The much-touted rally of Muthuvel Karunanidhi’s ostracized son M K Alagiri in Chennai on September 5 has been a failure of sorts as he failed to attract any DMK functionary of note, with the party showing it is solidly behind his brother M K Stalin. However, in the eclipse of Alagiri, lies another story of the DMK being left without a strong southern satrap or star.
While the DMK may rejoice over the fall of Alagiri from the highs of a once powerful southern zone co-ordinator of the party, who commanded nearly ten districts from Madurai down south, to a leader who has no MLA or district secretary of the party with him, the party has no charismatic leader who can be a vote-catching machine in the south and the west. Karunanidhi had a strong native appeal in the delta region of Tamil Nadu, as he hailed from Tiruvarur district. Having imbibed the culture of the Thanjavur region, with strong roots in music, literature and dance, Karunanidhi personified the image of a Chola king, a good builder and patron of arts. Though Alagiri was no Cholan in that sense, having failed to chart out a course in the lines of his father in the arts and culture scene, he projected himself as the son of Madurai, a Madurai Veeran as some of his followers call him.
Alagiri was a failure as a Union minister during the UPA rule at the Centre since he could neither follow Hindi nor English, and struggled in Parliament. However, as southern zone co-ordinator, during DMK rule in Tamil Nadu, Alagiri was the unquestioned boss of the South. He made sure that his supporters ignored Stalin even when the latter visited southern districts as Local Administration minister and later as Deputy Chief Minister. Such was his hold over the party.
Partymen in the south preferred Alagiri to Stalin as he was quick in getting jobs done in the State government. Madurai became a parallel power centre as district collectors, ministers, IAS officers and babus bowed to him, and implemented his orders without question. Quick decision- making (Alagiri would even speak to ministers and IAS officers over the phone) and immediate rewards marked Alagiri’s dominance, leading to meteoric rise in the party.
Karunanidhi himself had to allow this situation as he realised that Alagiri was able to counter the AIADMK in the south which was once considered MGR’s stronghold. The success of the Tirumangalam formula to win the by-election (though it earned notoriety for the DMK throughout the country), earned for Alagiri the title of Anjaanenjan (The Braveheart).
However, the DMK lost power in the 2011 Assembly elections, and came a cropper in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The DMK was suddenly without power both in the State and at the Centre. It was during this period that Stalin proved his mettle as an opposition leader and as a fighter, while Alagiri took the back-seat. Through his Namakku Naame reach-out scheme, Stalin managed to carve an identity even beyond party lines, and during his intensive tours of the southern districts gradually won over Alagiri loyalists to his side.
In the eclipse of Alagiri, lies another story of the DMK being left without a strong southern satrap or star.
Karunanidhi too was fed up with Alagiri’s constant tirades against Stalin. Finding that Alagiri was projecting a picture of groupism and bickerings in the family and the party, and with ill-health dogging him, Karunanidhi had to decide on elevation of Stalin in the party. The reins of the party too shifted to Stalin who consolidated his hold on the party, through appointments of his loyalists while at the same time absorbing Alagiri men too in his inner circle.
Alagiri found himself marginalized even more and his frustration resulted in more personal attacks on Stalin (he will not live more than a few months, he told Karunanidhi). The gap between Stalin and Alagiri further increased at this stage and Karunanidhi expelled Alagiri from the party in 2014. It was natural that Karunanidhi indicated the line of succession in 2017 by appointing Stalin as Working President of the DMK. Stalin would make quick visits to any part in the State affected by nature’s fury or an accident. Using social media and twitter, Stalin was helped by an IT team to put out quick comments to every political development in the State and in the country.
Stalin’s take-over of the party was thus complete. With Alagiri no longer in the party, it was easier for Stalin to emerge as the unquestioned leader of the DMK.
Today, Alagiri managed a decent show of his supporters at the rally from Thiruvallikeni to the Karunanidhi memorial, dressed in black shirts to mourn the demise of the departed leader. But that was all. These days crowds can be brought or bought. It doesn’t mean much.
The black shirt was symbolic – it also marked the political demise of a once powerful leader of the State.