(Editor’s note: This story was originally published on 22 September) 

By Sandhya Ravishankar

A pink shirt, grey trousers, grey sneakers with neon green laces and shades to boot — MK Stalin, treasurer of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and possible chief ministerial candidate for Tamil Nadu in 2016, painted an incongruous picture for a Tamil politician as he kicked off his election yatra in Kanyakumari on Monday. Later in the day, he exchanged the pink shirt for a blue t-shirt, an even more astounding choice.

On Tuesday, Stalin went a step further — clad in a blue shirt and dark trousers, he rode a scooter in Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli district, leaving the locals in raptures.

Stalin has rarely been seen in trousers — his chosen attire usually is a crisply ironed white shirt and white ‘veshti’ (dhoti) with the DMK black and red colours on the border. Sometimes, during election campaigns, he sports a black and red scarf around his neck.

MK Stalin in an image released by the DMK

MK Stalin in an image released by the DMK

The last time Stalin was seen wearing trousers was in 2012 when he traveled with a contingent of DMK MPs to New York and Geneva to hand over petitions regarding the Sri Lankan war crimes issue to the United Nations Secretary-General and the United Nations Human Rights Council. On the day of his return to Chennai, huge posters had been plastered all along airport road in Chennai with a photograph of Stalin clad in a suit with the caption “Yes, we can!” plastered on the banner.

So why the sudden change in look?

Sources within Stalin’s camp tell Firstpost that this is a deliberate move to woo the young voters in the state. “Well, the idea is to break the ice first with the people,” said the source close to Stalin, adding, “He doesn’t want to be seen as a politician, he is going there to hear their issues and get inputs for the DMK’s manifesto. For that, he has to be seen as one among them, a common man.”

A video released by Stalin’s team shows him exhorting the people of Tamil Nadu to outrage. “Kobappadungal (Get angry),” roars Stalin in the video where he is shown walking along the sea. The video showcases the key election issues through letters written to Stalin by the people — unemployment, power cuts, water shortage, alcoholism and rising prices among others. This video will be shown on vans bearing LED screens as he continues on his yatra.

There is a growing understanding within the DMK that the electorate of Tamil Nadu has changed along with the demographics of age and aspirations. 60 lakh first-time voters will ink their fingers in 2016. A large proportion of the electorate next year will be millennials. “The current electorate seeks answers and is much more proactive,” said the source and added, “They want to know how their leader will change things for them.”

This realisation dawned on Stalin’s team following the upheaval created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign in 2013-14. And it is probably with this in mind that Stalin has shifted gears in his electoral campaign that kicked off early in September on his ‘Mudiyattum Vidiyattum’ (Let it end, let it dawn) public rallies. In a public meeting at Tirupur last month, Stalin spoke of change and solutions, getting rid of the usual J Jayalalithaa-bashing rhetoric that has thus far dominated Dravidian politics. Exhorting youngsters to join politics, Stalin outlined specifically how he would change things if the DMK was brought back to power in 2016.

“There are 85 lakh youngsters in the waiting list at the state Employment Exchange,” said Stalin at the rally in Tirupur earlier this month. “I give an assurance to all youngsters of Tamil Nadu that we will create incubation centres to bring in new industries in the state. We will revamp the Employment Exchange itself and bring in private companies, conduct group discussions to ensure employment opportunities for our youth,” he said.

Specifics of this nature are a first for the Karunanidhi-led DMK, a party widely seen as being steeped in corruption and dynastic politics. Stalin’s father M Karunanidhi preferred to issue statements against his political rivals, whether MG Ramachandran or Jayalalithaa of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. If all else failed, Karuna would take the freebie route, promising free colour TVs and playing the caste card. His rival and current Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa too prefers to issue statements decrying Karunanidhi’s moves and motives. Many years have passed since either of these two prominent Tamil politicians walked the dusty roads of the state or mingled with the common man or woman.

Stalin on the other hand, is walking his talk so far. He has been riding autorickshaws, walking in market areas and his team says he will also ride a bicycle as he continues on his ‘Namakku Naame’ yatra across the state. He is kissing babies, shaking hands with bus drivers and students, posing for photographs with elderly vegetable vendors and sipping tea at local chai shops with the locals.

For Stalin, this routine could well be the only option to take on Jayalalithaa in 2016. A discredited and weakened DMK with a nonagenarian leader faces a tough challenge from the rival Dravidian behemoth, the AIADMK, which has been rolling out freebies and welfare schemes with abandon. A personality battle with Jaya would severely backfire on Stalin. Speaking of development, change, aspirations and a connect with young voters is likely to work better for 2016. Stalin’s team has decided that Jayalalithaa’s larger-than-life image can only be countered by a politician who is seen as accessible, approachable and likeable by the masses.

Can Stalin be that? He is certainly trying.

Originally posted here – 

The story behind MK Stalin’s image reboot before the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls