevailed. He got the party ticket and won the election.
Udhayanidhi and Stalin
Unlike Udhayanidhi, Stalin did not have it this easy though: he had to wait until 2006, during his fourth term as MLA, to become a Minister in his father, M. Karunanidhi’s Cabinet. By the time Stalin was given a seat in the Cabinet, it was clear that he was the successor to Karunandhi—a process that appears to have been fast-tracked in the case of Udayanidhi.
Even alliance partners of the DMK have been exceedingly supportive of Udhayanidhi being made a Minister. Several alliance leaders and MLAs publicly congratulated him or met him in person to convey their greetings.
The notable voices questioning the choice came from the opposition AIADMK and the BJP. The AIADMK’s interim general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami called the DMK “a corporate company” and claimed that no one except for one family could grow and benefit. Notable DMK critic and former member of the party K.S. Radhakrishnan, said in a tweet that hard work had no place in a party such as the DMK.
In a minor reshuffle, I .Periyasamy, who was smarting under the fact that he was given an insignificant Ministry (Cooperation), has been shifted to Rural Development, one of the most important Ministries in the State. An underprrforming Minister, K.R. Periyakaruppan, has been shifted from Rural Development to Cooperation.
K. Ramachandran, who was reportedly doing slipshod work in the Forests Ministry, has been moved to Tourism, while Tourism Minister M. Mathiventhan has been given charge of Forests. There are minor additions to the portfolios of low-profile Ministers such as S. Muthusamy, R.S. Raja Kannappan, and R. Gandhi.
Sekar Babu, the HR & CE Minister, who has earned accolades from many, has been given additional charge of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Corporation (CMDA), the apex body which oversees development activities and construction in the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA). The CMA was recently expanded to include newer areas, taking into consideration the population growth in Chennai.
Finance Minister Palanivel Thiagarajan has finally got charge of the statistics department, which will help in forecasting demand and allow better allocation of resources.