In Proposing Rahul Gandhi's Name, Stalin's Math Is Different From Others'

Kalaignar, as M Karunanidhi was known to his party men and others, would have approved.

At an event in Chennai to unveil his life-size statue on Sunday, his son and now DMK chief MK Stalin referred to Karunanidhi's endorsement for members of the Gandhi family and ended up continuing the tradition.

"In 1980, my leader Kalaignar declared for Indira Gandhi - 'welcome, daughter of Pandit Nehru, give a stable regime'. In 2004, my leader Kalaignar declared first - 'welcome, daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi (Sonia Gandhi). India's daughter should win'. In 2018, now on this dais, I propose we will install a new Prime minister in Delhi. As the son of Thalaivar Kalaignar, I propose the candidature of Rahul Gandhi from Tamil Nadu. Welcome Rahul Gandhi, give the nation good governance. Rahul has got the ability to defeat the fascist Modi government. I appeal to respected party leaders on the dais, we will strengthen the hands of Rahul Gandhi, we will save the nation,'' said Stalin.

According to those in the know, Stalin had his speech ready a day in advance but never discussed the contents of his dramatic announcement with anyone in the DMK's senior leadership. Sources say Stalin took the call after analysing the results in Telangana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. He believes that the opposition alliance lost out in Telangana because it did not project a credible face against Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.

The DMK president thinks if Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath had been named the chief ministerial faces of the Congress, the party would not have struggled to get to the majority mark in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Of course, the flipside is that doing so would have led to infighting and sabotage, Congress-style.

Stalin believes that the 2019 election will be about the voters who want Narendra Modi and those who don't.

Not putting up a prime ministerial face, Stalin thinks, will make it a guessing game for the electorate, leading to confusion. Rahul's stature after the wins in the three heartland states, in Stalin's opinion, has made him the best available candidate for the top job, if the opposition gets the numbers.

Stalin's plainspeak has understandably upset other regional satraps, who are silently eyeing 7, Lok Kalyan Marg (the prime minister's residence). Their position has been that the choice of PM should be left to after the elections, depending on each party's numbers. The possibility of emerging as the dark horse is tantalising. 

This is where Stalin differs with the others. He thinks the general election next summer will be more of a referendum on five years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What Stalin has done is to add the 30-odd Lok Sabha seats the DMK is confident of winning in Tamil Nadu next year to the Congress kitty, and improve the national party's bargaining power with other allies.

Is it a gamble? Yes, but it is a calculated risk where Stalin has little to lose. 

By taking on a fierce anti-BJP position, the DMK believes it stands to gain politically in Tamil Nadu, given rival AIADMK's closeness to the ruling party. It also fits into DMK's track record of playing an important role in deciding who will rule in New Delhi. If the opposition does swing a victory in 2019, Stalin can look forward to the rewards.

Another difference. The DMK is more certain of the seats it is likely to win, going by several opinion polls this year. That is not the case for other leaders like Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, whose success depends to a large extent on whether they can stitch up a durable alliance and effectively transfer votes to each other. Chandrababu Naidu is facing a stiff challenge on Andhra Pradesh turf from Jaganmohan Reddy and after the humiliating washout in neighbouring Telangana, the Telugu Desam Party chief is on a weak wicket. 

On a personal level too, it is easy for Stalin to take this call. Unlike many other regional chieftains, Stalin has no life-long ambition of moving to Delhi. His eyes are set on becoming the chief minister of Tamil Nadu when assembly elections are held next, which is why he has taken the lead in working towards the formation of a friendly government at the centre.

(Uma Sudhir is Executive Editor, NDTV)

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