MK Stalin
DMK leader MK StalinIANS

MK Stalin's appointment as the working president of the DMK during its general council meeting on Wednesday surprised few.

Also read: DMK chief M Karunanidhi names son MK Stalin as his political heir 

The ascent of party chief M Karunanidhi's son from the post of the treasurer to the president was a matter of 'when', rather than 'if', especially after the patriarch's failing health started making headlines.

The time came as soon as the seven-decade-old party sensed its arch rival, the AIADMK, gaining ground in Tamil Nadu despite the death of its towering leader, J. Jayalalithaa.

Unlike Jayalalithaa's successor, the new AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala, who is a newcomer to politics, the 63-year-old Stalin has been an active politician for over four decades. However, his long stint in public life hasn't been a smooth ride in the shadow of his father's stature in Tamil Nadu.

Stalin's journey in state politics has been chequered with accusations of favouritism hurled at his father for promoting him within the party, despite his lack of charisma to be a mass leader.

His supporters sidestep the issue of his authoritarian streak, crying that he has risen from the ranks. They cite the fact that he was appointed a minister in the Karunanidhi Cabinet only during his fourth term as MLA.

That Stalin has been a visible leader in the state for almost half a century cannot be denied, even by his staunchest critics.

He is first said to have made a public appearance in politics when he campaigned as a 14-year-old in the 1967 elections. A history graduate from the prestigious Presidency College, Chennai, he was elected to the DMK general committee in 1973.

He won his own set of fans when he was jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) for protesting against the Emergency during the mid-seventies. Stalin also became the first directly elected mayor of Chennai in 1996, and was later appointed the deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 2009.

Stalin, who is the third of Karunanidhi's six children, was named as heir apparent in 2013. The father of two — his son is Tamil film producer-actor Udhayanidhi Stalin — has always been seen as a family man, and his ascension took place after much strife within the clan.

The party was witness to several bouts of conflict with his elder brother, former Cabinet minister MK Azhagiri, and the supporters of the two often clashed.

While the two brothers were equally prominent in state politics at the turn of the century, Azhagiri's fate was sealed when his name figured several times in various controversies, including the murder of former DMK minister T. Kiruttinan in 2003, a cash-for-vote scam in the state, and the attack on the Madurai office of the newspaper, Dinakaran. Azhagiri was later expelled from the party by Karunanidhi.

Stalin, on the other hand, gained ground, both within the party, and among the masses.

In the absence of active participation from his ailing father, now aged 92, Stalin was seen being at the helm of affairs. His appointment as the de-facto leader of the DMK comes at a time when the party needs fresh impetus to take on the challenge that the ascent of 'Chinamma' Sasikala in the AIADMK brings to state politics.

Between one heir, and the other, the people in the state will now get to see whether the son's rise turns out to be brighter than that of the mother's younger sister.