In yet another instance of fortune smiling upon a prince, waiting in the wings, Udhayanidhi Stalin, the 45-year-old DMK youth wing secretary, first time MLA from Chepauk-Triplicane, and the son of reigning Chief Minister MK Stalin was sworn in as Youth Welfare and Sports Development Minister on Wednesday. The ascension marks a symbolic start to the Dravidian party putting in place the resources that will emerge as the next generation of leadership in the DMK. For political observers, Udhayanidhi’s appointment to a ministerial portfolio was a foregone conclusion, right from the time the DMK had assumed the seat of power in the 2021 Assembly election.
When the DMK formed the new government on May 7 last year, the number of Ministers in the state was maintained at 34, in order to keep the ministerial portfolio open for Udhayanidhi’s induction. As per Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution, the total number of Ministers in the Council of Ministers, including the CM in a State, should not exceed 15% of the total MLA strength. Going by the logic, Tamil Nadu, which has a total strength of 234 MLAs can accommodate a maximum of 35 Ministers. With the induction of Udhayanidhi into the state Cabinet, the total number of MLAs has hit 35.
For critics, who might argue about the accelerated development, it is evident that questions around the ascension would be brought up even if Udhayanidhi had taken on a ministerial role a decade from now. So, it falls upon him to prove his administrative prowess. For starters, Udhayanidhi has a proven track record of political activism, right from an early age. During the Assembly election of 1989, he is known to have accompanied party cadres and campaigned for his father, and grandfather – M Karunanidhi, the DMK patriarch.
In 1996, during a student protest at Loyola College, he raised slogans against then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Having assumed charge as the DMK youth wing secretary in July 2019, he has worked tirelessly, leading programmes for restoring water bodies in the State, heading relief operations during the pandemic and conducting workshops on Dravidian culture in all 234 segments of the assembly. With 30 lakh DMK youth wing members and counting, his long term goal is to have a member in every home in Tamil Nadu as well.
Insiders refer to Udhayanidhi as a people’s representative by default, something that came to the fore during the Grama Sabha meetings of 2019, led by the DMK President MK Stalin. This was followed by his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections the very same year when he echoed the CM’s anti-BJP sentiment, brandishing a red brick and calling out the Centre for its failure in constructing the AIIMS building planned in Madurai. Like his grandfather, Udhayanidhi has also inherited a love for the seventh art, something that he has now put on the backburner.
However, as it is known, reel life and real life are worlds apart, and the latter is a thankless job. Political observers in Tamil Nadu are astutely observing Udhayanidhi’s ‘sunrise’ in the DMK camp, which is especially pertinent considering the new brood of youthful leaders who are taking centre stage in the State’s political ecosystem, a case in point being BJP’s K Annamalai. Udhayanidhi will certainly not be treated with kid gloves anymore. There’s the burden of a Dravidian legacy resting on his shoulders, and the people will be waiting and watching, on how the scion delivers on the promises of heralding a new dawn in Tamil Nadu.