Patience is a virtue, they say, and the saying is truer in the political career of M.K Stalin than the lives of most people. The 63-year-old son of ailing DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi took over as the working president of the party on January 5, more than 40 years after he entered politics.


Stalin’s political career has been a rollercoaster ride. Unlike many prominent political “dynasts,” such as those in the Congress or Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, Stalin has built his career from the ground up for the most part. Even his rivals admire him for his opposition to the Emergency (1975-77), when he was imprisoned. Stalin also nurtured the DMK’s youth wing during the long years it was in opposition during MGR’s rule. His first high-profile stint in government was as mayor of Chennai in the late 1990s.


However, like all good Indian political families, Stalin’s career did receive a fillip from his father. Vaiko, who was a firebrand young leader in the DMK, formed his own outfit after he opposed Karunanidhi’s preference for Stalin. Stalin also had to deal with sibling rivalry from his older brother Azhagiri and stepsister Kanimozhi. In addition, his limitations as an orator vis-à-vis his father were highlighted by rivals. His political career was often criticised as the only instance of a “grandfather heading a party’s youth wing.”


Stalin’s reputation took a battering following allegations of massive corruption involving DMK members in the UPA government. He served as deputy chief minister to his father briefly till the DMK’s humiliating defeat in the 2011 elections.


With the death of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK and Karunanidhi’s health deteriorating, Tamil Nadu politics appears set to close a chapter that began in the 1970s. As the DMK has rallied behind him following successive electoral defeats, Stalin seems set to be a major stakeholder in TN politics.


Read also: Reading between the lines: What Sasikala's elevation means for Tamil Nadu?


Unlike his father’s bitter rivalry with Jayalalithaa, Stalin has portrayed himself to be more conciliatory toward the main opposition party. His decision to not meddle with the current state of flux in the AIADMK government involving Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala and Chief Minister O Paneerselvam is indicative of his maturity. He has also passed leadership of the youth wing to another leader.


Sasikala’s legal troubles and the lack of enthusiasm among the AIADMK cadre for her ascent to power could make life difficult for her. Other major politicians in the state like Dr Ramadoss have become hostage to caste identities, while Vaiko’s credibility has been eroded because of his frequent dalliances with both major parties. Even though the next Assembly elections are still far away, these factors make it possible for Stalin to emerge as the frontrunner for the chief minister’s post.