Udhayanidhi Stalin is all over the place. There is no escaping him in the news these days.
As it happens, it is not at all for the right reasons. The man is courting controversy with the relish.
First he waded headlong into Sanatana Dharma and created a furore by declaring that it has to be eradicated like one would a pestilence. He kept reiterating his tasteless and tactless remarks even as it was snowballing into a monumental controversy.
While the fires of the bigotry that he had stoked were raging, he turned his flitting attention to the NEET issue, blissfully oblivious to the reality that his duplicitous claim that the abolition of the medical entrance exam would be among the first acts of the DMK government is now the gist to the mocking meme mill. His utterances on NEET seem just an aggravating agitprop in an already aggrieved act.
And then he shifted his glazed gaze to Edappadi Palaniswamy and let loose a torrent of allegations in a language that is unbecoming of a Minister.
He also sought to link the former Chief Minister with the infamous Kodanad murder case. And EPS was understandably unamused.
For the record, EPS has not even been interrogated in the case. If Udhayanidhi really thought that Palaniswamy was somehow connected to the Kodanad case, why is the police department not in tandem with him?
Anyway, EPS promptly moved the Madras High Court against Udhayanidhi seeking damages to the tune of Rs. 1.10 crore for denigrating his image. The court has now passed a restraining injunction on Udhayanidhi from making such claims.
And soon, he will move on to another topic to stir more ripples in the pool of pointless polemics. Also, he will continue to double down on the Sanatana Dharma.
It can be nobody's case that Udhayanidhi should not speak on political matters. He is entitled to express his opinions and articulate them in ways that he deems fit. But, of late, he does give off the impression that he is chasing headlines with some ulterior ideas.
Annamalai's solo rise and Udhayanidhi's dynast act
So, the simple question to ask is why is Udhayanidhi taking to such a gambit. Of course, the answers can only be guessed.
As can be seen, his topics are seldom from his Ministerial department but more in the areas that have the potential to kick up a political storm.
The natural inference that can be made is that Udhayanidhi is being carefully pushed for a more high-profile political role in the party. Of course, being the son of the State Chief Minister brings with itself a constant public focus. But the obverse is the charge of him being a dynast politico. That is inevitable and irrefutable.
The DMK high-command, which is of course a euphemism for Karunanidhi's family, did not bat an eyelid in catapulting him into the Ministerial seat even though his active political career had barely begun.
A film personality-turned politician, Udhayanidhi won his first assembly election in 2021. Just over a year later, in December 2022, he was sworn in as a minister in his father’s cabinet.
Even the Legislative constituency that was picked for him, Chepauk in Chennai, showed that the DMK wasn't ready to leave anything to chance. It was no ordinary seat --- it was Karunanidhi’s bastion between 1996 and 2011.
Just to put things into perspective and show in sharp relief DMK's eagerness, Udhayanidhi's father MK Stalin, who himself is a dynast politico, was inducted into the Cabinet during his fourth term as an MLA by his father and former Chief Minister Karunanidhi. And the 46-year-old Udhyanidhi is also in charge of youth wing of the party just as his father was for several years (including in his 60s).
There is clear evidence that Udhayanidhi is being fast-tracked within the party. The DMK knows full well that in the future the DMK and Udhayanidhi will have to contend with TN BJP leader Annamalai, whose political rise has been meteoric in the last two-three years.
Annamalai comes with no political baggage, in that he owes his arrival into the political arena to no family or such links.
A former IPS officer, whether he has been able to make the TN BJP a force to reckon with in its own right is still open to debate, but the fact of the matter is that in the minds of the public, Annamalai is being pitted against Udhayanidhi. And it is in this contest that the DMK scion seems to come off in a less than flattering light.
Annamalai seems a more natural public speaker while Udhayanidhi isn't all that convincing, despite the encouraging sideshow of claps and laughter put up by the DMK lackeys at his functions. Udhayanidhi doesn't seem to have the flair and poise of his granddad, whose wit and dynamism at the dais is now part of the political lore in the State.
Udhayanidhi seems cut more from his father's cloth, in that both are not naturals in front of the mike. And in politics, where messaging and posturing is all, these skills are crucial.
So it seems Udhayanidhi is now being given a free rein to establish himself. Hence he is going from one contentious topic to another while the headline managers behind him are anxious to announce his arrival. But his trick in the trade seems to be snark and snobbery. Annamalai, whether one accepts his views or not, is more organic and has a flow that is organised.
So, Udhayanidhi has his task cut out. But he has chosen an approach — going for controversies rather than substative action — that is decidedly high-risk. Whether it works or not is something only time can answer. But what can be said is that when you tailor your strategy based on the enemy's strength, you are almost conceding that your rival is ahead, if not winning.
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