- DMK chief turns 94 next month, big celebrations planned
- Opposition parties to use Chennai event to signal unity
- BJP will not be invited, says Stalin, DMK chief's son
"The BJP has announced their first job is to eliminate the Dravidian movement and we don't want to create an uncomfortable situation inviting them to share the dais with our leader," said Mr Karunanidhi's younger son, MK Stalin, who is also the acting head of their party, the DMK.
Mr Karunanidhi, a prolific screenplay writer before he joined politics, has served five times as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He has not been seen in public for months because of health issues. For years, he has used a wheelchair, including to attend the assembly.
The birthday extravaganza planned for him in Chennai will be used by parties opposed to the BJP to telegraph their mission to coalesce into a large front ahead of the general election in 2019. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a spectacular victory for his party in Uttar Pradesh in March, opposition leaders quickly concurred that the only chance of preventing a repeat term for him lies in a mahagathbandhan or mega-alliance, a larger version of what allowed the defeat of the BJP in Bihar in 2015.
To sample how this might work, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is leading the effort to identify a candidate for President of India supported by all opposition parties. President Pranab Mukherjee's term expires in July. The government has already collected the votes it needs to win the election after southern regional party YSR Congress signed up yesterday to back its nominee.
The DMK was part of the coalition government of BJP stalwart and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but says other leaders from the same party lack his statesmanship. The DMK, which is the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu, is also worried about the BJP exploiting - and possibly inciting - factionalism in the ruling AIADMK to gain an entry point into a state which has shunned national parties since the 1960s for regional players born of the Dravidian movement of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy which sought to combat the influence of North India on the state.
Tamil Nadu will pick its next government in 2021 and BJP chief Amit Shah, who has declared his intent to expand the party's footprint in the South, is expected to visit the state this month to strategise on how to make gains.