Chennai, Jan. 3: A single remark from M. Karunanidhi was enough to trigger fervent speculation today on a question that has long been simmering in the DMK: which of his offspring would succeed him as party head?
Karunanidhi told a group of Dalits, who had defected from the PMK to his party: “As long as I am alive, I shall fight for the uplift of Dalits. After me, do not forget Stalin, who is here.”
It may have been a passing remark, or it may have been a hint in typical Karunanidhi style. Excited TV channels immediately interpreted it as the 88-year-old’s anointment of his second son as his political heir.
Yet, Karunanidhi has been a past master at dropping seeming hints only to provide a twist the following day if the remarks have put him in a spot. That’s how the patriarch, caught between his three politically ambitious children, has for years handled his dilemma, giving each enough importance at various junctures but stopping short of naming a successor.
It’s a given in the DMK that the decks have been cleared for Stalin, 59, who has spent more than four decades in the party and has the support of most of the 32 district secretaries and most senior functionaries.
He recently revamped the youth wing, which he leads, and is now visiting each district to assess the party’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of the 2014 general election — all with his dad’s blessings.
“If the situation demands, Stalin would be the overwhelming choice to succeed Karunanidhi. Most of the cadres want our leader to declare that openly, and Karunanidhi too wants it. But he is unable to because of family pressures,” a senior party MLA said.
“(Elder son) Alagiri does not want his importance whittled down while (daughter) Kanimozhi has become politically ambitious after going to jail in the 2G scam. So, the least Karunanidhi can do is keep sounding Stalin’s name without agitating his other two children.”
The former chief minister’s remark today came two days ahead of Kanimozhi’s 45th birthday, which her supporters will celebrate with public functions where she will distribute doles to the needy. This is the first time her birthday is being observed with such grandeur and political overtones.
On January 30, Alagiri’s supporters will use his 62nd birthday to try and buttress his claim to a reasonably senior party post.
“After the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Alagiri was a serious contender for the top party post. But after Jayalalithaa’s win in 2011, when the DMK could not win a single seat in Madurai, considered Alagiri’s citadel, his lack of clout got exposed,” a party MP said.
“Also, his failure to bring major projects to Madurai as Union minister, his abysmal record in Parliament where he has not spoken a single line, and his failure to convert the arrest warrant against son Durai Dayanidhi into a political fight have proved his undoing.
“Yet he wants a powerful post in the party’s central leadership rather than be confined to the post of convener of the party’s southern zone. But Stalin conducted all his youth wing interviews in the south without even informing Alagiri.”
Stalin’s 60th birthday celebrations on March 1 will offer his supporters one more chance to underline his unshakable grip on the party in spite of his father’s reluctance to openly declare him the chosen one.