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What next for the DMK after Karunanidhi

What is it?

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi led the party for 50 years, won all the elections he contested and occupied the seat of Chief Minister for five terms. When he died last week, experts said that an era in Dravidian politics had drawn to a close. For Karunanidhi, his meticulously cultivated image loomed over others, contributing to the sidelining of democracy even in party affairs. The same can be said of M.G.Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa, the former leaders of the AIADMK. Karunanidhi’s death has left a vacuum and there is likely to be problems in succession, though the situation is vastly different from what had happened in the AIADMK after the death of Jayalalithaa.

How did it come about?

In the DMK, Karunanidhi was able to outmanoeuvre all his contemporaries after the death of party founder C.N. Annadurai and gradually gained control. It put an end to a team of leaders — V.R. Nedunchezhian, N.V. Natarajan and K.A. Mathiazhagan — who had enjoyed an equally privileged status in the organisation. A few of the sidelined leaders threw their weight behind MGR when he launched the AIADMK. For many years, district secretaries held the key to the DMK, and their importance is explained by Tiruchi district secretary Anbil Dharmalingam’s response to the district magistrate. When asked to reveal his identity, he just told the magistrate that he was the district secretary of the DMK. “I am like a District Collector,” he said.

But the DMK had to change its tactics after 18 district secretaries rallied behind Vaiko following his expulsion from the party in 1993. It evolved a strategy that effectively limited the clout of district secretaries. DMK working president M.K. Stalin started controlling the jugular vein of the organisation even when his father was alive, and the district secretaries are his staunch loyalists. He called Mr. Stalin as the embodiment of “hard work,” but Karunanidhi’s delay in handing over the mantle to him left him at a slight disadvantage. Though a handful, including his elder brother Alagiri, pose a challenge to his leadership, Mr. Stalin has to prove his mettle as many factors play out on the ground.

Why does it matter?

The DMK is facing a situation akin to the one that existed during MGR’s rule. As long as MGR was alive, the DMK was not able to capture power in the State. The AIADMK has kept the DMK out of power for seven years, and if the present government completes its term, it will be a decade. The DMK is also not part of the government at the Centre, as it was between 1999 and 2004 and again between 2004 and 2009, when its presence at the Centre compensated for its lack of power in the State.

The party’s defeat to T.T.V. Dinakaran in the R.K. Nagar byelection, despite the negative image of his family background, cannot be brushed under the carpet. Actor Kamal Haasan’s plunge into politics and Rajinikant’s decision to launch his party and the presence of fringe Tamil nationalist groups have crowded the political landscape.

What next?

The 2019 Lok Sabha election will be crucial for the DMK, especially for Mr. Stalin. While knitting together a winnable combination is a challenge, the future government at the Centre will also play a crucial role in shaping the party’s future. The status of an undisputed leader will be an advantage for Mr. Stalin, but his strategy will have to factor in and overcome all the hurdles in his path in his first election as the leader of the DMK.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 2:27:49 PM |

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