Rewind to these three images. Of a frail but determined and beaming Former Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi sitting at the entrance of the hall at the Secretariat to welcome leaders to an All Party Meet on the Cauvery tangle many years back. Of his son M.K.Stalin attending the swearing-in ceremony of J.Jayalalithaa along with Prof.K.Ambazhagan, despite the seating goof up. Of the DMK’s heir apparent meeting the AIADMK supremo with the party’s donation to a relief fund a few years ago. While footage of the first two incidents that I had covered as a young NDTV Correspondent in the late nineties and 2001 is still vivid in my mind, I remember writing an opinion piece on the third instance for DT Next newspaper captioned ‘An Olive Branch To Two Leaves’ well after I left tv journalism to plunge into Law Practice.
My first interaction with M.K.Stalin was in the mid nineties. He was the Mayor of Chennai and I was a student of the Dr.Ambedkar Govt Law College. My teammate Joydeep Mazumdar and I were selected to represent Tamil Nadu in an All India Oratorical Competition. Our friend in the debating circuit Neela’s father was the Chennai Corporation Commissioner. Through his office, we sought an appointment and met the Mayor at his chamber in Ripon Building. In that short courtesy call, Stalin greeted us warmly and wished us well for the contest. A soft spot for lawyers and law students probably leaked out a wee bit!
The advantage of working in a regional bureau of a national tv channel was that, unlike newspapers with beats for different political parties, we got to cover them all. A sense of familiarity with leaders across the divide was inevitable. Having reported on the DMK and Stalin in his different avatars – as a party leader, Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, on the NDTV network for a decade and a half, he always struck me as a man of few words but with a steely resolve to get the job done, combative but not confrontationist. So when the outgoing Chief Secretary Dr.Rajeev Ranjan, IAS, posted a picture on facebook of AIADMK leader O.Paneerselvam sharing the table with the new Chief Minister Stalin, Governor Purohit and senior DMK Ministers like Durai Murugan, over high tea after the swearing-in at the Raj Bhavan, I was not surprised.
As a public speaker and mentor, I watch the body language and speeches of leaders closely. It may well be coincidental but the 2008 victory speech of the then US President Barack Obama has a striking similarity. On his opponents Sarah Palin and Senator John McCain, Obama remarked: “I look forward to working with them to renew this nation’s promise in the months ahead.” Stalin reaching out to the Opposition and viewing them as partners in the State’s progress, and not as enemies, inducting a few former AIADMK leaders who switched to the DMK, as Ministers in his cabinet, taking all political parties into confidence before announcing the lockdown and even including former Health Minister Dr.Vijaybhaskar in a Covid Action Committee augurs well for a new political culture of cooperation.
The other common thread was Obama’s reference to those who did not vote for him. “And, to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President, too.” Stalin too addressed this segment and is reported to have promised to work hard to make those who did not choose him to change their impression and wonder why they did not vote for the DMK led alliance. These are not accidental utterances but a sign of maturity and a well thought out stance to take everyone along.
For far too long, Tamil Nadu has witnessed revolving door style politics. Cases filed against former bigwigs, bureaucrats on a roller coaster ride, previous government policies and schemes reversed and opposition leaders boycotting the assembly for almost the whole term, except for that occasional signing of the register. With the present line of thinking and young turks like Udhayanidhi Stalin now in the legislature, a new bonhomie may soon replace the earlier rivalry for the next five years. Or, as the party hopes, for a longer haul.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)