Some said Stalin was in a hurry, but it also showed his confidence and sense of urgency. “He told party leaders he had made so many promises, he has to start working immediately to deliver on them,” says senior DMK leader T K S Elangovan.
Strategists had consciously put Stalin at the centre of DMK’s campaign. “His name has never resonated so much as it did in the past six months,” says the party’s political strategist Prashant Kishor. “Earlier, he was ‘Kalaignar’s son’, ‘former mayor’ … now… just Stalin, the person, the leader.”
His wait has been so long that many saw him as the ‘perennial prince who couldn’t be the king’. Being Karunanidhi’s son helped him climb the ladder, but step by step — as DMK general council member in 1973, political prisoner during the Emergency, DMK youth wing leader in 1982, Chennai mayor from 1996 to 2002, party deputy general secretary in 2003, local administration minister in 2006 and deputy chief minister in 2009.
The final leap took years. In the run-up to the 2016 assembly polls, he was unofficially projected as the CM candidate, but when the going got tough, Karunanidhi, then 92, said he would assume the top post. Even when Karunanidhi was bed-ridden in 2017, Stalin was still acting president; he was finally elected party president after Karunanidhi’s death in August 2018. And now, having won the Kolathur seat in Chennai third time in succession, the 68-year-old is ready to take over the administration’s reins.
The inheritor bears the burden of expectation. “It is unfair that Stalin is always compared to his father,” says Elangovan. “Besides being a national colossus, Karunanidhi was a great orator and a writer, which Stalin is not. But the son catches up with his hard work.” Ashok Vardhan Shetty, who worked as a bureaucrat under Stalin, concurs. “He has the stamina. He works long hours and tours the state extensively,” says Shetty. “He is also courteous and listens to officials.”
A consultant who worked with Stalin says the problem is he listens to too many people, making him indecisive. “A CM has to take a snap decision at times. Stalin can be wavering,” he says. This may