It's a hectic time ahead for DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. A feast and welcome for the UPA Presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee in Chennai on Saturday will be followed by the party's 'jail bharo' agitation on the 4th of next month. The protest to condemn the AIADMK government's alleged vindictive police action against former DMK Ministers, Mr Karunanidhi feels, may unite the warring factions in the party. In his daily column to his party workers, the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has exuded confidence that the event will make leaders "sink their differences" and unite against the common enemy. But is this wishful thinking or posturing? Or plain bravado?
Just recently, Mr Karunanidhi made his intention to contest the next DMK poll for the top job with a "if I am alive" rider. That was seen as a strategy to put the succession debate on the backburner yet again. And leave his younger son M K Stalin in the same position - a 'Prince In Waiting' for far too long. Insiders reveal that when Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav's son Akhilesh Yadav was made the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh a few months ago, it gave Stalin's supporters fresh ammunition to revive the debate.
The Stalin-Alagiri rivalry is not new and can hardly be swept under the carpet. But Mr Karunanidhi is right when he indicates that mass protests by the party tend to unite the factions. We saw that post his sensational midnight arrest in June, 2001. Unity in adversity has almost become an unofficial credo of the DMK. How long will it last? That's the question.
When the present Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa had addressed a massive rally in Madurai, better known as Alagiri's territory, her punchline: "Stalin needs a visa to visit Madurai" was understandably headlined by most newspapers and TV channels.
The murderous attack on the office of the Maran-owned Dinakaran newspaper in Madurai in 2007 - a fallout of a controversial survey on Mr Karunanidhi's possible successor that showed Mr Alagiri with minimal support, was one of the most ugly public spectacles of a family feud.
More recently, when Mr Alagiri was away in China, Mr Stalin chose to cross the Great Wall of Madurai! But as pictures of the 'Braveheart' (as Mr Alagiri is called by his followers) were conspicuous by their absence on posters, his key aides boycotted a Youth Wing office bearers' session and a public meeting addressed by the 'Commander' (as Mr Stalin is called by his men). About 17 of them were promptly served show cause notices; enough to ruffle Alagiri's feathers, who on his return, prevailed upon his father to revoke them.
Although Mr Alagiri is a Union Minister, Mr Stalin decided to add fertilizers to his brand image on a national canvas by making courtesy calls on the Prime Minister and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. Not to forget even calling on the 2G tainted A Raja at his residence in the capital after he was out on bail.
Tamil Nadu may well continue to witness a see saw sort of battle of one-upmanship between the two brothers. On more than one occasion, Mr Alagiri had made it clear that in the event of a race for the top job, he would throw his hat in the ring. For the time being, however, there could be a convenient ceasefire; a well publicised truce, quite like what we saw before the Sankarankovil by election. For the DMK, a war of succession is something the party can ill afford. An ideal scenario would be for the 'Commander' and the 'Braveheart' to function like the catchphrase they had coined before the assembly election - a double barrel gun. As long as it doesn't misfire.