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Tamil Nadu 2021: Will Stalin’s Decision to Prop Up Son Harm DMK?

From being dubbed a party run by Karunanidhi & Sons, the DMK seems all set to become a party run by Stalin & Son.

Updated
Opinion
3 min read
Image of the Stalin father and son duo used for representational purposes.
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The star in the DMK’s list of 173 candidates for the 2021 assembly elections, announced in Chennai on Friday, is party president MK Stalin’s actor son Udhayanidhi. The 43-year-old producer and actor has built a coterie for himself within the party and was adamant for a ticket in the assembly polls.

Stalin seems to have given in to pressure from his son despite senior party leaders and strategists holding the view that the projection of Udhayanidhi at this stage would send a wrong signal to the electorate, reiterating that the party is ‘under the grip’ of the Stalin family.

Stamp of a Stalin Family Rule — And Discontentment Among Cadre

The concerns stemmed from the fact that is a make-or-break election for the party —which has been out of power since 2011— and the fact that Stalin himself has not established his credentials of leading it to an assembly election victory.

They wanted the focus to be on Stalin becoming chief minister for the first time, and not the next succession saga in the grand old Dravidian party.

However, none of that prevented the stamp of a Stalin family rule and it is only reiterated in the fact that Udhayanidhi will contest from the Chepauk-Triplicane constituency which was once held by his grandfather and late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi for three terms (1996- 2011).

In fact, last year there was discontent after Udhayanidhi Stalin’s photo was placed on party posters in Chennai.

This was even though Stalin had issued a clear directive that party posters should not carry photos of anyone other than himself, his father and late party president M Karunanidhi, party founder CN Annadurai and father of the Dravidian movement Periyar.

Udhayanidhi’s photos on posters led to questions on whether he was an exception to the rule. Further, Udhayanidhi is the managing director of the party mouthpiece ‘Murasoli’, and his rise in the party is seen as an assertion that — in the event of a victory — he would emerge as the next-in-charge to Stalin.

This a daunting thought — even for a party that embraced Stalin and endorsed rule by the Karunanidhi family — because there are key differences between the rise of Stalin and that of Udhayanidhi.
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Stalin Doesn’t Have His Father’s Stature, Projecting His Son At This Stage is a Mistake

Firstly, Stalin spent several years with the rank and file before being elected as an MLA in 1989. However, Udhayanidhi is a recent phenomenon, and his only claim to fame is visibility through Tamil cinema.

Secondly, and more importantly, M Karunanidhi was a three-time chief minister and a veteran who led the party for nearly two decades through some of its worst times, when he scripted Stalin’s political entry.

Even before Stalin could contest an election there was a rebellion in the party that led to the exit of powerful leaders like Vaiko in 1993. They had opposed the prospect of dynasty rule, and Karunanidhi had to carefully curate a foundation for his son.

Stalin certainly does not have the stature of his father and projecting his son at this stage only weakens his credibility, and that of his party.

He may have a grip over the party today and force his wishes, but his hold and ability has not been tested by electoral defeats.

Ironically, Stalin was the adamant son once and now seems to be at the receiving end. He had controlled his ageing father over the last two decades and even restricted access to the veteran during his last few years.

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Udhayanidhi Could Follow in His Father’s Footsteps & Quash Dissent

In the 2016 elections, Stalin was completely in charge of the party and he ensured that the other siblings fell in line. Party leaders who represented even a semblance of a threat had to leave.

In 2021, Udhayanidhi seems to have learnt a trick or two in asserting himself with his father and may operate in a similar manner with any competitors or challengers within.

As far as these elections are concerned, the opposition, AIADMK, had already launched a strong social media campaign highlighting the DMK as a party under the grip of regressive dynasty rule. That campaign will only gain strength with the entry of Udhayanidhi. It certainly will be an issue before the electorate.

The DMK is worried about whether Stalin’s rising son will turn out to be an albatross around the president and party of the rising sun.

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . 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)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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