Chennai: The prayer meeting for late Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on Thursday saw leaders from various political parties share the dais, indicating not only the coming together of like-minded parties to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state ahead of next year’s general elections, but also an attempt to assert M.K. Stalin’s role in national politics.

The event, The Southern Sun, was in commemoration of the five-time chief minister of Tamil Nadu, and the first after Stalin’s ascension as DMK president.

While Union minister Nitin Gadkari took the opportunity to recall Karunanidhi’s strong opposition to the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government during the Emergency, leaders of most other parties opposed to the BJP, spoke on the importance of state autonomy and secularism, and how Karunanidhi had made it his life’s goal.

“We are living in an era of dictatorship…Let us all fight these fascist forces together," said former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah. “Stalin will lead us to that India where we can live with honour, dignity and walk with freedom, and no one can point fingers at us."

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said that all political parties that respect the idea of federalism should “come together to capture Delhi (in 2019 election)". The communist leaders also defended the “need to safeguard secularism and democracy".

Former prime minister and JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary S. Sudhakar Reddy, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, senior NCP leader Praful Patel, Y.S. Chowdary of the Telugu Desam Party, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Puducherry chief minister V. Narayanasamy, Indian Union Muslim League national president K.M. Kader Mohideen, and Aam Aadmi Party leader Somnath Bharti were also present.

Initially planned as a conference on state autonomy, the event was rescheduled as a memorial meeting after the demise of Karunanidhi on 7 August.

A series of meetings, which were held across districts from 17 August in memory of the DMK chief, culminated in Chennai on Thursday. Last week, there was a strong buzz that BJP national president Amit Shah will attend the DMK event, leading to speculations of a political realignment ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

However, Stalin’s criticism of the BJP after taking over as the party president, put an end to such speculations, said Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president S. Thirunavukkarasar.

After being unanimously elected as the DMK chief on Tuesday, Stalin said: “Come, let’s join together and teach a lesson to the (Narendra) Modi government that is saffronizing the country. Let us also throw out this spineless state government (in Tamil Nadu)."

Following the arrest of five human rights activists for thei alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case, Stalin also Twitted: “The brazen attempt by the union government to imprison its critics, reflects an authoritarian mindset that disregards civil rights. The space for dissent is essential to every democracy. I urge the government to drop all such unconstitutional actions immediately."

Terming Karunanidhi’s memorial as an apolitical event, a senior DMK leader said: “Nothing will change because a BJP leader has participated in Kalaignar’s memorial. (Especially) in the last two days, after taking over as our party chief, Stalin has continued to voice DMK’s strong opposition to the policies and ideologies of the BJP."

“However, we see this as an opportunity to sustain the fact that DMK will continue to play a key role in national politics after Kalaignar, under Stalin’s leadership and that was clearly evident in the meeting," the DMK leader said, requesting anonymity.