BROTHERS SQUABBLE IN DMK- Azhagiri's part in party to be decided today
Mydeen Abdul Kadar/Team 101Reporters
Chennai: Any hopes M K Stalin, working president of the DMK, might have had of a smooth succession to party president after his father M Karunanidhi’s recent demise was dashed in the aftermath his brother M K Azhagiri’s visit to Karunanidhi’s memorial yesterday morning with his family.
There Azhagiri, a former union minister in the UPA, claimed that he had the support of loyal followers of his father. While also accusing Stalin of not wanting him back in the party, he said, “I poured all my feelings to my father and time will answer everything." The Madurai-based strongman had been expelled from DMK in 2014 for anti-party activities.
Karunanidhi had been grooming Stalin as his political heir and given the DMK patriarch’s inability to handle the party’s day-to-day affairs because of his age and poor health, Stalin had been announced as the working president in DMK’s general body meeting in January 2017.
After he took over, he reportedly invited all the 65 DMK district secretaries to Chennai to hear their reports and concerns about party workings. He further continued to lead initiatives like the reorganization of the party’s district borders and the change of district administrators. He was due to preside of his first general body meeting as Working President on August 19, but this has been postponed due to Karunanidhi’s death.
Meanwhile, an emergency executive committee meeting is to be held today. On paper, the agenda is to condole Kalaignar’s death discuss issues like the demand for a Bharat Ratna (posthumous) for him, a statue in his honour, and how the party can continue to uphold his legacy. Additionally, the official nomination of Stalin to the position of President of the party is to be put forth, which will be formalised during the next general body meeting. Sources had said that the matter of reinstating Azhagiri to the party, awarding party posts to Azhagiri and their half-sister and former MP Kanimozhi were also likely to be taken up, in addition to filling a number of vacant party positions like that of treasurer, deputy general secretary and six zonal organising secretaries.
But Azhagiri’s dramatic claim that the “real DMK loyalists are with me,” has raised speculation on whether the DMK will face the same situation its chief rival AIADMK is going through in the battle for control of Jayalalitha’s party and legacy. Posters and banners supporting Azhagiri as the next DMK party president erected by his loyalists have sprouted in the state even as Azhagiri said he was not part of the DMK and hence can’t comment on the proceedings of today’s meeting.
There is no major obstacle in allowing Azhagiri back into the party, as the general secretary is empowered to do that, said V Kannadasan, joint secretary of DMK’s legal wing. “All he would have to do is submit a letter of apology and with one announcement from the general secretary he can be inducted into the party again.” According to sources close to Stalin, he has been focussed on getting the blessings of the executive committee in inducting Azhagiri into the party, though technically he wouldn’t need their permission to do so. Stalin, they say, prefers to get him back into the party fold first and then resolve the matter of which party post to give him at the yet-to-be-scheduled general body meeting. Stalin reportedly feels giving Azhagiri an important party post immediately would not be appropriate.
Over the past two days, discussions about the distribution of power within the party have been going on between the family members and senior party leaders, a party functionary who wished to remain anonymous said. Azhagiri was also present for some of these meetings. Reportedly, DMK General Secretary and Karunanidhi’s contemporary K Anbazhagan has expressed a desire to step down from his post. While Durai Murugan is waiting in the wings to take over, Azhagiri’s displeasure at this move had placed the brothers at loggerheads. Also, Stalin has been cautioned by senior functionaries against appointing Azhagiri as treasurer (even though his family has been insisting that he do so) because they are worried that he might create problems for the party at a later date. This has infuriated Azhagiri further, the party member said.
Some observers of the state’s politics, like veteran journalist Durai Karuna compared Azhagiri’s move to that of former AIADMK chief minister O Pannerselvam’s call to "dharmayudham" within his party. But others feel Stalin is not averse to bringing his brother back into the party.
Azhagiri, after all, has been the organizing secretary for south Tamil Nadu and was primarily responsible for the party’s victory in the Thirumangalam bypolls. How the modalities are resolved remains to be seen. But Stalin cannot ignore Azhagiri’s political strength in southern Tamil Nadu, as emphasised by Azhagiri’s supporters.
Speaking about the change in Azhagiri’s strategy, a close associate of his and a high-ranking politician in Madurai said, “For the sake of Kalaignar, Azhagiri was prepared to forget the past and put aside his differences with Stalin in order to bring the party together. But Stalin is feeling threatened about bringing Azhagiri back into the party and is working to prevent this. Azhagiri must be immediately reinstated and given a party post. If Stalin knows what’s good for him he would try to placate Azhagiri. If not he would be digging himself deeper into trouble.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by long-time friend of Azhagiri’s and Madurai urban district presidium chairman K Issakimuthu when he spoke to reporters in Chennai. He said that Azhagiri’s anger was righteous and sidelining him would ruin DMK. Many people in and around Madurai have prospered because of Azhagiri and they are now worried about the party’s treatment of him. “Boycotting Azhagiri would only be detrimental to the party, not Azhagiri. Stalin will realise this soon,” he said.
The only official statement from the DMK on this imbroglio has come from MLA J Anbazhagan who told reporters that Azhagiri is not a part of DMK and there was no need to respond to his statements. “He was expelled from the party by Kalaignar when he was the president; it’s not a recent development. So no DMK members are in contact with him and we will stay united under Stalin’s leadership,” he said.
With Inputs from Dhanabalan.