DMK chief MK Stalin faces an electoral battle in 2021 that could be the final word on his lifelong ambition of becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu. However, along with that Stalin also seems to be facing a second challenge of having to create a smooth entry for his politically ambitious, star son, Udhayanidhi, in the same election.
Given that it is a make-or-break election for the DMK— the party has not been in power since 2011— its professional strategists feel that this is probably the worst time to allow any focus on Udhayanidhi Stalin’s political ambitions. They fear it could lead to a backlash and powerful campaign on dynasty politics against the DMK.
Reliable reports suggest DMK's newly hired strategists have even shared with MK Stalin directly that it’s best to postpone the son's entry into politics at this stage, but it’s not easy to keep a politically ambitious son from the fray.
It is no secret that Udhayanidhi, who dabbles as the lead with his self-produced films in Tamil cinema, is keen to make a political entry and project himself as a future leader of the party.
There is a bandwagon in the DMK that, party sources say, has been fuelling Udhayanidhi’s ambitions.
DMK strongholds Saidapet or Thousand Lights assembly constituency in Chennai are being cited as seats from where Stalin's son may seek the party nomination.
Allowing him to do so would certainly give the DMK’s opponents ammunition to accuse it of remaining trapped with one dynasty and take the focus away from the Dravidian party's ideological battle with Hindutva campaign.
Tamil Nadu, in the absence of M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa, is keen to make a fresh start and a reassertion of regressive dynasty politics could be debilitating for the DMK’s credibility in the coming elections.
So, will the son understand the compulsions of the father and back off? History tells us a different story.
Stalin’s rise in the DMK to critical positions of power since 2009 was because he was adamant and had control over his father. Even from an early stage, he did not compromise on his political ambitions and asserted himself despite the exit of several powerful leaders, like Vaiko in the early 1990s and many others since then.
Towards M Karunanidhi’s last days, Stalin had virtually taken full control of the party and even access to the father. Those who resembled a challenge had to leave.
In fact, in the 2016 assembly elections, it was Stalin who was completely in charge of candidate selection and despite the party losing the polls, there were no questions raised against his leadership.
It is important to note that the 2016 elections were the first time that an incumbent Jayalalithaa could win a consecutive term and change the trend of DMK and AIADMK alternating victories since 1989.
Even after the demise of M Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, Stalin has consolidated his position over the party. His calculation of firmly siding with the Congress in 2019 won the party many seats. But his MPs have had to occupy opposition benches in the Lok Sabha with the BJP straddled with a comfortable majority till 2024.
While he holds the party with a firm grip, the question now is whether his son holds an iron grip on the father’s politics.
Allowing Udhayanidhi to contest the 2021 elections would be a clear assertion of the future of the party. While dynasty may not be new to the DMK, Stalin is not a Karunanidhi who came from the grassroots to emerge a Dravidian general.
His father had the stature to survive a 'son rise'. Can MK Stalin follow suit?
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)