Udhayanidhi, Prince of DMK, Heir to Stalin: Did Tamil Nadu Voters Expect This?
Udhyanidhi Stalin's rise to Tamil Nadu minister has the full backing of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders.
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Udhayanidhi Stalin becoming a minister in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin's cabinet has elicited sharp criticism from the state's Opposition. While the Opposition – All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – accused the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of "nepotism" and "dynasty politics," in Tamil Nadu, Udhayanidhi's rise to power has not raised much alarm.
Reason? The DMK has thrown their weight behind Udhayanidhi. From senior party leaders to local-level cadre, the DMK unanimously decided on Udhayanidhi's fate and gave him a chance at governance. Secondly, the party thinks Udhayanidhi's times are different from that of Stalin, who had to wait in his father and former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's shadow for five decades, before getting a shot at helming electoral politics in Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin's son and Chepauk-Thiruvellikeni MLA Udhayanidhi Stalin was sworn in as state minister and took over the portfolios Youth Welfare, Sports Development, Special Programme Implementation and Poverty Alleviation Programme and Rural Indebtedness on Wednesday, 14 December.
The Difference Between Udhayanidhi and MK Stalin
Udhayanidhi being entrusted with a minister's role in such short time, is predictably being compared to his father's long journey to prominence.
Stalin rose from the ranks of a humble general council member of the DMK to the Chief Minister's role, in a political career that spanned over 50 years.
On the way, he was elected five times to the Legislative Assembly as an MLA, making him an electoral force in the state, in his own right. Stalin also became the Mayor of Chennai, his first stint in an elected administrative office. After that, he became the Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
Within the DMK, Stalin was the youth wing secretary first and the party treasurer later. He was elevated to the role of the working president when his father retreated to a quiet life, away from the political scene.
In a nutshell, Stalin had to wait patiently, while Udhayanidhi got fast-tracked into the role of minister.
However, the DMK leadership thinks Karunanidhi had other calculations in mind, when he made Stalin wait.
"There were senior leaders who were in line at the time. There were also young leaders who had to be rewarded. Kalaignar (M Karunanidhi) felt it was better for him (Stalin) to learn the ropes and get the support of the party before becoming a state minister," a senior party leader TKS Ilangovan told The Quint.
Besides, Karunanidhi also had to deal with MK Alagiri, his other son, who had also shown an inclination towards politics. Udhayanidhi, on the other hand, is an uncontested leader in the DMK, senior leaders told The Quint.
"He worked for the party in both 2019 (Lok Sabha) and 2021 (Assembly) elections. As the youth leader, he proved his mettle. His role in films too made him a familiar face to Tamil people," a senior leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. Udhayanidhi is also a recognised actor and producer in Tamil Nadu's film industry.
But why would the DMK's confidence in Udhayanidhi translate to an acceptance for the 47-year-old among Tamil voters?
Tamil Nadu Is OK with 'Political Heirs'
In Tamil Nadu, legacy politics has always been the norm. The state has had two major regional political parties – DMK and AIADMK – ruling it ever since CN Annadurai of the DMK became the CM in 1969, after he wrested the electorate from the Indian National Congress' grip.
Both the DMK and AIADMK nominated political heirs, to keep the electorate happy, when the top leaders headed towards retirement, political oblivion or demise. Mostly, the political heirs were also intellectual heirs.
For instance, in DMK, after CN Annadurai the next leader in line was M Karunanidhi, who became the political and intellectual heir of the party. Karunanidhi, who was the cofounder the DMK, took over the mantle in 1969, the year he first became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Similarly, in AIADMK, after MG Ramachandran (MGR) became Chief Minister in 1980, the party got an heir in J Jayalalithaa. She was made the Chief Minister in 1996, first.
However, as Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa attained cult status, with both getting to be chief minister five times each, a younger leadership had to rise. "In the DMK, Stalin was in waiting. In the AIADMK, there was no undisputed leader to take over the role and this pushed the party into a crisis soon after Jayalalithaa's demise," a source close to AIADMK told The Quint. The AIADMK, however, has now come to an interim conclusion that Edappadi Palaniswamy would be the party's face.
However, with a leadership crisis continuing in AIADMK (O Pannerselvam and Edappadi Palaniswamy are still fighting it out legally), the Tamil Nadu electorate was waiting for a new leader to emerge.
"Tamil Nadu voters have always looked for good political heirs to come up. It has not mattered how the internal transfer of power took place within a party. What always mattered was the confidence with which the power was transferred. We do not think Udhayanidhi's rise to a minister's role will be rejected by the electorate."TKS Elangovan, DMK
In comparative terms, Udhayanidhi has also travelled the same route as Stalin had. He was first inducted into the party as a regular member and then went on to become youth secretary. From there he became an MLA and now, he has been sworn in a minister. However, this journey took place over the last ten years.
"If a leader from a political family is to rise above others, then it is a clear case of nepotism. The electorate will realise this," K Annamalai, State President of the BJP had said, asking for accountability from the DMK. Can the BJP and AIADMK convince the electorate to vote against "dynasty politics?"
Rejection at the polls seems unlikely as the DMK inducted Udhayanidhi to his new role only four years after its resounding victory in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and just over a year after its victory in 2021 Assembly elections.
"There are many leaders, including those in AIADMK and the BJP, whose kith and kin have paved ways for them. Why will the electorate, which has already accepted and voted for Udhayanidhi, reject him or the DMK, now?" asked Ilangovan.
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