Close on the heels of the AIADMK’s decision to have V.K. Sasikala, aide to the late J. Jayalalithaa, as party chief, the DMK general council has appointed M.K. Stalin as working president of the party. The DMK statement mentioned that Stalin will henceforth be responsible for all decisions and appointments by the party. His father M. Karunanidhi, continues to be the party president, but indications are the ailing patriarch, who had led the DMK since the death of founder-leader C.N. Annadurai in 1969, is unlikely to return to the political centrestage. The baton seems to have finally been passed on to Stalin, who has been groomed to lead the party for some years now.
WATCH VIDEO | Big Jolt To AIADMK: Find Out What Happened
The changes at the top of the two Dravidian majors, though influenced by entirely different trajectories, mean that political battles in Tamil Nadu hereafter will possibly see a new dynamic and language. Karunanidhi was schooled in the Dravidian Movement tradition that emphasised the written and spoken word. Rhetoric and a deep sense of history and culture defined his political views, which he explicated in the DMK mouthpiece for party cadres. His rivals in the AIADMK, M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa, were populists, who banked on their screen persona to launch political careers. Stalin’s forte is not scholarship, but he has a formidable record as an organiser, running the DMK’s youth front and managing poll campaigns, and an administrator, having been the mayor of Chennai and deputy chief minister of the state. In his first letter to the party after assuming the new post, Stalin asked the cadres to treat him as one among them. It reveals his leadership style — accessible and engaging. Sasikala is untested as a leader, having been in the shadow of Jayalalithaa all these years. The upcoming elections to civic bodies will see the two leaders face-off: Stalin preparing the DMK to exploit the fuzzy post-Jayalalithaa political scenario and Sasikala seeking to establish her credentials as a leader.
The challenge before the leaders is not just to build on the legacy of their predecessors but also to craft a new political language agreeable to a large youthful and aspirational population. The radical energy unleashed by the Dravidian Movement long exhausted its potential to drive social and economic change. The political stasis is reflected in the rise of corruption and caste violence. The new leaders will need a new social imagination if they want to lead the state to the next stage of social and economic development.