M.K. Stalin is the son of powerful Tamil politician M. Karunanidhi, who is now Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He has held this position five times since 1969. Karunanidhi is the head of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a Dravidian political party in the state of Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi has headed the DMK since the death of its founder C.N. Annadurai in 1969. Karunanidhi has the distinction of having won his seat in every election he has run in. This dates back to 1957.
M.K. Stalin seems to be the heir-apparent to Karunanidhi as leader of the DMK, and has recently been appointed as Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. M.K. Stalin has good political credentials in his own rights, including being imprisoned under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) and nearly beaten to death. The beatings were so severe that a fellow DMK party member and prisoner died trying to save him. His political career began when, as a 14-year old, he campaigned in the 1967 elections. In 1973 Stalin was elected to the General Committee of the DMK. Stalin was a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) four times since 1989 and was the first directly elected Mayor of Chennai in 1995, and reelected in 2001.
The Maintenance of Internal Security Act was a controversial law passed by the Indian parliament in 1971 giving the administration of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Indian law enforcement agencies super powers – indefinite “preventive” detention of individuals, search and seizure of property without warrants, and wiretapping – with the aim of quelling of civil and political disorder in India, as well as countering foreign-inspired sabotage, terrorism, subterfuge and threats to national security.
Much of the information for the above was from Wikipedia.
We were invited by the Chairman of the Tiruvannamalai district DMK, Mr. Tirumaden, to participate in the celebration to honor MK Stalin’s birthday in Chennai. Prakash, a local elected official working for Chairman Tirumaden, had asked Kumar, of Shanti’s Internet Cafe, to lead a delegation of 15 Westerners to the event.
We met Sunday afternoon at Shanti’s Cafe, run by Kumar.
A van had been arranged for the trip to Chennai. There were about 13 people going on the trip.
Inside the van.
We stopped on the drive at a roadside chai stand, the N.S.F. Hotel. (In India, ‘hotel’ seems to mean eating place, not a place for lodging.)
Below, four of our companions on the trip chatted and drank chai.
Below, Indian woman sitting outside the chai stand, selling a kind of Indian fruit. These are a white fruit that is pretty hard with seeds in it that I think are eaten.
About 8 PM we got to our hotel (Lodging place, this time), Hotel Rohini. Rooms had been arranged for us here. We had dinner together, then went off to bed, to get up and meet at 8 AM, Monday morning.
Monday morning, getting ready. In the room we had there was a ‘mirror room’, with mirrors on three walls.
Carol makes a last adjustment to her saree. The colors, red and black, are DMK colors.
Outside a group of sadhus is getting into their van. These sadhus were also brought into Chennai for this birthday.
We wait to go out to breakfast.
We walked across the street to an ‘idli shop’ – a breakfast place. Banana leaf plates were set out for each of us.
We all ordered from the usual variety of South Indian breakfast items, idlis (steamed dumplings made from fermented rice dough), vadas (savory fried doughnuts made from lentil flour), dosas (crepes made from fermented rice dough), with the usual selection of sambar and chutneys.
After a short ride in the van, we got to our gathering place. The first thing we saw was a group of women in horse costumes. This was our first inkling that this was not going to be the kind of political event we were used to in the West.
As we approached a hall, there was a large group of people dressed in yellow with white hats and gloves. Above them are banners of red and black flags – DMK colors.
Men in bright yellow shirts. I think these were made just for today’s event.
Musicians outside, drums and other rhythm instruments.
Inside the hall was a big poster of Karunanidhi and Stalin. A large group of women are to the left.
To the right are many bunches of balloons, red and black, naturally.
Women in various outfits for today’s event.
The sadhus are here already.
We were whisked past what seemed like a treasure room to meet the Chairman of Tiruvannamalai district, our ‘host’ for today’s event.
Here is the Chairman, called Tirumugan. He is looking at messages on his phone.
The Chairman with Carol.
He does seem a bit like a politician, with his hand stretched out to shake hands with all the invitees.
Below, the Chairman talks to Erica, from Holland, who founded an Indian Trust dedicated to creating a network of mobile medical clinics. The Trust has vans that deliver health services out to the villages. This meets a great need. People in the village may never have been to see a doctor in their lives.
Back in the ‘treasure room.’ These turn out to the gifts that are to be given to M.K. Stalin.
From this stash of gifts, we were given bunches of roses and decorative malas to give to M.K. Stalin.
