Dynastic politics in India is getting stronger with leaders naming their family members to succeed them while their parties have been docile in accepting it. Leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Parkash Singh Badal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad, K Chandrashekar Rao, N Chandrababu Naidu and Farooq Abdullah, just to name a few, believe in dynastic politics.
The latest to join this club is the 93-year-old Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) supremo M Karunanidhi, who has declared his younger son MK Stalin as his political heir. “From his prison days, where he faced a lot of hardships, he has worked very hard and elevated himself systematically to the position of future president (of DMK). In that aspect, he remains my political heir apparent”, he told in a recent magazine interview. Stalin may not have the charisma or the reputation of his father, nor his colourful life, but he has moved up by sheer hard work, playing his cards well by working under his father for over four decades. No doubt, the DMK went through the democratic motions of electing its office-bearers all these years. Karunanidhi had all along said that the party would elect his successor. So, declaring Stalin as the heir-apparent is not in the style of the original DMK. The issue of Karunanidhi handing over the baton has been a subject of speculation in the DMK. His assertion that Stalin will succeed him, has come as a relief to the cadres and has put an end to the sibling rivalry. Strangely, the DMK did not believe in dynastic politics. When the first DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister CN Annadurai passed away in 1969, Karunanidhi succeeded him although VR Nedunchezhiyan was the second in command. He went to win the 1971 election but once MG Ramachandran (MGR) split the DMK by launching the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1972, it became tougher for Karunanidhi. The DMK was out of power for 13 years but Karunanidhi’s leadership and organisational skills kept the party intact. The DMK has weathered many a political storm in the past. During the Emergency, it faced an existential crisis. After MGR’s death in 1987, the DMK wrested power from the AIADMK in 1989, and from then on, both the AIADMK and the DMK, have ruled the State alternatively. It is now for Stalin to boost the morale of the party. From 2011, after losing the Assembly election and facing allegations in the 2G Spectrum scam, the DMK has been on the back foot. The consecutive loss in the Assembly polls in 2011 and 2016 has made party workers gasping for oxygen. After his hard work in the 2016 Assembly election, the party won 100 seats – which was seen as rather creditable for the DMK. At the family level, Karunanidhi has chosen Stalin, ignoring the claims of his elder son MK Alagiri, who once asked if the party was a ‘mutt’ where the senior pontiff could anoint his successor. For years, Alagiri and Stalin have been engaged in a tussle for their father’s favour and clout in the party. But Stalin trumped his elder brother when it came to winning the stamp of approval of their father, as also of the party rank and file. The sibling rivalry is playing out even as there is another claimant – Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi. In the 1980s, Karunanidhi’s eldest son, MK Muthu, was declared persona non grata in the DMK when he fell out with his father. An angered Muthu joined the AIADMK and has been in political wilderness since then. Karunanidhi promoted Stalin in the 1990s in preference to the firebrand leader Vaiko, who floated his own outfit, the MDMK. Stalin had used the small window of opportunity after his brother was dismissed from the party. Karunanidhi’s move has come at a time when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa is ailing in the hospital. There were apprehensions that the AIADMK might split if Jayalalithaa continues to remain incapacitated. That was one of the reasons for Karunanidhi announcing his crown prince’s name.
There are apprehensions within the party that, if he did not name his successor, in the post-Karunanidhi era, the party could split. Despite naming his political heir, Karunanidhi is clear that he will remain the party chief till he dies. With Jayalalithaa ailing and Karunanidhi getting on in age, Tamil Nadu’s politics is at an interesting stage, as there are no other strong leaders in sight.
(The writer is a political commentator and a syndicated columnist)