Stalin at the helm

The elevation of M.K. Stalin as the working president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam achieves two objectives. It fills the power vacuum at the top following the prolonged illness of party president M. Karunanidhi. It also provides an opportunity for the DMK to take advantage of the fluid political situation in Tamil Nadu after the death of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and the prevailing confusion within the ruling AIADMK on whether O. Panneerselvam should make way for V.K. Sasikala as Chief Minister. For a long time now, Mr. Stalin has been the unofficially designated successor to his father, Mr. Karunanidhi. He was made Deputy Chief Minister in 2009 during the DMK’s previous term in office, though he continued to be ranked behind both Mr. Karunanidhi and party general secretary K. Anbazhagan in the Cabinet and the party organisation. But so far, despite his failing health, Mr. Karunanidhi has been reluctant to step down from the post of party president. Even during the run-up to the Assembly election in early 2016, he refused to declare Mr. Stalin the chief ministerial candidate. While it is not very clear whether the DMK patriarch wholeheartedly endorses his son’s elevation now, there is little doubt that the second line of the party believes this has been long overdue.

As working president, Mr. Stalin enjoys the same powers as the party president, and in a situation where Mr. Karunanidhi is unable to function actively, he should have little difficulty in giving the party the necessary direction in a fast-changing political scenario. The AIADMK without Jayalalithaa faces a stern test. It helped that the party was in power when she died; otherwise, the district-level leaders might have begun pulling in different directions whether or not Ms. Sasikala became the general secretary. Mr. Stalin can afford to bide his time to see how the AIADMK holds in the post-Jayalalithaa phase and if the visible signs of cadre disenchantment with Ms. Sasikala become accentuated. The DMK is currently in a politically advantageous situation; it had lost the Assembly election narrowly, and its main rival now is in some disarray. As the main Opposition party, it has a responsible role to play when the government is in danger of being directionless. And with Mr. Stalin at the helm, it can play that role a lot more effectively. After close to three decades of seemingly never-ending political rivalry between Mr. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu is witness to a new phase of political contestation. The people can only hope that the emerging political rivalry will not see political decency in short supply, as was the case with the previous generation of leadership.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 5:44:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Stalin-at-the-helm/article16988824.ece

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