Riveting drama, sudden denouement. All eyes on the next move of the expelled leader, but he might wait and watch

So finally, M.K. Alagiri was expelled from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on Tuesday. But what was the urgency?

The “carrot-and-stick” approach adopted by DMK president, M. Karunanidhi, toward his defiant but politically astute elder son, a former Union Minister, ceased to work at a time when the electoral battle is on.

The party is not new to expulsions and splits since its inception in 1949 — a split engineered by E.V.K. Sampath in the early 1960s; expulsion of the charismatic actor and leader M.G. Ramachandran in October 1972 that led to the birth of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam; desertion of the party by “Navalar” Nedunchezhiyan who joined MGR; and Vaiko’s expulsion in November 1993 that spawned the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

But in Mr. Alagiri’s case, sibling rivalry with his younger brother, M.K. Stalin, is the reason.

Mr. Karunanidhi has been facing charges of promoting dynastic politics. But Mr. Stalin’s track record shows he has worked his finger to the bone, standing with the DMK’s ups and downs from an early age, and fought his way up the party hierarchy. His five-year stint as Chennai Mayor from 1996 is one strand that enabled his ascendancy in the party until he became Deputy Chief Minister in 2009 and party treasurer even before in December 2008. Now after Mr. Alagiri’s expulsion, Mr. Stalin is “virtually in complete control” of the DMK, party sources say.

Kalaignarin maganaaga Stalin peranthathu, avaradhu kuttram alla (Stalin cannot be faulted for being born the son of Karunanidhi),” party general secretary K. Anbazhagan had said not long ago in the hope that a family rapprochement was still possible and Mr. Alagiri could utilise his “dynamic grassroots capabilities” to consolidate the DMK’s electoral gains in southern Tamil Nadu in the past 15 years or so.

Mr. Alagiri, however, has not covered himself with glory what with the “Tirumangalam formula” of winning a by-election by paying voters. And though he might have made his presence felt in New Delhi, he took no care in being regular in Parliament.

In a competing landscape for the DMK in the national capital, as Mr. Karunanidhi could not find the right successor to Murasoli Maran to articulate the party’s interests in Delhi’s corridors of power, Mr. Alagiri had an edge over his half-sister, Kanimozhi and the former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran. This enabled him to leverage his bargaining power in the DMK organisation back home. No wonder, several Lok Sabha contenders across parties, including the Congress and the BJP, were queuing up before his house to get his support. Mr. Vaiko triggered that surprise, sufficient for the DMK top brass in Chennai to see the writing on the wall.

Perhaps, this is where Mr. Alagiri’s calculation went wrong, for in the DMK it is the party organisation that is supreme, a crucial factor that explains even Mr. Karunanidhi’s amazing ability to soldier on at 90 as the party chief. In the past few months, when the lower-level organisational elections were on (they have now been put on hold till the completion of the Lok Sabha election), Mr. Alagiri had been at the receiving end, as almost all district secretaries and former Ministers rallied behind Mr. Stalin, the DMK’s star campaigner now.

Mr. Alagiri is not to be written off as a spent force and party seniors know that. But if he tries to float a new party, it “will be suicidal for him,” reasons a senior functionary. After having lambasted the DMK in recent weeks for the “death of democracy” in the party and even charging it with grave irregularities in the selection of candidates, Mr. Alagiri would rather wait and watch, without making any explicit moves, to see if his predictions come true on May 16, the day the election results will be out.

Mr. Alagiri’s stance of “fighting it out in the court to seek justice” indicates that mood. Mr. Karunanidhi must be having the last laugh as these pre-poll events play out the proverbial ‘Occam’s razor’ — “not to have more entities than what is necessary.”

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