To be headlined in politics, you need either a workable strategy or a stroke of luck.
In a span of three days DMK party treasurer MK Stalin enjoyed both. On Tuesday, his father and DMK President M Karunanidhi opted out completely of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. The exit line was scripted by Stalin, say reliable sources.
On Thursday morning, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) decided to raid the residences of Stalin and a couple of others closely associated with him, in a case purporting to alleged irregularities in importing a foreign car. Luckily for Stalin, the raid worked in his favour, with political parties labeling it as 'political vendetta' and forcing many union ministers including the unflappable P Chidambaram to condemn the raid. Stalin became the top story in satellite news channels and social media. The CBI retired quietly from the scene. By late afternoon, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh went on record to say the government did not order the CBI raid on Stalin's house.
Observers say that as a political script writer, the UPA exit strategy of Stalin's seems to have worked in the state. In the land of political dynasties, where heirs have to wait for decades before being handed the baton, sons and daughters waiting in the wings do not get to charter the course of action when a political storm rages. Neither an Akhilesh Yadav nor a Rahul Gandhi have managed to do what Stalin did a couple of days ago, when he convinced his father and DMK President M Karunanidhi to opt out of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, after it became clear that the DMK's demand of amendments to the US- drafted resolution against Sri Lanka were unlikely to be accommodated by the Congress.
However, big leaps attract huge attention as Stalin will find in the coming days, when every political move he makes will be keenly tracked. The big question is whether Stalin is capable of fashioning a story where the DMK would emerge as a party worth wooing during general elections - something his father did well - or a party whose MPs deserve weighty union ministries, something that his uncle Murasoli Maran was adept at acquiring.
Cobbling together a viable alliance ahead of the parliamentary elections is the ultimate test for every political party leader in every state in India today. Can Stalin craft a storyline capable of attracting a formidable cast of players, thereby delivering a super duper hit at the ballot box in the general elections scheduled for 2014?
Is Stalin ready for the challenges ahead? The DMK has been part of the UPA in both its innings since 2004. However, ahead of the 2011 Assemble election its image took a drubbing in the 2G scam. The party was also seen as having done nothing in 2009 when the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka was underway , with widespread allegations of human rights violations. DMK was a part of the coalition government at that time. Can he make those smudges disappear, convincingly enough for pollsters' faith to be restored?
A senior political journalist says the first challenge for Stalin is to keep the secure the party behind him. "He was very firm on opting out of the UPA once it became clear that the DMK's stand on the US backed resolution was not appreciated in full. To that extent, leaving the UPA at this juncture, somewhat balances the scales. Now, he has to ensure that the DMK does not become a victim of people's anger over the Congress' approach to the Lankan issue," he adds.
Having taken the high road with the Congress, can Stalin successfully forge alliances with those perceived as winners – such as Vijayakanth's DMDK? Vijayakanth was part of the AIADMK-led combine the 2011 local elections where the DMK took a drubbing and came third, thereby failing to qualify as the Opposition party. Can he get the Left to come back to the fold? Can he come up with a strategy capable of nuking a three cornered fight in the State in the general elections? As a state facing severe power crunch, and at loggerheads over sharing of the Cauvery river water with Karnataka, does Stalin realize he needs a hotline to Delhi?
Politics observers concede that unlike his father Karunanidhi, Stalin does not enjoy a great rapport with Congress President Sonia Gandhi or with the BJP leaders . However, "He has both Dayanidhi Maran and TR Baalu in his camp. Both of them have shown their prowess in the past, and will do so again," say experts. Sources close to Stalin say that their 'Dalapathy' (General) as they call him, was correct in his analysis in 2011 that the Congress' vote share was shrinking in the state. "He went with his father on seat allocation to Congress in the 2011 Assembly polls , but the poor show by the national party vindicated his stand. He now wants to forge alliances where the numbers would work at the ballot box," they add.
Luckily for Stalin, the sidelining of his elder brother MK Alagiri – who has said he will not accept anyone except as his father as his leader-- seems to be complete. "The very fact that he was kept out of the loop in the DMK exit saga shows his sidelining is complete," say experts.
Luck has also been in the DMK's favour so far. In 2011, the terrible power situation in the state was one more reason why the DMK led alliance fared poorly. Two years on, the power situation has not improved, and DMK might feel vindicated. To improve the power situation, the state needs a considerate Congress at the Centre. Experts say that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa may try to get close to the Congress to get power projects allocated to the state. However, she may not opt for an alliance with the Congress for the 2014 parliamentary election, but go into alliance with the MDMK and the PMK. "If it becomes a three-cornered fight in the state in the general election, only Jayalalithaa may have the edge," say experts.
Clearly, Stalin has to pay attention to various sub plots in the story of coalition politics, if he wants to completely come out of his father's shadow, and live up to his name as the 'Dalapathy.'