The elevation of MK Stalin as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) chief, which is expected to be formalised in the coming week, was not only expected and but in a sense long overdue. Stalin had, in fact, filled in for his father the late M Karunanidhi ever since he was appointed as the party's working president early last year. But while assuming office as party president may be just a ritual, even his staunchest supporters know that filling the political vacuum in Tamil Nadu politics after his father's death will not be easy. Though Stalin seems to have, for now, ensured his position within the party, there was no public anointment of his political heir by Karunanidhi, which has kept his other son in active politics MK Azhagiri, the DMK Madurai strongman and former Union minister, in play. Indeed, the latter lost no time in demanding a say in party affairs soon after the death of the DMK patriarch.
As the putative DMK president, Stalin faces an enormous task ahead. First, he has to play the role of an effective Opposition leader in a State which is in turmoil. Next, he needs to assiduously nurture the contacts his father built with national parties and leaders across the political spectrum over the decades. The death of J Jayalalithaa last year and now of Karunanidhi, not to mention the entry into politics of cinema superstars Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth is thought to have splintered the monolithic support the two Dravidian parties used to have in the past. The BJP too is fishing in troubled with waters, as is the so-called national Opposition alliance. Frequent clashes between AIADMK and DMK supporters have to be quelled and Stalin must also keep his party together. It's a big ask.