Contrary to the speculation that Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of Tamil Nadu’s new Chief Minister M K Stalin, will have a dramatic rise in the Tamil Nadu government and the ruling DMK, veteran legislator and the party general secretary, Durai Murugan, an orator who holds audiences spellbound with his skill of communication and unique brand of humour, will be the DMK number two both in the new Tamil Nadu Cabinet and the party hierarchy.
Recently, there was speculation that Durai Murugan may not have a role in the new Cabinet and that he may be made Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, which would amount to kicking him upstairs.
However, the DMK President and the new Chief Minister, M K Stalin proved all the Doubting Thomases wrong and showed that he backed party veteran Durai Murugan to the hilt. He has also indicated that Udhaya will have to come up the hard way, step by step, like his father, and that there will be no short-cuts. Stalin would prefer people asking the question Why Not Udhaya, instead of Why Udhaya?
Durai Murugan hails from the strong Vanniyar community which has a dominant role in northern and north-west Tamil Nadu, where he has used his guile and reach to keep at bay the Vanniyar-dominated Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) that has been trying to grow at the expense of both the DMK and the AIADMK. The alliance between the AIADMK and the PMK and the provision of a 10.5 per cent special quota for Vanniyar within the Most Backward Community for admission to colleges and government jobs have been by and large defeated by the DMK-led front in northern Tamil Nadu. In all, the PMK could win only five seats in the recently-held elections to the State Assembly. Durai Murugan and another senior DMK leader K Ponmudy are said to have played a key role in countering the Vanniyar challenge from the PMK and in ensuring that the DMK continued to have pride of place in the northern part of the State.
Stalin has allowed Durai Murugan to choose between the post of Speaker (which would mean he would have to give up the prestigious party post of general secretary) and ministership with the party post. Durai Murugan, always an active politician, obviously chose the second option as he can continue to be a political animal and also have the post of general secretary. Durai Murugan believes that his elevation to the post of general secretary is an honour as it was held by such giants of the Dravidian movement as C N Annadurai (DMK founder) and V R Nedunchezhiyan (number two in the Annadurai, Karunanidhi, and subsequently MGR and Jayalalithaa cabinets). Durai Murugan is of the view that no higher honour can come to him than serving the party in a position occupied by Annadurai, the tallest leader of the DMK.
While the present AIADMK dispensation does not have anyone from the undivided DMK, or the Dravidian legacy of Periyar, Annadurai and K Anbazhagan, Durai Murugan too represents the last in the line of the DMK warriors from the era of the quartet along with M Karunanidhi. Stalin, of course, represents the Karunanidhi legacy. Periyar’s family members, led by his grandson and great-grandson, (EVKS Elangovan and his son) are largely Congress followers. Annadurai’s family has kept away from politics. The DMK has succeeded in persuading the family of K Anbazhagan, who passed away recently, to allow his grandson Vetriazhagan to contest the elections. He has been elected to the Tamil Nadu Assembly on the DMK ticket.
The DMK is worried that the heroes of the Dravidian movement are no longer alive and therefore, there are no real models for the next generation of politicians in the DMK, barring Karunanidhi. Durai Murugan is thus seen as the last of the generals that the Dravidian movement has thrown up.
Age is catching up with him and he has not been keeping good health of late. He has chosen a light portfolio in the new Stalin regime of Water Resources, rather than his favourite portfolio of Public Works (PWD).
Durai Murugan wisely introduced his son, Kathir Anand, to the political arena in the 2019 LS polls. He would have won the Vellore LS seat comfortably as the DMK won 38 of the 39 seats up for grabs in the general election.
Unfortunately for him, the election for the Vellore seat was countermanded following allegations of seizure of large amounts of cash from the DMK functionaries with the Election Commission and the Income Tax department claiming that the amounts were planned to be used by Durai Murugan and company to bribe voters. In the by-election that followed after a few months, the DMK had a tough time winning the constituency as the then ruling AIADMK pumped in enormous resources to try and defeat Durai Murugan’s son. In the end, Kathir Anand scraped through by a few thousand votes.
Durai Murugan was worried that in-fighting in his district would sully his image and that of the party. His fears came true as Durai Murugan struggled to win his Katpadi Assembly seat after trailing for several hours, with the spectre of in-fighting once again haunting him.
It is, therefore, a considerably weakened Durai Murugan who is putting on a brave face. The saving grace for him is that Stalin recognises Durai Murugan as a stalwart of the previous era, the last general of the Dravidian movement, and goes the extra mile to treat him with respect and bestow on him posts both in the party and in the government. Stalin sees to it that Durai Murugan is given prominence at all party functions. Thus, Durai Murugan tries to consolidate his position but is acutely conscious of the fact that Gen Next is ready to take over positions of importance and that the generals of the past would be no more than decorative pieces.
R. Rangaraj is a veteran journalist and historian. Views expressed are personal.