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Difficult to say whether Jawaharlal Nehru was indeed the progenitor of political dynasties in India. Well, yes, he did acquiesce to his daughter’s election as president of the Congress party and also allowed her enough leeway to bring down the Communist-led Kerala government.
Indira Gandhi did play a role in the coming together of vested interests, but historians blame the CIA more! In any case, she was replaced in barely a year.
“After one year as Congress president, Indira Gandhi declined to be renominated, and withdrew from politics, to concentrate on being Nehru’s official hostess. Even though she functioned as his official hostess at state functions, and ran the prime minister’s household, father and daughter barely spoke to each other for several months because of the Kerala episode.”
But fast forward to the seventies, and you see M Karunanidhi going all out to see that the mantle passed within the family. Even as MGR was raising his banner of revolt, Karunanidhi sought to carve a space for his eldest son Muthu in filmdom – and the latter began to ape all of MGR’s mannerisms hoping to win over some segments of the star’s following.
Initially a bit warm to him, MGR only later seemed to have realised MK’s game plan and withdrew his patronage. In any case Muthu failed to click as an actor.
If he had come good, maybe Stalin himself would not have hit the jackpot. The youth wing of the DMK was launched only in the eighties, expressly to prop up Stalin as an emerging leader.
The youth wing of the DMK was launched only in the eighties, expressly to prop up Stalin as an emerging leader. Though he had been arrested during the Emergency and beaten up badly, Stalin did not show any keen interest in politics at all. In fact, he was quite self-effacing
Though he had been arrested during the Emergency and beaten up badly, he did not show any keen interest in politics at all. In fact, he was quite self-effacing.
Whether as mayor of Chennai or as an MLA (representing a city constituency) Stalin was never found exercising his authority in public. This writer has seen him in the Assembly, collecting the day’s papers like everyone else from the relevant section, making his way to his seat in the back rows and vanishing after a while, all low-key.
On the other hand both Muthu and Alagiri, Stalin’s elder brother, (Muthu, also elder, is a stepbrother) were quite abrasive. If Muthu had to be dropped from the scheme of things when he hit the bottle, Alagiri was a more difficult customer.
Muthu would create scenes at the Gopalapuram residence, but while Alagiri wouldn’t do anything like that, he was also a source of some troubles for Karunanidhi. So, he was packed off to Madurai, ostensibly with an assignment to oversee DMK organ Murasoli. The newspaper didn’t exactly flourish, but Alagiri did, building his own empire of sorts. He had begun to be seen as a strongman who brooked no defiance within or outside the party.
It was in this backdrop perhaps that Karunanidhi zeroed in on Stalin as his heir apparent. But he went about it cautiously. At a state convention in the nineties, he mentioned Stalin too in his opening remarks and added he was doing so only because the day’s proceedings were devoted to the youth wing. (Being cited in the opening address is a sign of importance.)
Interestingly it was at that very convention in Trichy that the audience started walking away after Vaiko’s speech, without waiting to hear their chief Karunanidhi. Vaiko (who later founded his own party MDMK) was hugely popular with the cadres, and the incident set off alarm bells, it is said.
Subsequently Vaiko was sacked, obviously because Karunanidhi would not like anyone to stand in the way of his succession plans.
Still it was another decade and more before Stalin would be inducted into the cabinet. However, by that time he was playing a crucial role in deciding on allies — so much so that the so-called conscience-keeper of Karunanidhi, Murasoli Maran, felt slighted and said so in public too.
In the DMK, district secretaries have always been powerful; it became more so under Karunanidhi. He could even be said to have come to a tacit understanding with them, assuring the regional satraps that he would leave them undisturbed by and large if only they accepted his diktats unquestioningly — a model flawed and vulnerable to gross misuse
Stalin’s alliance tactics didn’t yield any dividends in 2001, but he kept his hold, and in 2006 he was made a minister. Though it was a relatively low-profile portfolio, he was now quite powerful. Upset by his younger brother’s rise, the elder Alagiri began throwing tantrums, but apparently the father was not to be intimidated.
When a newspaper from the stable of the conscience-keeper projected Stalin as the second-most adored DMK leader, Alagiri’s men ran amok and set fire to the newspaper office in Madurai in 2007, in which three employees perished, adding to the notoriety of Alagiri’s men and earning a very bad name for his father’s governance, inevitably.
In another May, six years earlier, Tha Kiruttinan, a DMK veteran of Madurai, was brutally hacked to death. He would stand up to Alagiri, and it was seen as possible motive in his murder. But nothing stuck on the Madurai strongman.
Karunanidhi’s 2006-11 reign was not marked by the Dinakaran incident alone, but also by land grab and other excesses of Alagiri’s cronies. But the elder son sought to redeem himself in another way. When the DMK had to face a byelection in Tirumangalam, he carpeted the electorate with gifts and cash. Eventually the party won of course, and with a big margin, but the election became a byword for corrupt practices.
All the same, Alagiri was seen to have won his spurs, and he was nominated as secretary of the southern region, a newly-created post.
Yet again, Alagiri sought to press his claims to be made heir apparent, but the father was willing to go only that far, and not beyond. Indeed four months down the line, it was Stalin who was made deputy chief minister. The elder blew his top, but in vain.
When the party lost the 2011 assembly elections, observers cited the strong-arm tactics of Alagiri and Co as one of the factors behind the defeat.
Thus his fate was sealed, and Stalin’s succession became almost official. Stalin became the Opposition Leader after the 2016 elections, and when his father died he was made president of the DMK, with very few supporting Alagiri for the post. Senior functionaries rallied behind Stalin readily.
In the DMK, district secretaries have always been powerful; it became more so under Karunanidhi. He could even be said to have come to a tacit understanding with them, assuring the regional satraps that he would leave them undisturbed by and large if only they accepted his diktats unquestioningly — a kind of skewed internal democracy, better perhaps than the whimsical and autocratic rule of MGR and Jayalalitha in the AIADMK. Still the model is very flawed and vulnerable to gross misuse.
Udhayanidhi has become the first beneficiary of the new situation wherein the party has been hijacked by the first family completely. The newly rising son too had honed his skills in 2006-11, lording it over in film distribution. Nothing would move without his nod then; it is going to become much worse now.
Already senior leaders are falling over each other to express their loyalty. Undaunted by ‘cheap’ insults of playing courtiers, they say they would welcome heartily even the enthronement of Udhayanidhi’s son.
The other scion, Kanimozhi, daughter of Karunanidhi through another wife, might someday pose a challenge, but right now she has fallen in line.
Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh, Deve Gowda, Bal Thackeray and many others, including leaders of the BJP, have all established their own dynasties in almost identical fashion, but to Karunanidhi goes the credit of being a trendsetter.
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