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Newsmaker | Political debut 3 yrs ago, the steady, if not slow, rise of Udhayanidhi Stalin

Old DMK would have frowned at the son rise, but in the new one, the 45-year-old set to take over as minister does not face any opposition; party leaders say he has earned his stripes by campaigning for party, winning election

Newly sworn in Tamil Nadu minister, Udhayanidhi Stalin made his long-anticipated political debut before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when, as head of the DMK youth wing, he toured the state.

According to a senior DMK leader, the 45-year-old proved himself with that assignment, with his tour helping the party generate excitement and support for the party in many seats. While the movie star who also runs one of South India’s most prominent film companies was absent from the political scene for the next two years, in 2021, he was offered a ticket from one of the DMK’s safest seats, Chepauk-Thiruvallikeni Assembly constituency in Chennai.

Udhayanidhi’s win was not unexpected, therefore. However, as per the senior leader, what was interesting is that he “travelled the state with just a ‘single brick’ (brandishing it as proof of the unfinished work on AIIMS-Madurai, under the AIADMK-BJP government)”. “So him becoming a minister is not unusual.”

Udhayanidhi is also the star attraction of the DMK’s social media handles, which often feature visuals of the Karunanidhi family scion visiting slums in his constituency, particularly during the rainy and flood-prone seasons.

Udhayanidhi is also the star attraction of the DMK’s social media handles, which often feature visuals of the Karunanidhi family scion visiting slums in his constituency, particularly during the rainy and flood-prone seasons.

But, given Stalin’s complete hold over the party now, any dissenting voices over Udhayanidhi, if at all, are likely to be faint. “When Stalin was appointed to the Karunanidhi Cabinet in the 2006-2011 government, there were objections over him being chosen over other deserving leaders. While Udhayanidhi might face similar charges now, it was this appointment that paved the way for Stalin to emerge as CM,” a leader argued.

As for previously assumed challengers like Alagiri, he is now reconciled to having lost the battle for Karunanidhi’s legacy to his brother. The younger generation, of Udhayanidhi and Alagiri’s son Dayanidhi, gets along quite well, said a source, adding that Dayanidhi as well as another cousin of Udhayanidhi, Arulnithi (also an actor, and the son of Stalin’s brother M K Tamilarasu), will attend his swearing-in Wednesday.

Kanimozhi, an MP, might be a little disappointed, as her advancement is now entirely dependent on the party’s prospects in Delhi which, in turn, are tied closely to the Congress’s. However, she has never crossed the line and always ensured that she remains in the good books of Stalin.

A family relative says Kanimozhi, though, has little to complain about. “She became a Rajya Sabha MP at the age of 39, whereas Stalin contested five elections, won three, and waited until his sixth in 2006, before finally becoming a minister. In 2013, Kanimozhi again got the Rajya Sabha berth, and fought her first election, to the Lok Sabha, only in 2019.”

Plus, the relative says, Udhayanidhi could hardly be called a novice. “He is an elected MLA who has been in the game since a long time, he is not a nominated member like some others, including Union minister L Murugan. Before his appointment in 2018 as the BJP’s Tamil Nadu chief, Murugan was unknown. When he lost in the Assembly election, he was given a Rajya Sabha seat from Madhya Pradesh, a state he has no idea about. How do you explain that?” he says.

Udhayanidhi would be held to the same test as any other politician, other leaders add, pointing to Stalin’s “hard work” to bring the DMK back to power. Udhayanidhi, on the contrary, turned down the ministerial job when offered in June last year, citing film commitments. “He has been avoiding us, claiming he has other obligations,” a leader close to the family says, adding in jest that Udhayanidhi should learn to wear veshti instead of jeans.

In his private life, Udhayanidhi is known to be not too politically ambitious and for proximity to his mother Durga. The latter is believed to have pushed his case aggressively to ensure a smooth, post-Stalin succession.

Udhayanidhi’s wife Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi has interests in fashion, publication and film and documentary production. A web series written and directed by her, Paper Rocket, was released this year.

There is a whiff of controversy about these other interests of Udhayanidhi, with the 2006-11 DMK regime facing accusations of trying to monopolise the film industry, with control over production, distribution, exhibition and sale of film rights. Little has changed since, with Udhayanidhi’s Red Giant Movies considered the last word in the Tamil Nadu film industry now.



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