Apparent heir

Published : Jan 23, 2013 14:14 IST

DMK Chief M Karunanidhi and his son MK Stalin at a function in Chennai. A file photograph.

DMK Chief M Karunanidhi and his son MK Stalin at a function in Chennai. A file photograph.

A SENSE of tremendous relief pervades the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, with its president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi clearing the air on who will succeed him in the party. On January 6 he declared that “if I, as an individual, were to get an opportunity, I would propose only Stalin’s name” for the DMK leadership, putting an end to the sibling rivalry between his elder son, M.K. Alagiri, and his younger son, M.K. Stalin, about who should succeed him. Although there was no doubt for several years that Stalin would be Karunanidhi’s preferred choice, informed sources in the DMK said such an announcement now was the “need of the hour”, that he did so out of “compelling circumstances”, and that “an emergent situation had pushed him into doing so”.

Stalin is the DMK treasurer and Alagiri is the party’s organising secretary for the southern districts in Tamil Nadu. Their half-sister Kanimozhi is a Rajya Sabha member. Alagiri is also the Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. The DMK is a constituent of the UPA.

Several factors have led to Karunanidhi naming his successor in the party now. Informed sources in the party said top party leaders had told the 89-year-old leader that if he did not name Stalin to succeed him when he was alive, the party might split later, with Alagiri making a determined attempt to capture party leadership. Another reason the sources cited was that the DMK president wanted the entire party to be with Stalin before party elections were held at various levels, from the village (branch) tier to the district secretaries’ level. The election process has already begun with the renewal of membership cards of the cadre. Third, Karunanidhi wanted Stalin to be fully in command of the DMK before the party faced the Lok Sabha elections, due in April 2014. Besides, a communal lobby was building up to project Kanimozhi for a top party slot. Further, the “roughshod” manner of Alagiri has not endeared him to the majority of the DMK cadres and leaders. Also, Karunanidhi’s family members were keen that the announcement on his choice of Stalin should be a birthday gift to Stalin, who will turn 60 in March. Plans are on to organise a “mani vizha” (60th birthday celebrations) for him.

There is virtually no opposition to Stalin succeeding Karunanidhi as party president. Veerapandi S. Arumugam, the DMK’s powerful Salem district secretary and former Minister, who had opposed Stalin’s succession, died in November 2012. Ko.Si. Mani, another party stalwart, who never warmed up to the idea of Stalin succeeding his father, is inactive because of poor health.

While Stalin is delighted that his father has declared him heir apparent, there is nothing Alagiri can do. Karunanidhi’s family members reportedly told Alagiri to be silent or face the prospect of being sidelined in the party. Although Alagiri is the DMK’s organising secretary for the southern districts, only a few district secretaries have thrown in their lot with him. They include Madurai Rural district secretary P. Murthy and his Theni district counterpart L. Mookaiah.

Alagiri’s initial reaction was sarcastic. “The DMK is not a [religious] mutt,” he said. “I am not saying this. The DMK president has said this. Even Stalin has given an interview to a journal to this effect. If you have any doubts, read the interview,” Alagiri said. His remarks were in reference to Karunanidhi’s repeated sallies, in response to reporters’ questions, that “the DMK is not a Sankara mutt” for him to nominate a successor but a democratic organisation where its General Council, the top policymaking body, elected the president and the general secretary after party elections were held at all levels.

Stalin’s career A feud has been simmering between the two brothers for the past several years on the question of succession to the top party post. Karunanidhi had made his preference abundantly clear by systematically grooming Stalin. A youth wing (which did not exist earlier) was created in the DMK, and Stalin headed it. To this day, he is the youth wing secretary although he is touching 60. He was the directly elected Mayor of the Chennai Municipal Corporation from 1996 to 2001. From 2006 to 2011, he was the Local Administration and Rural Development Minister in the Karunanidhi Cabinet. In 2008, he became the party’s treasurer. In May the next year, Stalin became the Deputy Chief Minister. In 2011, he was elected to the Assembly from the Kolathur constituency in Chennai. Earlier, in 1989, 1996, 2001 and 2006, he was elected legislator from the Thousand Lights constituency in Chennai.

A tireless worker, he has been systematically touring Tamil Nadu, meeting party leaders and cadres, and forging a rapport with them. As the situation obtains today, almost all the DMK secretaries are with him. Although Stalin’s detractors say that the DMK high command has studiously created an “image that the entire party is with him”, there is no denying the fact that an overwhelming section of the party wants Stalin to head it.

Despite Karunanidhi indicating repeatedly that Stalin would take over the party reins from him and even announcing on an occasion that his younger son would be given “a bigger responsibility”, the DMK president had desisted from openly naming him as his heir apparent. Despite his advancing age, Karunanidhi’s inexplicable reluctance to name Stalin as his successor had sharpened the divide between the brothers and led to a turf war.

It was against this backdrop that Karunanidhi floated a trial balloon on January 3 in Chennai. On the occasion of several hundreds of Dalit youth from the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) from Vellore district joining the DMK, the former Chief Minister spoke on how the DMK, when it ruled the State, had built a memorial for Dr B.R. Ambedkar in Chennai and established a law university in his name. Karunanidhi then told the Dalit youth: “All of you have entrusted yourself with the DMK. I welcome you. I will work, as long as I am alive, for society’s uplift and welfare. The question, therefore, arises who will do so after me and you should not forget that the answer is Stalin, who is seated here.”

