Not yet time to write off Alagiri: Observers

Alagiri no longer commands loyalty from those who matter – the party district and zonal secretaries. Most of them have switched over to the Stalin camp.

Updated - September 02, 2016 11:14 am IST

Published - November 01, 2015 08:46 am IST - Chennai / Madurai

 For INDEX, Madurai, 07/10/2010. : M.K. Alagiri, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizer.-Photo:S_James

For INDEX, Madurai, 07/10/2010. : M.K. Alagiri, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizer.-Photo:S_James

Despite DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin strengthening his hold on the party’s southern base by populating his loyalists in the organisational structure, observers feel the game may not yet be over for his older sibling and ex-Madurai strongman M.K. Alagiri.

At the ground level Alagiri no longer commands loyalty from those who matter – the party district and zonal secretaries. Most of them have switched over to the Stalin camp, having realised that DMK president M Karunanidhi is no mood to pardon his wayward son. A few loyalists like Isakkimuthu, a veteran functionary from Madurai, alone believe that their  Anja Nenjan  (brave heart) would still call the shots in south Tamil Nadu.

Notwithstanding this organisational reality, observers are unwilling to write Alagiri’s political epitaph considering the unpredictable ways of the DMK first family. In the past, Karunanidhi had given in to familial emotions to rehabilitate the Madurai rebel.

Career highs

Career lows

Held together the DMK cadres in south Tamil Nadu when Vaiko broke ranks with Karunanidhi in 1993 and floated the MDMK.

Arrested in connection with the murder of Madurai-based senior DMK functionary Tha. Kiruttinan in 2003. Though he was acquitted, his public image took a beating.

Helped the DMK win three successive Assembly by-elections in southern Tamil Nadu during 2008 and 2009.

In May 2007, when Tamil daily Dinakaran published a survey result projecting him as a poor successor to the party leadership than his brother Stalin, his supporters set fire to the newspaper’s office in Madurai killing three employees.

Ensured the victory of nine out of the 10 candidates fielded by the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance in south Tamil Nadu in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Alagiri himself made a debut in Parliament.

As Union Chemicals Minister between 2009 and 2014, he failed to attend Parliament on most days leading to critics lampooning him across the country.

“It is too early to judge. In southern districts, Alagiri has certain influence and this could play a subtle role during the campaign and polling (in the next Assembly elections). His impact is high within the family than in the party,” argues Prof. Ramu Manivannan of the University of Madras’ Department of Politics. In that context, he sees Stalin’s ongoing road show as not just an outreach programme but also as an effort to pre-empt any other force from emerging taller than him within the party.

“How the Alagiri factor could play out is unpredictable. Karunanidhi has failed to categorically declare Stalin as the successor to his political throne. That itself is an indication that it is all not completely over. Past experience shows a patch up (within the family) can’t be ruled out,” contends Prof. C Lakshmanan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

He argues that the influence wielded by Alagiri by virtue of the solid backing he received within the party over the years cannot die down overnight. However, it is unlikely that Alagiri will remain a major disruptive force electorally.

A former MLA from Theni district says that though Alagiri may not have big support from the rank and file today, he could tilt the results in some constituencies. Still some party men invite him for private functions.

Alagiri was sent to Madurai in the 1980s by his father M. Karunanidhi to handle the DMK mouthpiece Murasoli’s edition there. While Murasoli failed, Alagiri flourished politically with the blessings of the party leadership. His younger brother M K Stalin, who had taken up party work early on in life, began to emerge as a political figure in Chennai engaging particularly with the youth.Unlike Stalin, he stayed away from contesting elections and occupying party post till 2009. Instead, he built a coterie around himself and managed to secure party tickets for them to contest Assembly and Parliamentary elections. As a de facto power centre in south Tamil Nadu, he sidelined stalwarts in the DMK like Tha. Kiruttinan and P.T.R. Palanivel Rajan. His loyalists started addressing him with the sobriquet ‘Anja Nenjan’ (Brave Heart).In September 2000, the party high command directed cadres not to have any truck with Alagiri after three DMK district secretaries boycotted the party’s Mupperum Vizha at his behest. In the Assembly elections next year, Alagiri fielded rebels and ensured the defeat of over a dozen DMK candidates including P.T.R Palanivel Rajan. But after a few months he was ‘pardoned’ by the leadership and resumed his growth journey.His political fortunes peaked in 2009 when he ensured the victory of the DMK candidate by a huge margin in the by-election to the Thirumangalam Assembly constituency. Accusations of money flow led to the birth of a new electoral vocabulary ‘Thirumangalam Formula’. Karunanidhi rewarded Alagiri making him the party south zone organising secretary. He began to develop political ambitions, contested the Parliamentary elections and became Union Minister for Chemicals in 2009.The Madurai strongman’s hold on the party started weakening since the DMK’s defeat in the 2011 Assembly polls. At one point he was unable to digest the rise of his brother Stalin and in January 2014 allegedly told his father that the former would die within three months prompting Karunanidhi to expel him from the party. Almost all his loyalists switched over to the Stalin camp making him a non-entity within the party.
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