Parties still bet on old horses
What is common between British Prince Charles, Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi, the DMK leader MK Stalin, and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal? They are all in the queue to take over from their parent, some eagerly and Rahul Gandhi reluctantly. The 90-year-old Queen has had Prince Charles wait for decades. Stalin too is facing the same problem that his 94-year-old father Karunanidhi is still in the saddle. Parkash Singh Badal is going strong at the age of 87.
Stalin is important in the context of Tamil Nadu politics. His fate will be known in the ensuing Assembly polls. Having made the DMK party his family fiefdom, Karunanidhi is not averse to anointing his son but he also does not want to upset the apple cart before the Assembly polls. Stalin supporters wanted him to be projected as the chief ministerial face but the old guard including Durai Murugan wanted the 94-year-old Karunanidhi as the chief ministerial candidate. Also, Stalin is no match to the chief minister Jayalalithaa.
Before the entry of older brother Azhagiri and half-sister Kanimozhi a decade ago, Stalin was the undisputed leader when Karunanidhi made him deputy Chief Minister in 2009. But rising ambitions and family politics have blocked him. Azhagiri and Kanimozhi are staking their claim for their father’s political legacy. Azhagiri is now out of favour while Kanimozhi has patched up with Stalin. So, Stalin has practically taken over the organisation despite the family feuds.
The bitter truth is that it is a difficult task for the weak DMK-Congress combine to come back to power. Jaya has surpassed the DMK in extending welfare programmes and freebies. Left with none of its traditional political planks from the Tamil cause to the anti-Centre rhetoric, each one has been hijacked by Jayalalithaa.
No one can fault Stalin for not trying to woo the electorate. For the past six months and more, he has been touring the state with his “Namakku Naame” road shows. He has hired a PR firm which is working on an image makeover with the result Stalin now sports trousers and shirt making an attempt to woo the youth between 18 to 30 who are about 21 percent of the electorate. Besides, he is also active on social media. Making a shift from the Dravidian ideology, Stalin has been surprisingly visiting temples and participated in some religious ceremonies to expand his base.
There are many who doubt the future of the DMK in the post-Karunanidhi era. The party may or may not remain intact. For more than six decades, Karunanidhi has been a key figure in Tamil Nadu politics, either as Chief Minister or opposition leader. He has survived other leaders like Annadurai and also leaders of stature like and M.G. Ramachandran and G.K. Moopanar in other parties. Therefore, his stature is unquestionable. The reality is that the baton has to be handed over sooner or later.
This week, there was a news report that Rahul Gandhi would become the Congress President in 2016. This has been going on for some time and when Rahul Gandhi became the vice president in 2013 it was thought that he was only a step away from becoming the Congress chief. However, that has not happened although Sonia Gandhi has taken a backseat allowing a free hand to her son.
The five states which are going to polls this year will be a test for the young Gandhi but it will be a miracle if the Congress retains at least one of the states it rules. There is a leadership crisis in the party after its humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent Assembly elections except Bihar where it did well. Next year’s Assembly polls to UP and Punjab are also crucial for the Congress revival. The dual power experiment with both the mother and son representing two polls has only created confusion in the party. The old guard is apprehensive about their future once Rahul takes over and therefore want to cling on to Sonia Gandhi.
There is every need to remove these fears. The Congress also does not have second rung leaders. If Rahul does not turn around its fortunes, the Congress would slip further. The party is at the crossroads and the sooner the baton changes hand it will be better.
As for Sukhbir Badal, he is practically the boss both in the government and the party although his father is still electorally relevant. It is expected that Prakash Singh Badal would be the chief ministerial candidate in the 2017 Punjab polls like his old pal Karunanidhi. He is still respected and a grand old man of Punjab. He will be more than a match to the Congress leader Captain Amarinder Singh and the glue that is keeping the Akali Dal-BJP alliance.
Also, the Aam Aadmi Party is making inroads in the state. Sukhbir does not have the same relationship with the BJP. There will be no hurdles for a smooth transition although in the past Manpreet Badal was opposing such moves. Sukhbir has many loyal MLAs in his camp.
The old war horses should realise that the time has come for them to hand over the baton as the politics of the country is changing. If they don’t, then they will be out of step with the electorate.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)