Chennai: There is little doubt that in the wake of M. Karunanidhis death, Tamil Nadu will enter an uncertain, even rocky, phase. It may take some time for the sense of disquiet and foreboding to become apparent. There may even be a period of relative calm as Karunanidhis chosen heir, his younger son, M.K. Stalin, assumes charge of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party.
But the reprieve is likely to be the calm before the storm. By the time the next assembly election is due in 2021, the dark clouds of the rivalry between the two brothers, Stalin and M.K. Alagiri, may well threaten the DMK's smooth functioning. The only silver lining for the party will be the rival All India Anna DMK's (AIADMK) perceived weakness as a challenger. It is no secret that after the death of the AIADMK's guiding star, Jayalalithaa, the party has not been able to get its act together despite its formal hold on the levers of power.
Be it Chief Minister E.K. Palaniswami or Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, neither has the aura of a winner. They have little charisma and even less administrative capacity. Moreover, by initially denying a burial place for Karunanidhi in Marina beach where the graves of Annadurai, M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa are located, the two AIADMK leaders revealed a petty mentality.
It is obvious that singly or together, they are unable to fill the void created by Jayalalithaa's death. There is every possibility, therefore, that the AIADMK will lose the 2021 election while the DMK will romp home. Before that, the DMK is expected to fare well in the parliamentary polls of 2019, probably with the Congress bringing up the rear. But whatever the outcome, the focus will continue to be on the Stalin-Alagiri rivalry.
There will also be another point of interest. It is about the extent to which the Dravidian movement will be affected by the deaths of the two stalwarts, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, within eight months of one another. The movement is known for its atheistic, anti-Hindu and anti-Hindi orientation. Of all the other major regional parties of south India -- the Telugu Desam Party and YSR Congress of Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi of Telangana and the Janata Dal-Secular of Karnataka -- the DMK and the AIADMK of Tamil Nadu have stood out, till now, for their uncompromising rationalism which owes its origin to Ramaswami Naicker, better known as Periyar (1879-1973) who began his speeches with the invocation: "There is no God. He who invented God is a fool. He who propagates God is a scoundrel. He who worships God is a barbarian."
There has undoubtedly been a dilution of this stridency in recent years when both the DMK and the AIADMK have teamed up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is known for its championing of the Hindu cause. The AIADMK is believed to be moving closer to the BJP at present to compensate for its weakness as a political force while the DMK has been close to the Congress for the last decade-and-a-half.
However, the question is whether Stalin has the capability to fill Karunanidhi's shoes to keep the DMK afloat during the turbulence of the expected sibling rivalry and the challenge posed by a possible AIADMK-BJP combine. Although the BJP has always been a marginal player in Tamil Nadu, it has tested the political waters in the state in the past in the company of minor parties like film star Vijaykanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and former Union minister S. Ramadoss's Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) without making much headway.
Even then, the BJP must be looking forward to making its presence felt in the state in the present uncertain scenario where a political vacuum has been created by the deaths of two towering personalities. The film stars, Rajanikanth and Kamal Haasan, too, have sensed an opportunity in the present situation to launch their political careers although they appear to be unable to make up their minds as to which of the two Dravida Kazaghams is closest to their line of thinking.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Rajanikanth is tilting towards the AIADMK and Kamal Haasan is more favourably disposed towards the DMK. However, they may also be considering forming their own parties with Kamal Haasan having already fired the first shot by constituting the Makkal Needhi Maiam. But their ideologies are vague and do not seem to have much to do with the kind of aggressive anti-Hindi worldview which the DMK and the AIADMK once espoused.
Arguably, India has changed from the time of the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s which made Jawaharlal Nehru promise that English will continue to be used as long as the non-Hindi-speaking states want. Thanks to Bollywood, Hindi is now much more widely understood and spoken although any attempt to push it by the pro-Hindi lobby in North India is bound to be strongly resisted as could be seen when Hindi signboards were removed from the Bengaluru metro stations.
But it will nevertheless be fair to say that the Dravidian movement today is far from what Periyar said and did. Tamil Nadu, therefore, can be said to be entering unchartered social and political territory.