There was a large group of women dressed all in silver costumes. The all-silver outfits kind of reminded me of Michael Jackson costumes, with the general look and white gloves.
There was another large group of young women dressed in very fancy native outfits, with elaborate jewelry on their heads, around their necks and on their arms.
The men below are dressed up as characters from Indian political history. I guess M.K. Stalin is to be visited by these spirits of Indian politics. The gentleman with the white beard represents Periyar, and the guy in sunglasses is MGR.
We go outside to gather. The men in yellow are already there.
There is a small group, dressed in outlandish costumes.
I see the ‘women’ in the group and realize they are transvestites. We are told that in India transvestites are present at many such events. It is said that they attract bad luck to themselves, thereby protecting everyone else.
Many people are lined up on the street. The vans and busses on which they arrived are parked nearby.
More women are gathered by the entrance to the hall.
Just ahead of us in the line of people are the fancily dressed young women.
Here are two young women in our group, Bo and Aruna, carrying roses to give to Stalin.
Another photo of the women in their fancy dress.
News photographers are everywhere. I am taking a photo of them while they take a photo of us.
This is Prakash, the local elected official who reports to the Chairman, that is working with our group.
The girls have gone into the treasure room and have nice presents to give to Stalin.
In this box is a nice wok, called a kadai in India.
People with all the balloons are in line behind us. In the foreground of the photo below, the man with the shaved head and round glasses is dressed as Gandhi, as part of the group of historical political leaders.
Just ahead of us is a sea of black hair, decorated with flowers and jewelry.
Standing by the entrance to the halls is a small group of women carrying the kind of ‘god’ often seen at a village pooja or function. These are coconuts, in pots with special leaves (mango leaves?) and flower decoration.
The fancy ‘chariot’ from the treasure room is to be carried by the group just behind us. This will be presented to Stalin.
Men carry more things to give to Stalin, including flower malas and other things to put around his neck. How many necks does he have, anyway?
One girl carries what look like beautiful brass lamps. These would be used in a shrine to burn wicks fed on ghee.
The girls all have long braids wrapped in gold ribbons. Some of these long braids are hair extensions.
The group behind us is getting ready to go. I did not know, but we are to march in a parade through the streets of Chennai to Stalin’s house. The banner below identifies us and the “chariot” carriers as representing the Tiruvannamalai district, all invitees of the Chairman.
The girls with their gifts are ready to go.
The parade starts. Chennai traffic, which to us always seems terrible and slow, has to wait for our parade of thousands of people to pass before they can move again.
The men carrying the shiny metal ‘chariot of the gods’ have quite a load to tote through the streets.
Walking through the streets of Chennai.
One of the transvestites sees photographers and takes the opportunity to strut ‘her’ stuff before their cameras.
These are girls in peacock outfits. I bet they are very hot inside them.
All along the route people stop and watch.
We turned onto a street, the street where Stalin lives. There is a line 2 km long waiting to felicitate M.K. Stalin. We read in the paper the next day that 150,000 people were here today.
Drummers play as we wait, so we have a sound track today. Percussion only, though.
The streets are lined with DMK flags strung above.
People waiting and watching.
One of the politicians wore his Karunanidhi ring. He also had very long fingernails, I guess to prove that he did not ever have to do any actual work.
The pretty girls wait with their gifts. Some are lucky enough to be able to sit on the curb.
The men carrying the special chariot are still behind us. I bet this gift feels heavier and heavier.
As we wait for the line to move, a TV crew from a local station see us, and comes to interview us. We are the only Western people we have seen all day, so I guess we are interesting to the newsmen. They ask questions like, “Where are you from?” “How do you know Stalin?” “What do you think about him?” When they interviewed Carol, they came back a second time to talk with her about her saree in DMK colors. We were told by Tamil friends in Tiruvannamalai that they saw our interviews on TV that night.
A group of Moslem women, dressed in black robes. Underneath are sarees like the other Indian woman. They must be hot!
Men in green turbans, more Moslems I think.
Close ups of the girls and fancy outfits.
More Moslem men looking at us. What a handsome young man in white!
A transvestite has worked ‘her’ way through the crowd and is dancing to the drum music with Erica. Shortly after this, one of the political line monitors pushed ‘her’ back to her place in line.
Showing the ear and head decoration and the fancy dressed girls.
