Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M Karunanidhi on Thursday gave the clearest ever hint of of his successor, naming party treasurer and his younger son M K Stalin as his heir-apparent.
"Till my last breath I will work for the upliftment of the society. To the question as to who will carry on this work after me, you should not forget Stalin, who is sitting here," Karunanidhi said at a function on Thursday.
The announcement by the 88-year-old DMK patriarch at a function during which over 2,000 Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) members joined the DMK, evoked loud applause from party cadres.
The statement was the clearest backing for 59-year-old Stalin by the DMK chief since the party´s crushing defeat in the 2011 Tamil Nadu elections.
The move also appeared to put to rest the purported debate over the rivalry between Stalin and Karunanidhi´s elder son and Union minister M K Alagiri.
It comes as the party prepares for organisational elections later this year.
In the past Stalin had often been tipped off as the more likely candidate to take over from Karunanidhi, especially after his elevation to the post of Deputy Chief Minister in 2009.
However, Stalin´s accession to the top post in the party could spell a fresh row within the DMK as Alagiri had once openly said he would not accept anyone else other than his father as leader.
Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin, who holds the post of treasurer and youth wing secretary post in the party, is a former actor and is the third son of Karunanidhi, born to his second wife, Dayalu Ammal.
M. K. Muthu, M. K. Alagiri and M. K. Tamilarasu are other sons of Karunanidhi. His daughters are Selvi and Kanimozhi.
The DMK is a key ally of the Congress party at the Centre and the second largest constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition.