BAPTISM OF FIRE
India Today|May 17, 2021
His poll promises seem to have resonated with voters, but new chief minister M.K. Stalin will be watched closely for how well he delivers on those commitments
Amarnath K. Menon

IT has been a long wait for 68-year-old Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin. On May 7, he will finally assume office and become the third chief minister of Tamil Nadu from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a party that has ruled the state for 21 years since March 1967, when the hegemony of the Dravidian parties began. After a decade in the opposition and having emerged from the shadow of his father— five-time chief minister, the late M. Karunanidhi—Stalin has steered the 13-party Secular Progressive Alliance to a comfortable win (159 of the 234 assembly seats, including 133 on the DMK symbol; five seats are allies who contested under the ‘Rising Sun’) in the April 6 polls.

He would have hoped to do even better, going by the DMK’s sweeping victory in the 2019 parliamentary election, winning 38 out of the 39 Lok Sabha seats. But the rival All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), led by the outgoing chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS), proved that the party is no pushover, even in the absence of their late, iconic leader, J. Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK and its allies won 75 seats and will be an effective opposition. Meanwhile, the number of parties represented in the assembly has doubled, from four in 2016 to eight now.

However, the prospect of a lively opposition is not the biggest challenge facing Stalin. It will be fighting the Covid-19 surge. This is something his predecessor EPS handled well, even as he implemented development and welfare measures to mitigate anti-incumbency at the polls. Despite the stresses of an election year, EPS ensured that the state’s health system functioned efficiently. Tamil Nadu has set a benchmark in conducting the highest number of RT-PCR tests in the country and also has a low mortality rate of 1.19 per cent. For Stalin, the first few weeks in office may prove to be daunting as the virulent second wave of the pandemic sweeps through the state. He will be compelled to demonstrate that he can handle it as well if not better than his predecessor.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

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