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Over the years, the succession issue has whittled down the DMK's political agenda
The successor has been named and the challenger has risen with an ironic line on his lips, "The DMK is not a mutt". On Thursday, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M. Karunanidhi said his son M. Stalin would lead the party after him, a turn of affairs apparently strongly resented by his elder son, Union minister M.K. Alagiri. Back in 1997, Karunanidhi had said the DMK was not a mutt that he could decide on a successor. Yet the question of succession has long riven the party, with ilaya dalapathi (young lieutenant) Stalin, head of the party's youth wing at 59 and star of two films, the suggestively named Ore Ratham (Same Blood) and Makkal Aanayittal (When People Decide), pitted against Alagiri, the strongman from Madurai.
The issue has proved to be so corrosive that it appears to have shrunk the party's political agenda and perhaps even marred its electoral fortunes, as one faction campaigned against the other. Born out of the Dravidian movement, the DMK started life as a radical, secular party, opposing caste hierarchies, deeply invested in regional pride and the idea of a people-centric government. Within the party, this democratic impulse seems to have died out long ago, as it came to be organised around the patriarchal figure of Karunanidhi and his constellation of children, nephews and grand-nephews. The family has shored up its empire, both within and outside the party, through the various TV channels, cable networks and other businesses that it owns. Over time, the story of the DMK has become an elaborate family saga, complete with twists and denouements. Indeed, several strong regional parties have gone the same way — witness the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.