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MK Alagiri's homecoming call

MK Alagiris homecoming call

The longstanding leadership tussle between brothers MK Stalin and MK Alagiri that resurfaced soon after the demise of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, earlier this month, is slowly moving to reconciliation or so it seems. In the latest move, the elder son of Karunanidhi, MK Alagiri, has said that he is ready to return to DMK and would work under the leadership of MK Stalin, who was elected as the President of the party unopposed on Tuesday. Though Alagiri also said that Stalin was not ready to readmit him into the party, the new DMK chief is expected to change his stance and allow the entry of his elder brother into the party fold. Alagiri was expelled from the DMK by Karunanidhi at the height of a turf war between the two brothers ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. After the demise of Karunanidhi, DMK, under its new chief Stalin, is still trying to find its feet in the state's politics. At this juncture, a family dispute over the control of the party would not send a positive message to DMK's many followers. After the death of J Jayalalitha in 2016, AIADMK suffered a serious leadership crisis and its popularity has nosedived. Similarly, after the death of Karunanidhi, the popularity of DMK is likely to take a beating and the new leadership will have a tough task on its hands to keep the party relevant in the changing political realities of the state.

Alagiri has said that if he is not readmitted into the party, DMK will once again face a humiliating defeat in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, like it did in 2014 when AIADMK won 37 out of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu. What Alagiri has said may come true, given the fact that DMK under the leadership of Stalin has few issues on which it can seek votes. Karunanidhi thrived on a host of issues ranging from the opposition to Hindi to the dominance of North India. He was one of the chief proponents and ideologues of the Dravidian movement, which fought against the prevalent Brahmanism. He took on the Centre, seeking more rights and autonomy for the states. These were the issues that galvanised the people and kept them hooked to the DMK in the past. Now, none of these issues is relevant and Stalin cannot invoke them to mobilise people in favour of his party. So, the first crisis that Stalin faces as the President of DMK is to set up an agenda on which it can take on the BJP in the next Lok Sabha elections. In his first speech as the DMK president, Stalin has made it clear that the party would follow the ideology of his father Karunanidhi, which is not very different from the ideological moorings of the AIADMK. This complicates Stalin's task of coming up with a distinctive agenda that appeals to the people at large. In this context, when the party has nothing new to talk about, it will be worthwhile to invoke the legacy of the Karunanidhi family, which can result in a sympathy wave in favour of the DMK. Stalin must be keenly aware of the limited choices he has and, sooner than later, he should realise that the strength of the party would come from the personal appeals of his siblings and other family members.

If the DMK does not fight the elections unitedly and uses family members to win more seats, the AIADMK will not only benefit from the situation but also help national parties such as the BJP to spread its wings. The importance of Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi stemmed from the fact that they kept the voters in the state glued to regional issues and leveraged their political standing to seek a better deal from the Centre. As long as they remained active, the national parties were never relevant in Tamil Nadu politics. But the situation has completely changed now and Stalin, who was chosen by his father as his political heir, has the responsibility to ensure that the influence of the party and his family in the state's politics and the power corridors of Delhi does not diminish. For this, he will have to strengthen the party and allow new leaders, who can bring into focus a set of new agendas that connect with the people, to emerge on the horizon. Alagiri, who was a minister in the last UPA government at the Centre and has loyal followers along with a strong support base in the southern district of Madurai and its periphery, can bring fresh dynamism into the party and therefore, should not only be readmitted into the party but also given a position from where he can exercise leadership to adequately motivate DMK's many cadres.

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