Karunanidhi’s death and DMK succession war

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“Happiness is a direction, not a place.”

– Sydney J. Harris

Within less than one year Tamil Nadu has witnessed an unparalleled political vacuum — first untimely demise of incumbent AIADMK chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, now DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s death. The death of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi within eight months of each other has rung the curtains down on the atheistic, anti-Hindu, anti-Brahmin and anti-Hindi Dravidian chapter of Tamil Nadu politics. DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi leaves behind a legacy unparalleled in Indian politics. His death brings an era to a close in Tamil Nadu. How will the political scenario unfold in Tamil Nadu after Karunanidhi? The nation has witnessed the dirty game of power struggle post Jayalalithaa’s death. There is no denying that politics in Tamil Nadu will not be same after the death of the two political stalwarts.  With the demise of Karunanidhi, the DMK finds itself at a crucial juncture in the state’s politics — new battle lines are being drawn and new ideologies are taking shape in the state. Today, when the DMK is purported to be facing a ‘leadership vacuum’, the ruling AIADMK too has consolidated itself under the leadership of chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and his ever-estranged Deputy CM, O. Panneerselvam (OPS). The new entrants cannot be in the class of Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa.

A week after the death of his father, MK Alagiri, the elder brother of MK Stalin who has been kept away from party affairs for the past four years, stirred a controversy over the party leadership stating that true loyalists of Kalaignar were with him despite his exclusion. Alagiri appeared to have struck a bit early, considering that the official mourning period was still on. The DMK has gone into silent mode, warned by Stalin not to speak on the subject of Azhagiri. In the past too, he had made no bones about his disenchantment with the party leadership for preferring Stalin over him as Karunanidhi’s political successor. He is gearing up to fight for a slice of the DMK pie. Alagiri aspired to succeed to the DMK’s top post but Karunanidhi, the DMK president until his death, picked Stalin to lead the party and designated him the working president. But Alagiri enjoys a small backing within the party. His most vocal supporters have all been either suspended or thrown out of the party. The powerful Maran brothers prefer Stalin instead of his elder brother. If Alagiri now breaks away to form his own party, as is believed that he may do, it will be the second split in the Dravidian movement since the AIADMK split from the parent organization in 1972.

Though Stalin has emerged as a successor of Karunanidhi, his performance has been dismal so far. The leadership transition will be rather smooth in DMK (as it appears now) with Stalin taking over the reign of the party. But with Karunanidhi leaving behind the impressive legacy, Stalin’s style of functioning will be watched. 2019 in that sense, will be Stalin’s test, and if he fails to do exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha polls, Alagiri could emerge as a figure for dissenters to rally around.

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