"The Congress is not able to come to terms with the fact that it would not be in power for the second term running and hence is not able to keep its house in order," an MP from Tamil Nadu, in a private chat, told a journalist recently.

"What should the Congress do to retain the party infrastructure and keep the leaders and cadres motivated for the long haul," the journalist asked conversationally.

"I really don't know what the party has to do. But it needs to find a leader who will not lose hope and does not give up the fight at any point," the MP said and added for good measure, "the Congress needs to find a Kalaignar to lead it."

The Kalaignar he was referring to was of course the M Karunanidhi, the patriarch of the DMK who passed away exactly a year ago.

Karunanidhi was of course was known for his patience and perseverance in his long, chequered political career. As a politician there can be many criticisms of him, but everyone will agree that he did a stellar job in keeping his party in shape all through the tough times of the mid-70s to the late 80s.

From 1977 to 1989, the DMK was kept out of power mostly by the charisma and popularity of his friend turned political rival MGR (M G Ramachandran). It is only after the death of MGR in 1987 and the subsequent split in the AIADMK that the DMK could come back into the reckoning in Tamil Nadu.

But in all those 12 years, Karunanidhi neither lost his personal zeal nor allowed the mood of the party to sag as he kept the cadre motivated through multiple ways. He wrote letters (on the pages of the party mouthpiece) on a daily basis, conducted protests, held meetings and spoke regularly so that the party cadre never really became despondent or dispirited.

But whether the Congress finds its own Karunanidhi or not, the DMK sure misses him, especially because the party leadership, in the one year since his demise, appears confused and lacking in firmness.

To lay these charges against the DMK leadership when it won for its alliance 37 out of the 38 MP seats up for grabs in the state may look misplaced. But the near sweep in the general elections for the DMK alliance group in Tamil Nadu was arguably more due to the pronounced anti-BJP mood in the State. The DMK and the Congress merely reaped the benefit of that sentiment.

This reasoning gets further credence through the fact that the DMK could not replicate its strong showing in the crucial bye-elections to the 22 Assembly constituencies. The AIADMK walked away with nine seats and managed to keep the numbers game within the Assembly in favour of Edappadi Palaniswamy government.

In the last two years, the AIADMK has copped flak from all fronts, and the party has been riven by a split (TTV Dhinakaran has walked away with a rump). The equation between Edappadi Palaniswamy and his deputy O Panneerselvam has been fraught with contradictions. The AIADMK's numbers in the Assembly are not exactly safe.

"In such a situation, a leader like M Karunanidhi, if he had been around, would have more or less finished off the Jayalalithaa-less-AIADMK by now," said a senior journalist in Tamil Nadu, adding, "Karunanidhi would have got the DMK on to the saddle. Stalin surely lacks that enterprise. Stalin comes across as a reactive leader, which is no good."

In the one year since his father's demise, Stalin has elevated his son Udhayanidhi to the post of the party's youth wing president. His half-sister Kanimozhi is an MP in the Lok Sabha (previously it was through nomination to the RS). Stalin has also consolidated his hold on the party leadership by managing to keep his estranged brother MK Alagiri out of harm's way. Not that Alagiri was a big force to reckon with. But he had a certain nuisance value, but Stalin has negated that. 

"In one year, Stalin has further strengthened his extended family's grip on the party. Sons and daughters of other senior leaders have also been accommodated in a big way. In that sense, he has merely played it safe and predictable," the journalist adds.

The DMK and Stalin did have notions of playing an active and pivotal role in the national politics. But the results of the general elections, enormously in favour of the BJP, put paid to those hopes.

"But here, too, it is tempting to think that had Karunanidhi been around he would have somehow found more relevance for his party MPs at the Central level. Now they are just making perfunctory noises and going through their motions," says another journalist.

At a personal level, Stalin has not shown any major leadership qualities, and his regular gaffes in his speeches (something you never heard from Karunanidhi) are now the stuff of fun for meme-makers.

The DMK IT cell has become stronger and more effective in the last year, and that is mainly because Stalin sees online social media platforms as where the real battle is. But otherwise, the jury does not seem very charitable to his leadership show so far.