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Challenges for new DMK chief

Challenges for new DMK chief

Within three weeks of M Karunanidhi's demise, his youngest son and working president of DMK, M Stalin was appointed as the president of the party on Tuesday. In his first address as the DMK president, he called upon party workers to uproot the BJP government at the Centre and the AIADMK government in the state. "My dream is to oppose those who give religious colour to everything... We will teach a lesson to the Narendra Modi government," said the new party chief. Even though he was elected to the state Assembly six times, the 65-year-old leader has only once been a minister and also the Deputy Chief Minister in his father's government. He has served as the mayor of Chennai Municipal Corporation. For decades, politics in Tamil Nadu centred around AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha and DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who took turns to hold power in the state. It's for the time that the next generation of leaders like Stalin are directly in charge of the affairs and the first test of his leadership is the upcoming general elections next year. While DMK may be ready for a post-poll alliance with BJP but right now, it is eyeing to win as many seats as possible in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. DMK Chief Stalin's address on Tuesday practically ruled out any possibility of a pre-poll alliance with the saffron party. "Today's political situation has come as a grave challenge. Education, art, literature, religion are under attack by authoritative and communal forces. The Union government is trying to destabilise the judiciary, selection of governors. All this has dealt a blow to the secular principles," Stalin said. The BJP government has trampled upon rights of the state governments, he added.

In his speech, Stalin also said that the party would follow Karunanidhi's ideology. This means that the party's stand on the imposition of Hindi on non-Hindi speaking states and the spread of communal politics would not change. The toughest challenge that Stalin faces as the president of Tamil Nadu's one of the most influential political parties is to keep the cadres and voters engaged and amused. The ground realities have changed a lot since his father made a foray into politics and made it big riding the popular support to agitations against the imposition of Hindi and hegemony of Brahminism. The Dravidian movement that ignited a social movement against caste discrimination and control of Brahmins in society has lost its appeal long ago. The rivalry that kept Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi forever etched in the minds of the people is also missing when Stalin takes on the AIADMK leadership. The scene today is all without the usual glitters and fireworks that worked as the hallmark of the politics in the state for the last many decades. Though Stalin has been by the side of Karunanidhi all along his political career and has a better grip over the party, the task to keep the party workers inspired will be the ultimate test of his leadership.

As far as political equations are concerned, though the ruling AIADMK is not part of any national front such as NDA or UPA, it's aligned to BJP and may have an alliance with the party in the next general election. DMK, however, was part of the UPA-2 government and the alliance may continue. But the political vacuum left behind by the demise of strong and charismatic leaders like Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi may present national parties -- BJP and Congress -- an opportunity to make inroads into the state. So far, BJP has not been able to win elections in any of the southern states despite hard work and the opportunity in Tamil Nadu is just too tempting to resist. So, the challenge to Stalin's leadership does not come so much from AIADAMK as from BJP and Congress. He clearly needs a set of agenda that appeals the masses and keep them hooked to regional issues. Otherwise, he will slowly lose the battle to national parties. This explains the content of Stalin's first speech as the DMK President. He talked about stopping the politics of communal divide and hatred. He talked about following the ideals of Karunanidhi and assert the pride of Tamil nationalism. He has asked the party workers to work unitedly and remove AIADMK from power. In the days to come when he feels the heat of competition given by national parties like BJP, he will have to include more substance in his speeches and take up new issues that concern the common man. He will have to reinvent the party and make it relevant to the changing political realities at the national and the state levels.

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