Udhayanidhi Stalin | Dravidian scion

The DMK leader says the BJP is using his comments on Sanatana Dharma to divert attention from pressing problems such as Manipur violence and corruption

Updated - September 10, 2023 02:48 pm IST

Published - September 10, 2023 02:32 am IST

In a way, Udhayanidhi Stalin, the DMK’s youth wing leader and Minister of Youth Welfare and Sports Development, resembles Athiveeran, the angry hero of the film Maamannan. He announced that the film, depicting casteism that operates as “wheels within the wheels” in political organisations, including the DMK, was his last venture as he had to make himself available for full-time politics. The movie also admits that caste continues to remain a dominant factor in Tamil society in spite of the reform movements and the rule of the Dravidian parties for more than six decades. This is Mr. Udhayanidhi’s message too, though he is fully aware that the party leadership representing intermediate communities would not relish the pro-Dalit theme of the film.

Mr. Udhayanidhi is candid in his views and like his grandfather and late Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, fondly known as Kalaignar, he could speak extempore and take in stride difficult and embarrassing questions from the media. What he lacks is the subtlety of Karunanidhi when it comes to conveying his views on controversial issues. Karunanidhi, in the past, had triggered criticism through his comments on Hindu deities and practices. In the case of Mr. Udhayanidhi, he may be doing it deliberately to score some brownie points over his political rivals.

The DMK and the Dravidar Kazhagam, its parental organisation founded by atheist Periyar, have never made a secret of their opposition to Sanatana Dharma. It has always been part of the narrative of the Dravidian movement. But the shifting sand of politics and the emergence of the BJP in a big way in Indian political scene seem to have triggered a trenchant criticism of Mr. Udhayanidhi’s remarks on Sanatana Dharma. Despite criticisms, however, he has stood his ground. In his latest statement, he accused PM Narendra Modi and his Ministers of invoking the issue to only divert the attention from the killings in Manipur and the ₹7.5 lakh crore financial irregularities pointed out by the CAG in its report.

Mr. Udhayanidhi, unlike his father M.K. Stalin, who waited for more than five decades to reach the summit of his political career, has had a meteoric rise in the party and government. Even though Mr. Stalin had said no member of his family would enter politics, Mr. Udhayanidhi was preparing himself for a political plunge. He made and acted in films as it has always been proved to be a powerful medium and a spring board in Tamil Nadu politics. While the film dialogues penned by DMK leaders, including C.N. Annadurai and Karunanidhi, were loaded with political message for social reforms, Mr. Udhayanidhi’s films were ordinary and meant for entertainment. But they gave him the much need popularity. He started participating party events as well.

Political entry

“I could not avoid politics as I am born into a political family. Can I join some other political party,” he wondered in an interview to The Hindu in 2018. He was also of the opinion that family-connections instead of being an advantage could prove disadvantageous. “In my case, I will always be seen as a scion of a political family and any recognition would be attributed to my family connection and not my work.”

He campaigned for the DMK and its allies in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Holding a brick in his hand, obviously to point out that the BJP government had not moved beyond the act of laying the foundation for AIIMS in Madurai, he made a whirlwind tour of the State. The massive victory of the DMK alliance in the elections, winning 38 of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, paved the way for his political entry. Subsequently, he was appointed the secretary of the DMK’s youth wing.

Even then, it was not clear whether he would be fielded as a party candidate in the 2021 Assembly elections. It was believed that Mr. Stalin, desperate to win the election after a gap of 10 years, was ready to wait. But Mr. Udhayanidhi has gained the control of party organisation in the similar manner Mr. Stalin did during his father’s time. He was fielded in Triplicane-Chepauk, the smallest constituency, so that he could campaign across the State. The DMK won a comfortable majority. Again, Mr. Stalin did not immediately offer him a Cabinet berth. In December 2022, he was accommodated in the Cabinet.

Like most regional political parties that are run by families, the DMK is not an exception. But one thing is clear. At a time when regional parties need ideological clarity, Mr. Udhayanidhi seems to be retaining in him the vestige of the core values of the Dravidian movement, though it often backfires. He does not seem to be intimidated by the criticisms. However, whether he will remain the Athiveeran of Maamannan, who vent his anger on injustice, or make compromises is to be seen.

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