Newspapers and television channels went to town, claiming that Karunanidhi had named Stalin as his successor in the DMK. DMK leaders, however, said the import of the party president’s remarks was not to anoint Stalin as his political successor but Karunanidhi had merely mentioned that Stalin would take over from him the task of working for the welfare of society. But the media had interpreted the DMK leader’s remarks to signify that he had named Stalin as his political successor, they said.

In fact, on January 6, when Karunanidhi met reporters after the meeting of the party’s district secretaries in Chennai, he criticised the “mischievous reporting” done by the press. He asserted that “I did not mention that Stalin would become the DMK president after me”. He said: “The occasion was 2,000 Dalits from the PMK coming over [to the DMK]. When I touched on society’s welfare during my speech on the occasion, I merely said that Stalin would continue to work, after me, in implementing my progressive and egalitarian social views. I did not mention that Stalin would become the DMK president after me.”

Clears the air But Karunanidhi quickly seized the occasion to clear the air. He asserted: “The DMK is a democratic organisation. In the party headquarters’ elections, if one wants to contest for the post of the president or the general secretary, somebody should propose his name and he should be elected by a majority of the members of the General Council. I am telling you now. If I, as an individual, were to get such an opportunity, I would use that opportunity and propose only Stalin’s name. The general secretary [K. Anbazhagan] had already proposed Stalin’s name and I am just seconding his proposal.” But a General Council meeting could not be called on one’s whims and fancies, Karunanidhi said. After the party elections were held at various levels, the General Council would meet to elect the party headquarters’ office-bearers such as the president and the general secretary, he explained.

When a reporter asked the DMK president whether it was “not wrong” on his part “to project Stalin when Alagiri wants to become the party president”, Karunanidhi replied, “Everything will take place as per norms —who wants to contest when the General Council meets, who will propose and second them, and so on.”

However, when another reporter reminded him that he had said he would propose, if he were to get an opportunity, Stalin’s name and whether Karunanidhi would, therefore, ask Alagiri not to block Stalin’s chances of getting elected, Karunanidhi declared, “The DMK is not a dictatorial apparatus. It is a democratic party. If I propose Stalin’s name, even a member from the DMK branch (village level) has got the right to contest against Stalin. This is the DMK.”

Karunanidhi’s unequivocal assertion has brought relief to DMK leaders and cadres, the majority of whom are with Stalin. Ninety-year-old Anbazhagan, DMK general secretary, has declared several times that he has no qualms about accepting Stalin’s leadership. Kanimozhi is happy at the turn of events. However, Stalin may have to wait for more than a year before he can formally get elected as the party president. The General Council, according to norms, is scheduled to meet only in March 2014 after the party elections at various levels are completed.

“Karunanidhi wants the party to be fully with Stalin. So our leader jumped the gun and made the announcement before the party elections got under way,” said a DMK leader. Besides, Karunanidhi was in a mood to take rest. “He does not want any speculation to build up. So he gave a clear message that Stalin was the right choice,” said another leader.

The DMK district secretaries’ meeting on January 6, when Karunanidhi made his predilection for Stalin known, was expressly convened to discuss the party’s strategy to face the Lok Sabha elections and to collect funds to finance the campaign. At the meeting, informed sources said, a number of district secretaries spoke against the DMK continuing its alliance with the Congress for the Lok Sabha elections. They preferred the DMK to stitch up an alliance with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) led by actor Vijayakant, the Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (Dalit Panthers), the Muslim League and, if possible, the two Left parties.

An atmosphere of mistrust exists between the Congress and the DMK. While the DMK is worried that the Congress might hive off the DMK from the UPA because Congress leaders such as P. Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi and E.V.K.S. Ilangovan are not in favour of the Congress continuing its alliance with the DMK, the Congress is worried that the DMK might show it the door. The Congress is warming up to the DMDK.

AIADMK to go it alone Meanwhile, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s announcement on December 31, 2012, that her party would align neither with the Congress nor with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the Lok Sabha elections caused a stir in political circles. Addressing the party’s General Council, she said both the Congress, which was in power at the Centre, and the BJP, which was the ruling party in Karnataka, were keen that Tamil Nadu should not get its due share of water from the Cauvery river. “As far as we are concerned, we should chart out and determine our own future. All of us should realise that we should be dependent neither on the BJP nor on the Congress. If we have to win Tamil Nadu’s rights and prevent the Cauvery delta districts in the State from turning into a desert, we should contest alone, win all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and be in a position to take decisions at the Centre,” she said.

Leaders and cadres of the AIADMK, however, feel Jayalalithaa’s position that their party should not ally itself either with the BJP or with the Congress does not make political sense. “She thinks that she can repeat in 2014 the AIADMK’s landslide victory in the Assembly elections and the local polls, both held in 2011, and dictate terms at the Centre. But the Lok Sabha elections will be a different kettle of fish, with an electricity famine stalking the State, a looming drought, and scarcity of water,” one of the leaders said.

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