For far too long, it was a case of ‘so close, yet so far’ for M.K. Stalin. Unlike an Akhilesh Yadav whose father Mulayam Singh Yadav had placed him in the Chief Minister’s chair in Uttar Pradesh, the DMK scion had to patiently wait for his turn, as he climbed one rung after another. Having campaigned for his party as a teenager and borne the brunt of the Emergency through his detention under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act, few will grudge Stalin’s rise to the top.
If you are a Johnny Come Lately and get promoted in an organisation, tongues can wag. Not if you head the party’s Youth Wing for years on end, earn the post of Deputy General Secretary after decades of hard work and get elevated as the Working President only when your father turns inactive.
In terms of administrative acumen, Chennai’s ‘flyover politician’ has grappled with the nitty gritty of Local Administration as the the Minister with that portfolio, as the Chennai Mayor and Deputy Chief Minister. Cabinet induction did not come automatically but took a few stints as an MLA.
Inside the Assembly, Stalin has been combative as ever, even dramatic, in his present position as the Leader of the Opposition. Evidently, at all three levels – party, administration and legislature, Karunanidhi’s successor has earned his spurs.
Everytime the media needled Stalin about being the ‘eternal prince-in-waiting’, the standard response would be: “We are a democratic party. The General Council will decide.” The grand old man of the DMK, the late M.Karunanidhi had himself made no bones about holding the fort till “nature’s intervention.” And when that eventually happened, the party rallied behind its ‘Thalapathy’ as he effortlessly fended opposition from his elder brother Azhagiri, to be crowned ‘Thalaivar’.
If you have observed and covered Stalin for two decades like I have, it’s hard to miss certain traits that have made him a shrewd political leader. With an acting stint under his belt, this son of a former script writer, knows the power of imagery. When he bared his vest with his shirt buttons ripped off before televsion cameras, during that confidence vote pandemonium, the DMK leader captured national headlines. In the face of adverse publicity over incidents like losing his cool with a selfie seeking auto driver or biriyani boxers in his party caught on camera going berserk, Stalin was swift with a damage control counter narrative, making the public exclaim: “now here’s a leader.”
Braving threats from central agencies, the DMK Chief has been unsparing in his criticism of the Centre – be it demonetisation or threats to the media or Hindutva, or Cauvery or Mekedatu or scams, disasters and tragedies in the State, giving the common man and indeed minorities, a feeling of being represented. The rapport with his sister and party MP Kanimozhi reveals a softer side and is bound to go down well with women voters.
To those who wondered if he would inherit the wit of his father, a two minute video excerpt of Stalin’s speech at Karur at an event to celebrate the return of former AIADMK and AMMK leader Senthil Balaji to the DMK fold is a fitting answer. To those who wondered if he would hold old grudges, his reaching out to MDMK Chief Vaiko after a misunderstood remark by a senior DMK leader, is an example to the contrary. To those who felt that he lacked the diplomacy of his mentor, his statement that his party is not against those who believe in God, hardly smacked of instransigence.
The inclination and capacity to be more than a regional chieftain was evident when Stalin piped other potential allies to the projection of Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial candidate from the Grand Alliance in the making. Having ensured a pivotal place for the DMK in the high table of the national opposition, the proof of the electoral pudding will lie in the seat sharing. Stalin may have finally got the DMK throne. But a semi final is on the cards – his ability to play King Maker at the Centre. This may well determine the timing of his long cherished dream of taking the oath as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)