While there was chaos in the AIADMK after Jayalalithaa’s demise, the transition in the DMK happened with relative ease
For the first time in decades, an election in Tamil Nadu will be fought in the absence of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M Karunanidhi and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)’s J Jayalalithaa. The two giants of Tamil Nadu politics and former chief ministers of the state passed away in 2018 and 2016, respectively.
Following their demise, their respective parties, DMK and AIADMK, witnessed completely opposite transition processes. The state’s ruling AIADMK descended into chaos with multiple factions fighting to take control of the party.
However, the transition was relatively smooth in the DMK with Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin taking over seamlessly.
While the DMK is straddling on Stalin’s back to ride to victory, there are other key members of the family propelling the party closer to power, one step at a time. Here’s a look at DMK’s first family:
The 'Thalaivar' (leader) or, the 'Kalaignar' (artist), demonstrated how art and politics could blend seamlessly. Starting as a script writer, Karunanidhi went on to become Tamil Nadu’s chief minister five times.
He wielded considerable influence beyond Tamil Nadu, in the corridors of power in New Delhi, stitching up alliances with both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This, however, drew criticism from his rivals, who called him an opportunist.
Karunanidhi was a legislator for six decades since 1957, barring the period between 1986 and 1989.
In 1984, he was elected to the Legislative Council, which was abolished by the MG Ramachandran government in 1986.
After taking command of the state government, Karunanidhi became the DMK chief in July 1969, a post that he held till death. He again became the chief minister in 1971, 1989, 1996 and 2006.
He was DMK’s patriarch and ran the organisation with an iron fist.
Also read | Karunanidhi’s life in pictures: A revered artist, chief minister and kingmaker
While there was chaos in the AIADMK after Jayalalithaa’s demise, the transition in the DMK happened with relative ease. Many attribute this to Karunanidhi’s succession plan. Years before his death, Karunanidhi had steadily manoeuvred Stalin to lead the party.
Their critics suggest that potential challengers such as Vaiyapuri Gopalsamy, commonly known as Vaiko — who went on to form his own party — were systematically weeded out to make way for Stalin. At one point, Vaiko was seen as Karunanidhi's ideological protégé.
In 1980, Stalin was made the secretary of the party's new youth wing. Nine years later, he was made to contest for the assembly from the Thousand Lights 'safe seat' in Chennai.
Stalin was made the mayor of the Tamil Nadu capital in 1996 and got a cabinet position in his father's government in 2006. He was finally elevated to become the state's first deputy chief minister in 2009, ahead of other senior leaders.
Stalin promptly took over key functions of the party after Karunanidhi's health started deteriorating.
Critics, however, suggest that unlike his father, Stalin is not a self-made politician and his 'inexperienced' leadership could spell doom for the party, founded by Karunanidhi's mentor CN Annadurai.
To back their argument, critics point out that the DMK had fought the 2016 assembly polls under Stalin's leadership, in which they faced defeat at the hands of AIADMK. This AIADMK victory was for the first time a party had retained power in the state since 1984.
However, since taking over as the Leader of Opposition, Stalin has been trying to step up his game.
Muthuvel Karunanidhi Kanimozhi is Karunanidhi’s youngest child and Stalin’s step-sister. She is a journalist, poet and a Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha).
She heads DMK’s women, art and literature and rationalism wings and has been often been called Karunanidhi’s "literary heir" and the party’s point-person in Delhi.
The party has fielded former Union minister Dayanidhi Maran from the Chennai Central Lok Sabha seat. Dayanidhi is the younger son of Murasoli Maran — Karunanidhi’s maternal uncle.
Murasoli, who died in 2003, was a Member of Parliament (MP) for 36 years. He was also a Union minister in governments led by VP Singh, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was also one of the key leaders of the DMK.
Dayanidhi has been an MP from the constituency twice. He is Karunanidhi’s grandnephew and has been associated with the fields of cable technology and media. His elder brother Kalanidhi Maran is a billionaire and the founder of Sun Group.
While Kalanidhi has not actively participated in politics, Dayanidhi continues to play a major role in DMK.
In spite of the clear succession plan in the DMK, there were minor hiccups in Stalin taking over as party president. Stalin’s elder brother MK Alagiri came out of political hibernation days after their father’s death in August.
In the 2000s, Alagiri used to be a party strongman, drawing support, especially from the Madurai region. He was made the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 2 government.
Eventually, he was sidelined from the party and Stalin was announced as Karunanidhi's political heir. Alagiri was expelled from the party in 2014 by Karunanidhi in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls for "anti-party activities".
But, the estranged elder brother said neither he nor his son Dayanidhi Alagiri yearned for any position in the party and they only wanted to return to the DMK.
For now, their younger sister MK Kanimozhi is backing Stalin.
Analysts say, as long as Stalin can win elections for the DMK, there would be no threat to his leadership and Alagiri would have to wait for Stalin to make mistakes. Alagiri has not announced his course of action yet. It remains unclear if he will launch his own party.Now, Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi is also looking to actively campaign for the DMK.