The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president, M K Stalin, has always been credited with forming close, personal bonds with his counterparts and other leaders from across the political spectrum. He has been known for publicly displaying warmth and friendliness towards them.
During his recent visit to Kerala, Stalin posted a tweet, greeting his counterpart, CM Pinarayi Vijayan, as “my Dear Comrade”, which illustrates his political demeanour that always appears to be more “friendly” than “formal”.
Whether it is his warm gesture towards senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, whom he has frequently called “my brother”, or the red carpet rolled out for Delhi CM and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal during his Monday visit to Chennai by letting him launch the Tamil Nadu government’s schools of excellence and model schools scheme, Stalin has stood out in showing remarkable amiability and goodwill to other leaders.
While he used the term “my dear” for Marxist veteran Vijayan known for his tough demeanour, Stalin has always been effusively endearing to Rahul Gandhi. Addressing a large public rally in March 2021, the DMK chief, while making a public appeal to Rahul to take up the Congress’s leadership, said, “Sometimes when we speak on the phone, I address him (Rahul) as “Sir.” Then he would correct and demand that I call him brother. My brother Rahul…”
A DMK leader from Stalin’s inner circle joked about his penchant for treating other CMs and leaders like distant blood relatives. “Just see what kind of warmth is shown towards Kejriwal. He enjoys acting the gracious host in that way. Despite being the CM of a much smaller state than Tamil Nadu, Kejriwal is being treated royally. Whether it is Vijayan or Narendra Modi, Stalin enjoys bringing them home, offering them food and introducing his family members to them,” the leader said.
In his speech at the Chennai event, Kejriwal said he was surprised last March when Stalin’s office informed him about his wish to visit Delhi schools. “I was surprised, I asked my people to check it again as it was very unusual for a CM to visit schools in another state. Usually politicians are mostly into politics alone. But not only that he visited our schools and told me that they will be implementing it in Chennai but I am here in six months now for their inauguration,” he said.
His camaraderie toward Prime Minister Modi at the inaugural ceremony of the recent Chess Olympiad had drawn criticism from various quarters. Days later, Stalin told a gathering in Chennai: “Not even the slightest ideological compromise with BJP.” Pointing to Thol Thirumavalavan, a prominent Dalit leader and his ally, who was then on the stage, the CM said amid loud applause: “Therefore, Thirumavalavan need not worry at all. The Dravidian movement’s principles and values will never be compromised by this Stalin. No ideological concessions of any kind will be made. I sincerely want to express that… I’m your brother.”
Observers say that Stalin has picked his cordial greetings and warm political etiquette from the DMK stalwarts over the years. For instance, the DMK’s founder C N Annadurai and his successor and Stalin’s father M Karunanidhi were renowned for making effective use of language to formalise ties.
Annadurai never used to refer to anyone by name. He instead used to refer to people as “anbu thambigal” or “dear brothers”. Karunanidhi was seen as someone who mirrored Annadurai in many ways, including his voice, the way he carried a shawl, and his writings. Karunanidhi used to refer to people as “udan pirappukale” or blood relatives.
M G Ramachandran, who quit the DMK to found AIADMK, used to address people by calling them “en rathathin rathame”, invoking the blood metaphor. He was an iconic film personality with masses of adoring fans across the state.
“Tamils have always been emotional people, and the state’s political communication has always been influenced by a family-centric communication,” said Prof G Ravindran, head of the media and communication department at the Central University of Tamil Nadu, Tiruvaur. “Therefore, from the perspective of political communication, greetings like ‘anbu thambigale’ or ‘udan pirappe’ have grown to be significant in the state’s history of political communications,” he said.
Prof Ravindran referred to the most prevalent ways of using words like “machaan (brother in law)”, noting how common people and leaders use such emotive or seemingly intimate or domestic titles to address each other even though they may not be blood relatives. “Or in a place like Tirunelveli, people would call everyone Anna (older brother) irrespective of age,” he said.
And even people have had coined names for their leaders, such as Arignar (scholar) Anna for Annadurai, Kalaignar (artist) for Karunanidhi, Ponmana Chemmal (a man with a golden heart) for MGR, and Amma (mother) for Jayalalithaa.
Some DMK veterans point out that Stalin’s predecessors too had formed similar warm ties with other parties’ leaders. Karunanidhi used to frequently mention George Fernandes, Indira Gandhi, and former Kerala CM C Achutha Menon in his writings and speeches. MGR and N T Rama Rao were close friends, and so were Jayalalithaa and Rajiv Gandhi.
Stalin is now set to flag off his ally Congress party’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” to be led by Rahul Gandhi from Kanyakumari on September 7. While some state Congress leaders say that the Yatra is more about their party’s bid to position itself as the principal Opposition party against the ruling BJP as several non-BJP players have come up with their similar plans at the head of a proposed third front in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Stalin’s presence at Rahul’s kick-off event is politically significant in a state where the grand old party has maximum number of MPs.
The ex-Tamil Nadu Congress chief, S Thirunavukkarasar, said when they approached Stalin to invite him for the launch of “Bharat Jodo Yatra”, he readily agreed. “It has a huge significance because it was the same Stalin who openly declared Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister before the last Lok Sabha polls. And he is still supporting us by launching this Yatra by handing Gandhi the national flag at Kanyakumari,” Thirunavukkarasar said. “Stalin’s responses are always one that draws people closer.”