There was so little suspense over M.K. Stalin being elected again as president of the ruling DMK party that the event seemed to run like a predictable and melodramatic Tamil movie of yore. But it would have been shocking had any party member thought of filing his or her nomination against Thalapathy or ‘General’ who heads the party and the government as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The DMK may struggle to shrug off the tag of “family rule”, but the cadre-based party does respect its electoral process, even if seniors routinely get elected repeatedly without opposition from the ranks.
A second term for Stalin as president reaffirms that he is well ensconced after spending just over a year in the CM’s chair. Before that, he had spent decades as the heir apparent, content to be in the shadow of the party patriarch, Muthuvel Karunanidhi. From here, Stalin’s vaulting ambition is to play a decisive national role as his stature as a regional satrap is already clear as crystal with his party’s 38 MPs in the Lok Sabha, a number that places DMK third, behind only BJP and Congress.
Stalin sees 2024 as a national springboard though his backing Rahul Gandhi as Prime Ministerial candidate came a cropper the last time out. He has spent the time since May 2021 as a diligent CM tending to administrative tasks while giving a free rein to party colleagues to take up ideological and other issues, though some of them did cause him a heartache with their tendency to play the loose cannon, as Stalin himself admitted at his second coronation.
The induction of Kanimozhi Karunanidhi as a deputy general secretary may have triggered a few murmurs as she, like Stalin, holds two posts now. But, by dint of the work she has put in for years as a parliamentarian, she may have earned her stripes.
With Stalin having graduated to total control of the party, nothing he does may draw serious scrutiny. Having studiously cultivated his image for so long, he may set his sights higher, but only as a faithful ally of the Congress, whose fortunes may make or break Stalin as a leader beyond his native Tamil Nadu.