“I was betrayed and Stalin will never become the chief minister and I will ensure it.”
These were the words of MK Alagiri, the elder brother of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, at a public rally on 3 January, 2020.
Two years down the line, Udhayanidhi Stalin — Stalin’s son and a minister in his Cabinet — met Alagiri at his residence in Sathyasai Nagar in Madurai on the night of Monday, 16 January.
This was no ordinary meeting.
It marked a clear shift in dynamics in the DMK’s power structure — and the rising popularity of another leader from the South Tamil Nadu belt may have a lot to do with it.
The rift between the brothers is well known in Tamil Nadu politics, even when the DMK patriarch Kalaignar Karunanidhi was alive.
In her 2011 and 2016 election campaigns, the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa launched stronger attacks against Alagiri than Stalin. This was just one example of how significant Alagiri was in the DMK, particularly in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu.
After the death of Karunanidhi, Alagiri was adamant about not accepting Stalin as the heir-apparent to the DMK throne. But after Stalin’s landslide victory in the 2021 Assembly elections, Alagiri realised that he could do nothing to stop Stalin and began changing his stance.
On 6 May, 2021, Alagiri, left with no other option, congratulated his brother: “I’m happy that my brother has become chief minister; I am proud.”
Thereafter, efforts to bridge the chasm between the two had begun in the family. Selvi, the elder daughter of Karunanidhi, opened a dialogue with Stalin, requesting him to induct Alagiri into the party.
Stalin, fully aware of Alagiri’s strength, was averse to the idea. The chief minister was wary of a possible second power centre emerging within the party. Stalin, however, is learned to have assured Selvi that other than offering a political role, he will do anything for his brother.
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The rise of the son
The outreach to MK Alagiri is well-timed, and comes after MK Stalin has firmly put his son Udhayanidhi Stalin’s succession plan in place.
Sources close to Alagiri said that the move to scale up Udhayanidhi’s profile had upset Alagiri.
On the other hand, MK Alagiri’s son and film producer-distributer Dhayanidhi Alagiri and Udhayanidhi Stalin have been spotted together at a couple of functions, indicating that the relationship between the two families had not deteriorated.
The first family of DMK is particular about the smooth transition of power in future to Udhay and has begun the moves to avoid the possible threats to Udhayanidhi when he takes over the party.
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Other players in the game
The rising popularity of another minister in the MK Stalin Cabinet has also set alarm bells ringing in the DMK’s first family.
A highly placed source in the DMK told South First: “Considering the facts and intelligence reports, the rising popularity of a minister, who hails from a traditional Dravidian family, had been considered as a possible threat to Udhay in future.”
“The minister, who calls a spade a spade and sticks to the roots of the Dravidian ideology, could become a problem, is what the first family considers and this could be the reason why he has not been given any party posts till now,” the source added.
Then there is the challenge that may emerge from the extended first family.
“Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, a sitting MP and a direct heir of the late DMK stalwart Karunanidhi, is also gaining popularity among party cadres. Though Kanimozhi has accepted the leadership of her brother Stalin, not everyone is convinced that she would accept Udhay’s leadership,” the source added.
It was against this background that the move was made to induct Udhayanidhi into the Cabinet and clear his path as the next leader of the DMK. And it is against this background that the building of bridges with Alagiri should be viewed.
What transpired in the meeting
On Monday afternoon Alagiri was informed by a family member that Udhayanidhi Stalin was travelling to Madurai and wanted to meet him. Alagiri informed his aides, but kept the information to himself — till Udhay himself spoke to his uncle and said he would be visiting him.
Late in the evening, Udhay reached Madurai airport where Finance Minister Palanivel Thiagarajan, popularly known as PTR, and other party functionaries welcomed him.
Udhayanidhi left for his hotel and later proceeded to Alagiri’s house for dinner. Udhayanidhi was particular about not taking any party functionary with him to Alagiri’s house. The only person who accompanied him was his friend and School Education Minister Anbil Magesh.
Alagiri, introduced seven of his staunchest supporters to Udhayanidhi, but later even they were sent out and a discussion was held between only family members.
Sources close to Alagiri said that “the discussion was mainly about family issues, but Alagiri also expressed a few concerns about the party’s position in the southern region”.
The sources also said that Udhay conveyed that his father Stalin wished to visit Alagiri sometime around the end of this month or in February.
Soon after the meeting was over, Alagiri and Udhay met with the media persons gathered outside his residence.
Responding to a question about whether he would be inducted into the party again, Alagiri replied that it was something that had to be decided by the party high command. Throughout the interaction with media, Alagiri and Udhay maintained that meeting was no more than a courtesy call.
Political calculations beyond the meeting
A highly placed source in the DMK told South First: “Though they (Alagiri and Udhay) are related, one should not forget that they are politicians too. Now all misunderstandings and rifts within the family are over. Stalin wants to convey to few of the top functionaries and ministers that they can’t go beyond his control.”
Stalin visited Madurai several times after he became chief minister, but never visited Alagiri. This latest move indicates that Stalin is ready to trust his brother rather than trusting others, for the future of the party.
The source also added that Stalin’s focus is now on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and he is keen on winning all the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu for which his brother’s expertise and influence in the southern parts will come in handy.
When South First asked party cadres in Madurai if the move was sending out mixed signals, the consensus was that there may be some party functionaries who will now seek to maintain links with Alagiri for their personal gains.
“But the grassroot cadre will always stick to ideologies and the Rising Sun symbol, so there won’t be any confusion for them.”