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Chief Minister M K Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi is in the spotlight as he becomes the third generation politician in the family to become a minister in the State Cabinet. His ability to catch votes and keep the party united through organisational skills and good rapport with senior leaders will decide if he can step into his father’s shoes and succeed in politics. Though he has walked a rosy path so far, a long and rough road is ahead of him to prove himself and sustain it as a leader in politics.
Opposition parties are naturally criticising Udhayanidhi’s elevation, calling it dynasty politics. However, one cannot dispute the fact that among DMK leaders barring Stalin, Udhayanidhi alone has the face value to mobilise people’s support and gain votes in elections. Though the party has powerful, experienced regional leaders who are popular among the cadre and are well known in their areas, they are not popular faces throughout Tamil Nadu who can bring votes to the party.
Udhayanidhi campaigned throughout the state in the 2019 Parliament and 2021 Assembly elections and drew big crowds in most places. He introduced himself as Karunanidhi’s grandson and Stalin’s son to the people who gathered for his meetings and no other DMK leader barring party president Stalin could attract such crowds to their meetings.
Stalin spent many years in opposition before he was fielded as a mayoral candidate in Chennai. Only in 2006, when he had had nearly 25 years of experience in politics, did Stalin become a State minister, and later Deputy Chief Minister and party treasurer
Though there are several factors that led to the DMK’s victory in both the elections, the party needs a popular face that can be accepted by the cadre and people throughout Tamil Nadu. It will take a lot more time and experience for Udhayanidhi to grow into a charismatic leader like former chief ministers J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, if at all.
But, the DMK needs someone with charm and personality in the future to win elections and keep the party intact. Their hope rests on Udhayanidhi. No other leader in the party can be projected as a mass leader and whether the DMK succeeds in its objective will be decided by the people.
When AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran died, his successor J Jayalalithaa was only a propaganda secretary, whereas the party had several leaders in high positions, both in the party and government, who could have succeeded him. However, Jayalalithaa emerged as the party’s top leader when she proved that she could draw votes like no other in the 1989 Assembly elections. She united the party, restored the mass appeal of the ‘Two Leaves’ party symbol and kept the organisation together despite electoral defeats in 1996 and 2006.
DMK president Stalin became the leader of the DMK youth wing when he was less than 30 years old. His father M Karunanidhi groomed him for 35 years in politics. Stalin spent many years in opposition before he was fielded as a mayoral candidate in Chennai. Only in 2006, when he had had nearly 25 years of experience in politics, did Stalin become a State minister, and later Deputy Chief Minister and party treasurer.
While Stalin’s rise had been slow and steady, Udhayanidhi, who campaigned in the 2019 Parliament elections has had only four years’ experience before entering the State Cabinet.
In the social media age, any flip-flop by Udhayanidhi is likely to draw the attention of the entire nation, as his detractors are waiting eagerly to pounce on any mistake by him. Though Stalin has also faced criticism of having been elevated due to nepotism, the focus and attention he received was comparatively less, as only print media and a few private TV channels existed 25 years ago
He has been allocated a minor portfolio — Youth Affairs and Sports Development — so that he can gain training and experience in administration. In addition, the department of special programmes implementation will enable him to interact with all the other ministers, as such programmes are carried out in collaboration with all other departments.
In the social media age, any flip-flop by Udhayanidhi is likely to draw the attention of the entire nation, as his detractors are waiting eagerly to pounce on any mistake by him. Though Stalin has also faced criticism of having been elevated due to nepotism, the focus and attention he received was comparatively less, as only print media and a few private TV channels existed 25 years ago.
As an MLA, Udhayanidhi has been attending a few meetings and providing welfare assistance to people, besides fixing the problems of the people in his constituency. The soft-spoken Udhayanidhi, who is known to communicate only to a few trusted persons around him, may find it difficult to be in the media glare round the clock. Not only his words and actions, even his silences — particularly on matters that he never speaks about — will be keenly watched.
Another major advantage Stalin had when he was elevated was that all his detractors as well as the contenders to DMK leadership, including MDMK leader Vaiko, left the party in 1994 whereas former DMK general secretary K Anbazhagan strongly backed his elevation. Karunanidhi was around 60 years old when Stalin took over the youth wing, and the former DMK chief protected and trained Stalin for more than three decades, a long time in politics. Those who opposed Stalin did not conceal their views or intentions and it was easy for Karunanidhi to get rid of them. For Udhayanidhi, the support or opposition to him within the party is yet to be fully known and politics is always a treacherous ground.
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