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Will a bitter succession war erupt in the DMK again, or will M K Stalin, whom M Karunanidhi anointed his successor in his lifetime, continue to hold sway over the party?
This is the question the DMK workers are asking themselves as they prepare for life in the party after the death of their "Thalaivar" (leader) who held a vice-like grip over the organisation for half-a-century as its chief.
M K Alagiri and M K Stalin, the two sons of the DMK doyen, have been at loggerheads for years now before the former was expelled from the party in 2014, after a stint as a union minister in the UPA government.
Before his expulsion at the height of his succession battle with the younger sibling, Alagiri, known for his mercurial temper, had famously questioned if the DMK was a "mutt" where the pontiff could anoint his successor, an apparent reference to their father.
Alagiri, in political exile since his expulsion and living in faraway Madurai, was with the family during Karunanidhi's last days as he battled for life in a city hospital, and a senior DMK leader said there was no chance of the party getting caught in a succession battle again.
"Every issue has been settled," he told PTI, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said even as the DMK's first family presented a picture of unity during the hospitalisation of Karunanidhi from July 28 till his death on August 7, they, including the 'warring' brothers, held "open talks".
"That controversy has come to an end. Every issue has been settled as all family members regularly spoke to each other during this period," he said.
Asked if Stalin will formally take over the reins of the party now without a hurdle, he replied in the affirmative, insisting due steps will be taken for his ascension to the top party post soon.
However, political observer and veteran journalist Shyam Shanmugaam does not share the DMK functionary's view.
"According to me, it (succession battle) will start immediately. The fight between brothers will never end. However, Stalin should do inclusive politics," he said.
"That (succession row) will happen. The ruling BJP's agenda is to weaken the regional parties. Now they will try to weaken the DMK as Karunanidhi has gone and before him the late J Jayalalithaa. They were the binding force in DMK and AIADMK," says Shanmugaam.
A close watcher of Tamil Nadu politics, he feels Alagiri will now demand his due.
"He will demand his right. He is also Karunanidhi's son. He was instrumental in the DMK's victory in southern districts when the party came to power last time," he said.
He said when Karunanidhi decided to send Alagiri to Madurai to manage the local edition of a party mouthpiece, he was grooming him as a "future prospect" for the party.
Shanmugaam said Alagiri's appointment as organisation secretary for southern districts enabled the former union minister wield considerable clout in those parts of the state.
To avert a succession battle, Stalin should adopt a statesman-like approach of his father and give Alagiri and step sister Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP, a greater say in party affairs.
Though the sibling rivalry for control of levers of power in the organisation was present for a long time, it came out in the open in January 2014 when Karunanidhi said Alagiri had talked about the death of Stalin in three months, a charge the Madurai strongman dismissed as baseless.
"He (Alagiri) has some unknown hatred against Stalin. Alagiri even said Stalin would die in three months. No father can tolerate such words against a son. As the party chief, I had to tolerate them," Karunanidhi had said and expelled Alagiri and his supporters from the party.
Stalin was a clear favourite of Karunanidhi as he diligently worked his way up the DMK hierarchy, holding party posts since his youth. He was the party's treasurer and youth wing secretry for three decades.
Alagiri, on the other hand, lay in the background. It was only in 2009, after the Tirumangalam bypoll victory of the DMK in Madurai, that Alagiri was named the party's south zone organising secretary. He faced allegations of ditributing cash to voters during the bypoll.
When Stalin embarked on an aggressive campaign for the 2016 Assembly election with his voter outreach programme "Namakku Naame Vidiyal Meetpu Payanam" (We for ourselves, journey to retrieve the dawn), Alagiri called it a "comedy show."
Recently, Alagiri asserted true party workers were only with him and taunted Stalin and his supporters.
He had even questioned Stalin's leadership in the wake of the DMK's drubbing in last year's RK Nagar assembly bypoll in Chennai where the party candidate forfeited his deposit against winner AMMK's TTV Dhinakaran.
Alagiri had claimed after the defeat that the DMK cannot win any election under Stalin.
"Not just the RK Nagar bypoll, the DMK will not henceforth win any election. There is no chance of that as long as this working president (Stalin) is there," he had said.
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First Published: Wed, August 08 2018. 16:01 IST