Meera Ramanathan
Will the Son rise?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

“Pageantry pursued her. She fled.

Money stalked her. She skedaddled.

Devotion terrorized her. She took flight.

She ran and ran to the corners of the world and her life with no respite from law or love.

Who are we to blame? Destiny, Poverty or the Almighty? ”

These rabble rousing words from the film Parasakthithat stirred up a storm and launched the career of the legendary Shivaji Ganesan belonged to Muthuvel Karunanidhi. Karunanidhi started his political career from the bottom-up. His dogma was to abolish inequalities that plagued the society in the name of caste. He was the bastion of the underdogs and under the tutelage of EVRamasami Naicker (Periyar), his philosophies merged with the Dravidian ideologies seamlessly. As a prolific orator and proficient script writer, Karunanidhi was instrumental in filling the party coffers and extending the rays of the DMK’s rising sun. As the first DMK leader to undergo six months imprisonment, his position and power within and outside the party was set in stone. Thus when Annadurai became Chief Minister, Karunanidhi was part of the ruling DMK Ministry serving as the Minister of Public works.

Karunanidhi was a poetic playwright cloaked as a politician. He wanted to become the people’s leader and was ambitious enough to remain there forever. Despite starting his political passage on the right notes, what would lead him astray is the 13 year long wait to the throne. Although Karunanidhi was always fearful of MG Ramachandran’s rise in the party, he grossly underestimated the pull and charisma of this friend turned foe. (He would repeat this blunder again with Jayalalitha). After ousting MGR from the party citing disciplinary issues, he expected the star to come running to him. But within a week MGR formed the AIADMK and the rest as they was history. Karunanidhi effectively committed political suicide.

From Dravidian ideologies, Karunanidhi’s focus turned towards weakening the AIADMK. But that all his efforts fell flat is an understatement. His attempts to ape the success of MGR with his son MK Muthu(born to his first wife Padmavathy) nosedived. Muthu was an alcoholic and a weak surrogate to fill the big shoes of MGR. MGR was not just an actor, he was a phenomenon and the loyalty he commanded from the people was absolute. All his other strategies were also still born and this thirteen year limbo lasted until MGR’s death. When Karunanidhi was eventually elected back to power he not only quenched his thirst but also vowed to never starve again.

MK Stalin, the third son of Karunanidhi(Born to Dayalu Ammal), at 60, serves as the Youth Wing President of DMK. Like Karunanidhi, his rise to ranks within the party was slow yet steady. At the age of 14 he started campaigning and was elected to the General committee within six years. But what sky-rocketed his career was theimprisonment under MISA(Maintenance of Internal Security Act) for opposing the emergency. (He was arrested once again for the flyover scam with his father and several other DMK dignitaries). He was the first directly elected mayor (1996) and also served as the Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration (2006). In 2009, he became the Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Stalin tried to lure people through the silver screen and the big screen as cinema to politics was a highly lucrative route in Tamil Nadu. When that failed, he took the long road to the throne. His father and other party lynchpins constantly uncluttered this road to make his trek triumphant. Vaiko(founder of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) was the vein of DMK and was even seen as the ideological child of Kalaignar. Like Stalin he was jailed under MISA for a year and nursed aspirations to the top. But his wings were clipped off and he was banished from the party. Kalaignar made Stalin his heir apparent and nobody was going to change that. Not even his family.

MK Alagiri, the second son of Karunanidhi (born to Dayalu Ammal) was a bank employee in Chennai before he was parceled off to Madurai. Although Alagiri was not publicly involved in party matters, Karunanidhi did not want the brothers crossing swords and positioned Alagiri to run the DMK mouthpiece Murasoli. Alagiri became the bastion of the southern region and started to throw his weight around. In 2001, when Alagiri was fast becoming a problem child, DMK used its time tested approach of ejecting him from the party. Alas, like all other times, they had underestimated his grip. In 2008, Alagiri was active in winning the Thirumangalam by elections(which birthed the cash for votes scheme) and was grudgingly embraced by the DMK which appointed him as the organizing secretory of Southern districts. In 2009, he contested the Madurai Lok Sabha elections and became a cabinet minister of Chemical and Industries.

Alagiri was a raucous politician accused as a conspirator in the Kiruttinan murder case. He was later acquitted but was again muddled in the Dinakaran attack case. Dinakaran run by the Marans(Kalaignar’s grandnephews) published the results of survey polls which favored Stalin over Alagiri as the party’s successor. Immediately their offices were fire bombed and the SUN TV office was attacked. This split the family against the Marans. (Kalanidhi Maran runs a business empire and his brother Dayanidhi Maran was a cabinet minister for Telecommunications.)While this saw the rise of Kanimozhi (daughter of Karunanidhi and his third wife Rajathy Ammal), the reconciliation with Marans was inevitable. Alagiri is also charged with a series of land grab cases. When DMK pulled out of the UPA alliance in 2013(citing Sri Lankan Tamil issues), Alagiri was left like a deer caught in the headlights. With all his henchmen in jail or in heaven and the power stripped from him, he was not only vulnerable but also spiteful. When he still could not stomach the rise of his brother Stalin, Kalaignar threw him out of the house and the party. But Alagiri was not the one to walk away meekly.

From meeting the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Superstar Rajnikanth(for purely nonpolitical reasons) Alagiri has the DMK in tenterhooks. He has candidly sided with Narendra Modi, hosted longtime rival Vaiko and even lauded his chief adversary Jayalalitha stoking the ire of the DMK high command. After charading himself to a corner, Alagiri’s expulsion challenges his own sleight of hand and taunts Stalin’s leadership disposition. With the Brave heartnursing a bitter heart, can the prodigal son rise in Tamil Nadu?

While the DMK power ploy stubbornly refuses to leave the living room of the Kalaignar household, what started as a democratic party is mired in a dynastic dispute. The party dikat is a joke, its philosophies long forgotten and the kingpins are senile or infirm. The sibling rivalry is threatening not only to slit the party but also shove it altogether to the sidelines. This Lok Sabha election would be a testament for its new leader Stalin (who is flying solo without his brother Alagiri under his wings and his father aging). But unless it straightens out the mess indoors, DMK risks becoming a party of the past.