DMK’s Son-Rise: MK Stalin to Take Over the Reins From Karunanidhi

From the political climb within DMK to keeping his brother MK Alagiri at bay – who is MK Stalin?

3 min read
MK Stalin is all set to become the DMK President. 

Anyone can wield power, but in India’s dynastic politics, only the forbearing command it. It is finally time for the DMK to witness a son-rise as MK Stalin, referred to as 'Thalapathy' (commander) by his party cadre, is set to take over the reins after his father, M Karunanidhi, breathed his last on 7 August.

Stalin will become the party President unopposed as he was the only person who filed the nomination on Sunday, 26 August.

As he prepares to lead the DMK to the Lok Sabha election next year for the first time without the towering shadow of his father, here is who Stalin is and why he is the more accepted heir to the chair.


Named After Soviet Dictator, Joseph Stalin

Born to Karunanidhi and his second wife Dayalu Ammal on 1 March 1953, Stalin was named after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin who died four days after his birth. Although not traditionally considered heir material, by the end of 2013 it was clear that Karunanidhi wanted him to be his political successor.

Stalin completed his graduation in history from The New College, Chennai in University of Madras. At the age of 15, he had started campaigning for the DMK although the template for a successful Dravidian leader was set by Karunanidhi and former chief minister MG Ramachandran.

Stalin’s Political Climb

By the mid 1970s, Stalin had taken to politics full-time during the political struggle triggered by the Emergency. Reports claimed that a DMK worker died while trying to protect Stalin from a brutal thrashing by the police when he was put in jail under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA).

Elected to the Tamil Nadu Assembly four times since 1989 from the Thousand Lights constituency in Chennai, Stalin went on to become the city's first directly elected Mayor in 1996. He was later elected to the Assembly twice from the Kolathur Assembly in 2011 and 2016.

Stalin became the Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration in the Government of Tamil Nadu after the 2006 Assembly elections. On 29 May 2009, Stalin was nominated as Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu by Governor Surjit Singh Barnala.

Brothers in Contrast and Contest

Reports of rivalry within the family have been ripe over the decades. While stepsister Kanimozhi is said to be content playing second fiddle in the party, Stalin’s elder brother MK Alagiri’s unhappiness at the party’s political succession is not unknown.

While Alagiri was initially despatched to southern Tamil Nadu to keep emerging rival Jayalalitha at bay, experts believe that Stalin was undertaking a major internal clean-up to put his men at important positions in the party. Alagiri was finally expelled from the party in 2014 for his anti-party activities and speaking against party leaders, including Stalin.

In February 2017, Stalin was appointed as the working president of the party with a ‘rising sun’ symbol and he has been diligently promoting women’s self help groups and cultural forums in the state.


Although Stalin lacks the colour and charisma of his father, with the lessons of political history learnt well, does the son's rise mean a brighter day for DMK in the upcoming elections?

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