Days after the death of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M Karunanidhi, the wheels were set in motion for his other son MK Stalin’s elevation as party president.
Less than a week after the death of Tamil icon and Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) patriarch, M Karunanidhi, a battle appears to have broken out between his sons over which of them has a claim over his legacy and his party.
On Monday, the eve of MK Stalin’s likely elevation as president at a DMK executive committee meeting on Tuesday, Karunanidhi’s elder son MK Azhagiri, an exile from the party, said that “all true and loyal followers” of his father were with him.
His cryptic comments about differences with the “party” and not the “family” created a buzz. By evening, posters with his image had been splashed all over Madurai, the TN city considered his bastion, referring to a new party the Kalaignar DMK.
Azhagiri, a former Union minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, was expelled from the party just ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections after differences with his father in an apparent turf war with Stalin. He is now based in Madurai.
On Monday, after offering prayers at his father’s memorial at Marina beach, Azhagiri told reporters: “I came to pour out my anguish to Kalaignar (Karunanidi’s nickname, meaning artistin Tamil). All true and loyal followers of Kalaignar are with me.”
Azhagiri added that his “anguish” was about the party and not about the family. The public will soon come to know more about it, he added, while declining to comment about the executive committee meeting saying he was not associated with party activities any longer.
Later in the day, Azhagiri said: “Many in the party are also in touch with actor Rajnikanth and there is a threat to the party as posts are being sold. Stalin does not want me in DMK.”
It wasn’t clear in which context he was referring to Rajnikanth. Popular actor turned politician Rajinikanth recently launched a party and said he would contest the next state elections in Tamil Nadu.
Later in the day, Rajinikanth said chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his state cabinet colleagues should have lined up for Karunanidhi’s funeral as a token of respect and political gesture. “I was deeply hurt to know about the state’s denial to offer a place in Marina and if the state had gone on an appeal against the Madras high court order, I would have led a protest seeking a berth for Karunanidhi at Marina.”
Azhagiri added that the DMK under Stalin has “weakened” and is losing election after election. “Kalaignar’s departed soul will certainly punish them,” he said.
Stalin’s likely elevation on Tuesday was not being seen as a big surprise for party workers since Karunanidhi had spoken about Stalin as his successor on a few occasions in the past, including during Stalin’s birthday celebrations in 2015 and in an interview to Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan in October 2016. He is currently the party’s working president and treasurer.
Officials in the DMK familiar with the developments told HT last week that, apart from Stalin, Karunanidhi’s daughter and Rajya Sabha MP MK Kanimozhi may also be elevated — as either the party’s deputy general secretary or treasurer.
On Monday, both Stalin and Azhagiri were at Karunanidhi’s Gopalapuram home on Monday to observe the leader’s seventh-day mourning rituals with other family members. Selvi, Karnanidhi’s daughter is believed to have brokered peace between the brothers for the duration of the mourning.
On Monday, a senior DMK functionary said on condition of anonymity that the a resolution paying tribute to Karunanidhi would be passed at the executive committee meeting. “Stalin has already been anointed as the political heir of Kalaignar. The meeting will not discuss anything about those who were expelled from the party. The executive committee will also elevate Stalin as the new party president,” the functionary added.
The DMK’s arch rival and the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khahzgram (AIADMK), desribed Azaghari’s comments as a sign of the DMK’s weakness. “Azhagiri has exposed that there is weakness in the party. Azhagiri cannot be dismissed as yet another expelled party worker. Remember, Azhagiri is the elder son of Kalaignar and he has been a union minister,” AIADMK spokesperson Vaigai Chelvan said.
State BJP president, Tamilisai Soundarajan, cryptically said: “After the demise of the sun (Karunanidhi), stars are trying to shine.” Experts say not much will come out of Azhagiri’s attempt to claim his father’s legacy as it may have come too late. “He was politically dormant for the past four years and his chances of succeeding are slim. Unlike AIADMK leader, J Jayalalithaa, Kalaignar was clear about his succession and the DMK’s future. Further, Stalin has consolidated his position in the party,” said political commentator A Marx.