Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, MK Stalin, N Chandrababu Naidu, Pinarayi Vijayan, Narayanaswamy spoke. The tone was decidedly, and understandably, anti-Modi. But the choice of words of Stalin — 'sadist', 'Nazist', 'fascist' — used on the Prime Minister did lead to a few arched eyebrows. It is not Stalin's style to use terms that lead to further polarisation among the opposing party folks. That he did was not only a surprise, but also suggested that he got carried by the adrenaline-charge of the occasion
It started as an occasion for genuine happiness and celebration.
By the time it ended, there was unmistakable chill in the air (and it was not due to the rare cold winter day in Chennai).
The evening started with the unveiling of statue of former chief minister and DMK patriarch late M Karunanidhi at the party headquarters Anna Arivalayam on the arterial Anna Salai in Chennai. This was to culminate in a public meeting that was also to serve as a show of strength and bonhomie among the motley parties that are coming together to take on the NDA (the BJP, to be precise.) There was a show of strength, and alas, there was sly show of friction, too.
The statue-unveiling function was short and simple. The tireless Dravidian leader with great endurance, Karunanidhi, deservedly got a bronze statue which now stands alongside the existing statue of his mentor (and former chief minister) CN Annadurai. Understandably, the DMK party cadre was happy and saw it as a moment of pride.
"He was the beacon of Dravidian politics since the late 60s. He stood for Tamil identity and took on the Delhi politics relentlessly all his life," was the view of the party workers.
But, as it happened, Karunanidhi's statue was formally unveiled by Sonia Gandhi, someone who symbolised that very same "Delhi politics".
This point was not lost on the hardcore Dravidian party supporters. "We are happy that our leader has been immortalised through this statue. But the statue could have been unveiled by someone who understands and appreciates our Dravidian ideology," said R Sureshkumar, a party worker from Trichy, who had come for the function. "A leader like Anbazhagan, who was Kalaignar's confidant all through his life, would have been the right choice to unveil the statue."
Anbazhagan was on the dais when Sonia did the honours, but all he could do was just watch with quiet dignity as the curtains went up on the statue.
The scene later shifted to the nearby YMCA grounds where the leaders - among others, Sonia, Rahul Gandhi, MK Stalin, N Chandrababu Naidu, Pinarayi Vijayan, Narayanaswamy — spoke. The tone was decidedly, and understandably, anti-Modi. But the choice of words of Stalin — 'sadist', 'Nazist', 'fascist' — used on the Prime Minister did lead to a few arched eyebrows. It is not Stalin's style to use terms that lead to further polarisation among the opposing party folks. That he did was not only a surprise, but also suggested that he got carried by the adrenaline-charge of the occasion.
Stalin, in his moment of exuberance, also announced that "I propose the name of Rahul Gandhi" as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the opposition.
While it was greeted by cheers and claps by the crowd gathered, it seems the idea has not gone down well with the possible constituents of the opposition alliance.
The Times of India quoted sources in the opposition camp, who described Stalin's announcement as 'premature' and 'unilateral'.
"We don't agree with this. The choice of PM will be made only after the polls," the TOI report, quoting an aide of a regional satrap, said.
Stalin's words apparently don't have support of the SP, Trinamool, TDP, BSP, the Communists and NCP, who are expected to be part of the rainbow alliance.
"When the alliance is only in the works, it is too early to talk of the Prime Ministerial candidate," said a Communist leader. "We all have opinions. Everyone needs to be consulted before any name could be announced. This is premature," he added.
Another thing of note was Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu, who had actually kick-started the opposition unity efforts with fanfare last month, seems to be a different man with altogether a different view now.
The Telangana election debacle seems to have come as a body blow to his party, and he cut a very low-key presence in the meeting. Sources in his party say it is a fact that the poll understanding with the Congress is not cutting any ice with the public. "So we may need to rethink our strategy for the general elections and the Andhra Assembly elections in 2019."
Meanwhile, it is clear that Stalin is trying to emerge out of his father's shadow. It is the right thing to do, too. But his zealousness seems to be getting the better of him. And he is also missing a trick or two in realpolitik. The Congress needs the DMK more now. It is not the other way round.
"Why is he going out of the way to placate the Congress? Karunanidhi would have played the game more astutely in such a scenario," says V Ravindran of Madurai Kamaraj University.
But to be fair, Stalin seems to have hit it off well with Rahul at a personal level. This is a far cry from the situation a few years back. As long as Karunanidhi was alive, the equation between the Congress and the DMK was fraught with tightness, as Rahul felt (during the final days of UPA-2) that the bad press that the then government was getting was due to the corruption issues pertaining to the DMK people (Marans, Kanimozhi, A Raja).
A touch of irony at the statue unveiling function was the presence of Rajinikanth, who is believed to be closer to the BJP, and the absence of Kamal Haasan, who is seen to be nearer to the Congress and the DMK.
The biggest sore point was though the presence of lyricist Vairamuthu, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, at the function. He was close to Karunanidhi. But him being given a front-seat (he was seated alongside Rajini, actress and Congress leader Kushboo) is not the kind of signal that the #Metoo movement warriors would like to see.
Read Exclusive COVID-19 Coronavirus News updates, at MyNation.
Last Updated 17, Dec 2018, 4:10 PM