What next for DMK: Succession dilemma makes future tense

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On July 27, Karunanidhi achieved a feat few political leaders can boast of — being at the helm of a political party for 50 years. He would have been hoping that his successor, if not in terms of longevity, at least in terms of ease with which he controlled the party, would have the same felicity.

But that appears tough, given the ill will between his nominated successor, MK Stalin, and his other children.

Consider the last major electoral test the party faced. RK Nagar in Chennai was an assembly seat held by chief minister J Jayalalithaa before she died. When by-elections were held in 2017, with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) split into two factions and each of them putting up their candidates, it was predicted as an easy win for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

When the results came in, the DMK was in the third position. Party president Karunanidhi’s second son MK Alagiri blamed his younger brother and working president of the party, Stalin, for the defeat and said: “Not just RK Nagar. The DMK will not win any polls till he is at the helm. This would not have happened if Thalaivar (referring to Karunanidhi) had been in charge.”

The comment indicated that despite Karunanidhi’s best efforts to ensure a smooth family succession to the party’s leadership, the sibling rivalry smouldered on. For the longest time, Stalin had been his father’s understudy, the chosen one to eventually succeed.

Karunanidhi groomed him first as the mayor of Chennai and later inducted him into his cabinet and made him the state’s first deputy chief minister. Known for his low-key manner and ability to take party seniors along, he was a study in contrast to his elder brother.

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