The suspension of M.K. Alagiri from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is a short-term remedy for what is clearly a deeper, longstanding problem for the party. Mr. Alagiri, the elder son of party patriarch M. Karunanidhi, has an infinite capacity to create trouble in the organisation if only because he is a member of the party’s first family. This is the latest of several situations over the last few years in which he has fallen out of favour with the leadership. In 2000, the DMK leadership asked partymen not to have any links with him in view of his anti-party activities. At the time, Mr. Alagiri managed to leverage his familial connections to return to a truly powerful role in the DMK. For this very reason, his close supporters and loyalists are unlikely to desert him in this time of crisis. But with the Lok Sabha election only months away, DMK president Mr. Karunanidhi and his likely successor, the younger son M.K. Stalin, could not afford to remain silent in the wake of a series of provocative actions by Mr. Alagiri. Besides declaring that he would not accept Mr. Stalin as party leader, Mr. Alagiri attacked the actor-politician Vijayakanth, leader of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, one of the potential allies of the DMK. After Mr. Alagiri stayed away from the general council meeting of the party, his faction came out with posters announcing another “general council” meeting of the party on January 30 without any authorisation, a move that was seen by Mr. Karunanidhi and Mr. Stalin as political mischief. Any further delay in taking action would only have emboldened Mr. Alagiri’s loyalists in Madurai and other southern districts. The factionalism gained a new edge with some of the Alagiri faction members filing cases against supporters of Mr. Stalin under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The party was already split for all practical purposes, and the general election would have witnessed further confusion among its workers and supporters.

While the suspension sends a strong signal to the party that Mr. Alagiri’s behaviour was clearly out of line, it cannot counter the potential of the rebel faction to create divisions . However, little else could have been done at this moment. In the ongoing struggle between the two brothers for political power, there can be only one winner. At present Mr. Stalin clearly enjoys the support of the vast majority in the organisation, but Mr. Alagiri is unwilling to play second fiddle. There are no obvious paths to a compromise in such a situation. Far from ending the DMK’s troubles stemming from this unhealthy sibling rivalry, the suspension merely marks a new phase in a high-stakes fight.

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