Seated at a table, with TV cameras before him, MK Alagiri spoke to the media on Thursday in Madurai. It did not take long for his supporters standing behind him to realise that unless they bent down, they wouldn’t show in the frame, only their stomachs would.
So one by one, each one of them smiling sheepishly, bent their backs in an uncomfortable manner, just to be seen behind Alagiri.
From Big Brother to Bending Over
The manner in which his supporters behaved was a visual representation of Alagiri's politics. Climbing down from his earlier Big Brother attitude, Alagiri is now willing to bend, to have his way. He says he will accept MK Stalin as his leader if he is readmitted into the DMK. The desperation of the man, once celebrated as the Madurai strongman, is showing.
The challenger has put down his arms, willing to surrender without conditions and be an ordinary cadre.
Not that he is not holding out the threat of the 5 September rally in Chennai. Next week, Alagiri plans to march to his father M Karunanidhi's final resting place at the Marina beach in a show of strength. The symbolism of Alagiri, the man from Madurai marching into Chennai, designated within the DMK as Stalin's territory, was not lost on anyone. The anti-DMK political players looked at the prospect of the DMK’s first family washing its dirty linen in public with relish.
Low Chance of Stalin Changing His Mind
But Alagiri's brag of having one lakh people march behind him is not convincing any more. More so, after the manner in which all the 65 district secretaries of the DMK proposed Stalin's name for the party president's post this week. Alagiri knows if he manages to organise the crowd, the optics will at best give him a temporary lease of life in the Tamil news media.
But it is highly unlikely to make Stalin change his mind. In fact, a good show will further hamper his purpose of returning to the party.
Two weeks is a long time in politics. At that time, standing at Karunanidhi's samadhi, Alagiri had spoken about how the “true and loyal followers'” of Karunanidhi are with him. Ahead of Stalin's coronation, it was seen as the big crack in the DMK first family and the narrative started getting constructed about how Alagiri was threatening to break up the party.
Stalin let his party do the talking. It was obvious to anyone watching the proceedings at the DMK headquarters in Chennai on Tuesday, that his control over the party was absolute, and there was no way Stalin was going to let Alagiri get a share of the political pie.
DMK Top Brass Not Keen on Alagiri’s Return
A parallel story has been playing out in the living room of late Karunanidhi's Gopalapuram residence as well. In the days after Karunanidhi passed away, Alagiri tried to lobby with his family members to seek readmission into the DMK. Sister Selvi who claimed she had been entrusted the responsibility of keeping the family together by Karunanidhi, was the one taking the lead to see that her brothers stayed together. But Stalin made it clear, that a return to the party was non-negotiable.
To add political heft to his decision, step sister Kanimozhi and the Maran brothers were on his side.
Privately, to his supporters in Madurai, Alagiri has been cribbing about how he should have made renewed efforts to return when his father was in good health. Stalin's position is that he sees no reason to change his father's decision, and sees Alagiri's brand of brash politics a liability in this age of social media, and especially at a time when the DMK is trying to present a more people-friendly image.
But even while the top leadership of the DMK is not keen on Alagiri’s return, sections of the party are a bit apprehensive, and not without reason.
In 2001, Alagiri was suspended by Karunanidhi for anti-party activities. The son extracted revenge in the assembly election that followed. Alagiri is believed to have played a part in the defeat of DMK candidates in his backyard. Among them, was DMK senior leader PTR Palanivel Rajan, who was Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly between 1996 and 2001. He lost by 708 votes from the Madurai West constituency.
Has Alagiri Played His Political Cards Wrong?
Though a lot of water has flown in the Cauvery between 2001 and 2018 and Alagiri is no longer the force he was 17 years ago, no one wants to underestimate his instincts to play a spoilsport.
Has Alagiri played his political cards wrong? Yes.
Ideally he should have bided his time instead of behaving like a petulant son within a week of his father's demise. A more crafty politician would have waited for Stalin to falter electorally, to target him. By showing his desperation, Alagiri has revealed he has no aces up his sleeve.
Will he be tapped by parties opposed to the DMK? Quite likely, but then, even they would have realised by now that his ability to do mischief is limited. The diehard DMK voter will choose to stick with the party, and the anti-DMK voter in any case has a plethora of options to choose from. Alagiri has been reduced to a soundbite spewing ‘has-been’ politician.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)