Chennai: M.K.Stalin, chief of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the party headed by his father M. Karunanidhi for decades, faced a challenge within hours of losing him. That of ensuring his father was buried at Marina Beach, next to his mentor and DMK founder C.N. Annadurai. But a division bench of the Madras high court handed Stalin his first victory in the post Karunidhi era when it allowed the DMK patriarch to be buried at the Anna Memorial mausoleum complex.

A senior DMK leader recalled that many within the party ranks were in favour of finding an alternative burial site for the man better known as “Kalaingar". “However, Stalin was sure that the burial has to be next to Anna (DMK founder C.N. Annadurai), as per the wishes of Kalaignar," said a senior DMK leader.

“Stalin decided to go to the court, fought a legal case and won it. This was despite grieving over an irreplaceable personal loss," the DMK leader said. “I saw this conviction in Kalaignar and now, I see it in Thalapathy (commander, as Stalin is referred to by party cadres)," said the DMK leader who wished to remain unnamed.

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Stalin’s administrative competence has already been tested and proved when he was the deputy chief minister of the state during the DMK’s 2006-11 regime, said Salma, a member of the DMK and a Tamil writer. “Stalin handled the rural development and local administration portfolio—a department that defines the structure of the society. He was successful and created an impact. While Stalin was able to solve some of the caste related issues that had delayed panchayat elections in few constituencies, he also ensured the full-fledged functioning of the self-help groups that were started by Kalaignar way back in 1989," added Salma.

What will be put to test in the coming years will be his political acumen. According to senior Tamil journalist P. Thirumavelan, success of Karunanidhi was in incorporating the ideals of both Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and Annadurai, and delivering governance in Tamil Nadu to make it welfare as well as a policy state. “Stalin should strive to continue to splice these together, so that the core of the DMK which is the social justice is not lost at any juncture," he said.

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This is all the more key now that there are two more political adversaries in Tamil Nadu’s political firmament now—matinee stars Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. While the former launched his Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) party in February, after a successful five-decade long film career, Rajinikanth is yet to announce the name of his political party. All this adds to the churn in Tamil Nadu politics already in uncertain water after the death of Jayalalithaa.

“It is true that there will be a vacuum and a prominent voice from Tamil Nadu that spoke about federalism, social justice, social equality in religious places and showed resistance towards Hindi chauvinism, among many other issues, would be sorely missed with the demise of Karunanidhi," said Dravidian historian K. Thirunavukkarasu.

According to Tamil writer, R. Kannan, currently “the DMK is the strongest party" in Tamil Nadu “having prepared for this eventuality since Kalaignar’s ill health made him politically inactive" in recent months.

Unlike the two major Dravidian parties of the state, the newer politicians—Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth—do not have ready-made political infrastructure to back them up. Given this backdrop, the DMK seems to stand out as the dominant force in the state with the ability to shape the state of play for national parties and regional parties with national aspirations in New Delhi.