M.K. Stalin, the popular younger son of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, was Friday named deputy chief minister in a clear signal that he would get to head the DMK and rule the state at a future date.
With Karunanidhi, one of India's longest surviving politicians, in poor health and confined to the wheelchair, Stalin's elevation had been expected in the DMK for a long time. But it caught most people by surprise Friday.
Wild celebrations erupted outside Stalin's residence in the heart of Chennai after Governor Surjit Singh Barnala issued a statement appointing the 56-year-old as deputy chief minister on the advice of Karunanidhi.
Hundreds of DMK cadres including legislators and MPs, converged at Stalin's residence, presenting him garlands, bouquets and shawls. Some touched his feet in reverence.
Many more people celebrated outside, bursting crackers on the streets. Even some police officers came and shook hands with Stalin.
'We didn't expect the announcement today. It was a surprise,' a DMK leader told IANS.
According to a statement from the governor's office, Stalin, the rural development and local administration minister, will look after the departments of general administration, district revenue offices, industries, minorities welfare, social reforms, passports and special initiatives.
All these were the chief minister's responsibilities until now.
Stalin's elevation comes a day after his elder brother M.K. Azhagiri was sworn in as the central minister for chemicals and fertilisers Thursday in New Delhi. Stalin had attended the event.
DMK insiders and political analysts said Friday's appointment was the clearest indication that Karunanidhi had named his heir apparent and also signalled that he was about to retire from active politics.
Named after Joseph Stalin, the DMK treasurer and youth wing secretary is popularly known as 'thalapathi' or 'commander' by party cadres. He was the mayor of Chennai from 1996 to 2002.
A graduate from the University of Madras, he has been elected to the state assembly four times since 1989 but became a minister only in 2006. He now represents Chennai's Thousand Lights constituency, a DMK bastion that his father represented for a long time.
Stalin took to politics in 1973 and was jailed in 1976-77 under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) during the Emergency regime of prime minister Indira Gandhi.
At one point, long-time DMK MP Vaiko was seen as a threat to the political aspirations of Stalin. Once Vaiko left the DMK, Stalin's stature increased dramatically. Stalin, who has a son and a daughter, has acted in television serials.