For M K Stalin, widely perceived to be a natural heir to DMK supremo M Karunanidhi notwithstanding his protestations, the elevation as Working President of the party caps his steady rise in the party in his nearly five-decade-long political career. In a smooth ‘succession’, Stalin was today named Working President by the party General Council with all powers of the post of President, a position his 93-year-old father M Karunanidhi continues to hold.
After steadily climbing in the party hierarchy from starting as a municipal-ward level representative to becoming the Treasurer and now the Working President, the 63-year old leaders enters a decisive phase in his political career.
His elevation comes at a time when Tamil Nadu’s politics is on the cusp of a change with the failing health of Karunanidhi, death of former AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa and her aide V K Sasikala becoming the party General Secretary.
Known as “Thalapathi” (commander) among his supporters, Stalin had held various posts in the party such as deputy general secretary and youth wing chief besides being a minister and later Deputy Chief Minister in his father’s cabinet and Chennai Mayor.
With affable and easily accessible traits, Stalin endeared himself to the party’s rank and file more by taking up new initiatives.
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Through his “Pesalam Vaanga” (Come let us talk) and “Namakku Naame” (we for ourselves) state-wide tours in the run up to the elections, Stalin freely mingled with the common man and established himself as the man at the helm of DMK.
In the past few years, Stalin could arguably be said to have steered the political discourse though AIADMK and the ruling establishment preferring silence on most issues, a striking feature when Jayalalithaa was at the helm.
Stalin could now be expected to target the state government even more aggressively as he tightens his grip further over the DMK which had seen factional feud in the past.
With no presence of his elder brother and former Union Minister M K Alagiri, in the party, there is none to stop Stalin DMK with top leaders who count firmly behind him.
Madurai-based Azhagiri had in the past opposed elevation of Stalin saying he would not accept any one other than Karunanidhi as his leader, prompting the party patriarch to push the succession issue to the back burner.
However, Stalin has a good rapport with his half-sister and DMK Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi.
Be it any issue including the Cauvery, agrarian distress or the civic polls, which were cancelled by the Madras High Court in October last on a DMK plea, Stalin got his party catapulted into the forefront of political narrative.
Though victory eluded DMK in the last year’s Assembly polls, in which he led the campaign, it was his proactive electoral field work that made the contest pretty close between his party and the AIADMK.
DMK bagged as many as 89 seats making his party a robust Opposition, robbing the shine of the back-to-back winning march of ruling AIADMK a bit. Stalin became the Leader of Opposition for the first time.
Stalin patiently waited for his elevation though his name was doing the rounds as early as 2007 when it was expected that he will be named “successor” of Karunanidhi at a party youth wing conference in Tirunelveli.
All along, he had also scotched “rumours” that he was fed up with not being elevated.
In 2015, he had dismissed as malicious rumours a claim that he had offered to quit his post of Treasurer as he was not allowed to contest for a higher post like that of general secretary in the organisational polls.
Be it the reorganisation of party structure in 2015 when district party units were made 65 to accommodate aspiring party leaders and better field work, the organisational polls last year, selection of candidates for Assembly polls, the signature of Stalin was evident.
However, he continued to project his father despite his supporters wanting him to take over the mantle as he did not want to allow room for any dissent or suspicion from the old guard in the party.
Born March 1, 1953 he campaigned for DMK in the 1967 elections when he was a 14-year old school student. He was incarcerated under MISA during the emergency in 1976.
He became the party’s Youth Wing Secretary in 1984 and since then he has been holding the post despite advancing years.
Stalin’s growth has been steady and he became party Deputy General Secretary in 2003 and was re-elected Treasurer for the second five-year term in January 2015.
He became an MLA for the first time in 1989 from Thousand Lights constituency in Chennai, which he had won thrice. In 1996, he was elected Mayor of Chennai Corporation and re-elected in 2001.
However, he had to make an exit from the post with the AIADMK capturing power and enacting a law that barred elected representatives also holding positions in local bodies.
Groomed by Karunanidhi in governance, in 2006 Stalin became the Local Administration Minister in the DMK government and went on to become the Deputy Chief Minister in 2009.