Then suddenly things turn ugly. A big group of women, then men, push their way through the line. The line has been orderly and calm (though slow) for the last hour or so. Now there is all this force moving through it. People are pushing each other, and what seems like the force of thousands is threatening all who are here. People have been walking and standing in the bright sun, with no access to water. It’s really hot.
Tempers start flaring, and people are almost pushed off their feet. Our political leaders pull the Westerners out of the line, to the other side of the police barricades.
We are now on the side, watching the procession slowly pass. So many people. Near me, an Indian man collapses. People carry him to sit next to me on the curb. I give him some of my water. They sprinkle some on him and he drinks deeply. After a while he can stand again (with help getting up). I think it was heat prostration. I have seen this before when I was in the US Air Force, in matching drills in the 100 degree Texas heat.
Many people come by in procession carrying different kinds of caged birds. There was a man carrying a rabbit, too. There was many plants and tree seedlings (that I did not photograph). For a while I was just tired, sitting wherever I could.
When they saw what was happening – a large number of people who were sitting waiting for the crush to pass, and hot and tired and dried out – the political people brought bags of drinking water which they threw through the crowd. Next to me was a fancy dress girl that they kept going by and not giving water. She seemed to be getting desperate, when finally they threw a bag to her.
Carol and I both got bags and drank them down. Maybe I had two. I got two more and put them in my bag, just in case, for later.
Up the street, another DMK man was dropping rolled printed items – some kind of political calendar featuring pictures of Stalin? – to outstretched hands.
We found a tree to sit under. Many of the non-Westerners that had waited with us have gotten back in line.
We got back in line, too. The silver-dressed crew of girls is behind us, and a few fancy dressed stragglers.
There is Chairman Tirumagan waiting for his delegation, dressed nicely in white, the formal color in India.
Below, a news cameraman shooting video for tonight’s news.
Police, standing around. During the crush I saw absolutely NO effort by them at crowd control.
Here is the Chairman and another political man, managing the traffic. They are stopping the line of fancy girls and silver-dressed girls, so we can go in.
Through the entrance, more police stand around. Some have two stars, or even three stars, on their epaulettes. Earlier I saw a police car with a three-star plaque on the front, so three stars must be some high officer. So I guess the lower ranked police were outside, by the barriers, while the higher ranking officers were inside, so they could greet any important people who happened to come today.
Here they are greeting the Tiruvannamalai Chairman.
As we walk in, I notice many pairs of sandals abandoned along the way among other assorted trash. I think these are from people who removed them before meeting M.K. Stalin, and, due to the way the lines worked, were unable to get them when they left.
Politicals and news cameramen are beside us as we walk in.
We are getting close. He is just ahead. This is being done at his house, I think.
Finally we meet him. Chairman Tirumorgan shows him one of the rolled calendars. Maybe it was his people giving them out.
Now our group gets to meet him. He spend a few minutes with us, an exorbitant amount of time on a day like this.
Here he is, talking with Carol. She had a nice chat.
As did Erica, always ready to talk about her medical Trust.
Next to Stalin, in the blue saree, is his wife, Durgavathy.
They both seem happy and receptive, even though they must have been standing here now at least three hours.
While we stand there, a horde of cameramen snap away. Still cameras, video cameras and mikes, everything you can imagine. Just like in the movies. As I stood in front of them to take my photos, they yelled at me to move. I did not, though. I am part of the communications media, too!
As we walked out, they directed us into a special area where they served birthday cake. The cake was in the form of the DMK symbol, the sun rising between two mountains. I did not realize this at the time, but not many people were given cake. Look at how few pieces have been taken, and we were near the end of the line of 150,000 people who saw Stalin this day.
Kumar is in the middle of the group. I think he is happy that everything has come off OK and that the people seem happy, if exhausted by all the clamor, the heat, and the standing around.
On the way out, they gave us a plastic bag, with a to-go meal inside. So as is usual for these Indian functions, they felt the need to provide everyone who came today with food.
We went back to the hotel to take a shower and change out of the sweat-drenched clothes. The Stalin Birthday Event was over.
I have to observe that Indian ‘retail’ (street-level) politics is very different from that in the USA. To me this seems kind of like a mix of Indian religion and politics. In the temple, the typical Indian gives devotion to the god of choice. Here, on his birthday, 150,000 Indians gave devotion to M.K. Stalin.
Does he have what is needed to be an important leader? I do not really know. I do know that he showed great endurance this day, to handle all the people and to still seem pleasant and full of energy when we met him.
I think that today we met the next leader of the DMK party.