The boon to a son from his father; is he makes the son meet;
Makes him worthy of precedence in the council of wise to fill the highest seat
– Verse 67, Thirukkural
IN TAMIL NADU politics, none would be as well-versed in Thiruvalluvar’s seminal work as DMK supremo M Karunanidhi; having written his own commentary on the socio-political treatise by the 8th century Tamil philosopher. Now, as the DMK struggles to emerge from electoral decimation and corruption conundrums, ancient wisdom has made a comeback in Karunanidhi’s succession planning for the party he took reins of in 1969.
In clear terms, MK Stalin enjoys his father’s backing as the person to take the party forward. “If I get the chance, I will only propose Stalin’s name,” was Karunanidhi’s retort on requests for clarity on the succession question. Blowing hot is Stalin’s elder brother and Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers MK Alagiri, who is losing influence in the state and staring at a potential political oblivion.
“This is the first time Karunanidhi has taken a decision without bowing to family pressure. He feels Stalin has the merit and pedigree to make the cut. Alagiri’s nuisance value is now widely acknowledged in the DMK,” says political analyst Gnani Sankaran.
Jaya swept the southern districts in the 2011 election, targeting Alagiri as a ‘rowdy’ who needed to be shown his place
While Alagiri was given charge of the southern districts at the behest of their mother Dayalu Ammal, Stalin has an impressive resume. From being incarcerated during Emergency to being Chennai’s mayor, deputy CM and DMK treasurer, Stalin’s rise is peppered with responsibilities Alagiri has invariably shied away from.
Ever since 2009, when Alagiri was packed off to Delhi to join sister Kanimozhi and cousin Dayanidhi Maran in the Union Cabinet, Stalin has used the opportunity to wrest back cadre support from the nine southern districts “gifted to Alagiri to pamper him”. Stalin took over by staging a coup in the DMK youth wing, by visiting all the districts, interviewing close to a lakh candidates and eventually choosing 5,033 members, rejigging its entire structure.
“Seven out of 10 district secretaries are now Stalin loyalists. With Karunanidhi’s announcement, this figure may rise to nine out of 10,” says a DMK leader close to Stalin. Aiding this takeover is Dayalu Ammal’s silence. Family insiders say that ever since she was called for questioning in the 2G scam, she has been a shaken woman. She has abstained from speaking out in favour of Alagiri. Kanimozhi too has been an avid Stalin supporter and backed him when asked about Karunanidhi’s decision.
The changing dynamics of the family politics have been backed by Stalin’s own proactive approach. While he has repeatedly hit the streets of Chennai against issues such as inflation and the Jayalalithaa regime’s ‘misrule’, Alagiri has failed to be seen anywhere close to even a gathering ever since he moved to Delhi.
“Alagiri isn’t even doing the job entrusted to him properly,” says social scientist M Lakshmanan. “He has no interest in his ministerial responsibilities, he has failed in carving a niche for himself in Delhi. His time away from Madurai has diluted his influence back home and his loyalists have started deserting him. He has proven to be no match for Stalin’s capabilities.”
Alagiri’s only claim to fame is the Thirumanagalam bypoll in 2009. Political scientists call it the first ‘buyout election’ in Indian history. Alagiri introduced the ‘cash-for-votes’ mantra taking the DMK’s ‘colour TV’ freebie formula a notch higher. Alagiri’s men gave cash to every eligible voter — inside ball pens, rice packets, etc. The DMK, expectedly, swept the election and Alagiri reinforced his influence as the master of the nine southern districts.
Alagiri is known to be a terrible communicator, and strings together influence through a coterie of secretaries in the nine districts who regularly keep feeding him information. When the DMKwas in power in 2006-11, Alagiri’s reign was notorious for land grabbing and brazen intimidation of law-abiding citizens, triggering a wave of popular discontent against him.
And that is when Stalin got a boost in the power tussle against his brother. Jayalalithaa swept the southern districts in the 2011 Assembly election targeting Alagiri as a ‘rowdy’ who needed to be shown his place. Soon after coming to power, she systematically tore down Alagiri’s image and influence around Madurai. Three bureaucrats appointed by the Election Commission during the polls — Madurai Police Commissioner P Kannapan, SP Asra Garg and District Collector U Sagayam — were left untouched after she came to power. The two police officials cracked down severely on land-grabbers linked to Alagiri.
Within two months of Jayalalithaa coming to power, two close associates of Alagiri — ‘Pottu’ Suresh and G Thalapathi — were booked under the Goondas Act. Days later, Alagiri’s man Friday, ‘Attack’ Pandi, was arrested on land-grabbing charges. Then Alagiri’s wife was charged with grabbing land belonging to the Madurai Meenakshi Temple Trust. Even though both the IPS officers have been shifted to different districts now, the crackdown continues.
Last month, Alagiri’s Madurai confidant ‘Essar’ Gopi was arrested on land-grabbing charges. However, the biggest blow came with the arrest of Alagiri’s son Durai Dayanidhi in the 16,000 crore granite scam. This was almost like a death blow to Alagiri’s influence in his stronghold and a dent to his image among party cadres who started looking towards Stalin for redemption. The fear was so large among Alagiri’s men that the likes of Thalapathi shifted allegiance to the Stalin camp to remain politically relevant.
Anja Nenjan (braveheart), as Alagiri is referred to by his supporters, was reduced to a helpless minister losing a family battle. At the same time, Karunanidhi was showering Stalin with praises for enabling organisational changes in the DMK. Observers are already writing Alagiri’s political obituary while, at the same time, signalling the beginning of a new chapter for Stalin.
That leaves Stalin to contend with the Marans. Family insiders reveal that Stalin was upset with the Marans due to the 2G scam. While Raja and Kanimozhi were jailed, Stalin was of the opinion that the Marans were to blame for the family’s misery. However, Stalin realises the importance of the Marans as a force multiplier to his rise, especially in the face of a rampaging Jayalalithaa looking to wrest a Lok Sabha majority from the DMK in 2014.
The Marans, known for their political approach to business and business-minded approach to politics, have traditionally had a hard time braving the crude mannerisms and inter-familial bullying nature of Alagiri. Not surprisingly, Dayanidhi Maran was one of those who courted arrest on Stalin’s command during the jail bharo agitation.
Political observers believe that the next battle for succession in the family and the DMK will be between the sons of Alagiri and Stalin. Even though Dayanidhi Alagiri is embroiled in the granite scam, he is the only hope for the continuation of Alagiri’s branch of the Karunanidhi clan. Meanwhile, Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi is already making his presence felt across the state. Like his cousin Dayanidhi, he too is a movie producer. And like his father, he is also acting in movies with his latest Kathirvelin Kadhali lined up for release later this year.
The DMK’s succession battle between Stalin and Alagiri may have been put to rest. To save the family tree, the diseased branch may have been chopped off. And Karunanidhi may have elevated Stalin to the highest seat in his council of the wise at the sunset of his political career. But in the K Klutch Klan, there is still a generation waiting to be made worthy of precedence. And if the DMK’s history is anything go by, it could well be an ugly battle.
Sai Manish is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.