It was around teatime when DMK's heir-apparent and the son of MK Stalin, Udayanidhi, presented his father with an inconspicuous red brick. It had ‘AIIMS’, written in chalk.
Udayanidhi Stalin, having just registered his first-ever poll victory from Chepauk was flanked by his children and nieces at their upmarket Alwarpet home, in Chennai. Seated at the centre was Stalin wearing a shy smile, happily accepting an apparent war prize.
What was this red brick, anyway? And, why was it the centerpiece of the DMK’s celebration post-victory? The story behind it is as amusing as it is symbolic of the party’s campaign itself.
At the height of the DMK’s poll campaign in Tamil Nadu, it quickly became clear that the DMK’s reins were set to be handed to the next generation. As Stalin took over from his father and Dravidian stalwart, Karunanidhi, Udayanidhi was set to take over from his father, Stalin.
However, unlike Stalin, Udyanidhi was fighting only his first election, despite spending half-a-decade running the party’s youth wing. Despite detractors calling his candidacy yet another dynastic move, Stalin’s son surprised many by easing into the role of being a promising candidate betraying no signs that this was in fact, his first-ever election.
Udaynidhi’s big day out came two weeks before Tamil Nadu went to polls. While campaigning for a DMK candidate in Sattur in Southern Tamil Nadu, Udayanidhi used some of his familiar comic timing to do a double-take on the ruling BJP and incumbent AIADMK.
“When Prime Minister Modi visited Tamil Nadu back in 2017, the Centre promised to construct an AIIMS hospital in Madurai,” Udayanidhi said back in March, while speaking to a crowd perched atop his campaign wagon. Reaching into his automobile from the sunroof and pulling out a lone brick, he added: “I happened to visit AIIMS, and this was all I found!”
The story behind the red brick is as amusing as it is symbolic of the DMK's poll campaign. The comic timing and the showmanship of the moment was not lost on the crowd that broke into rapturous applause and laughter. The drama aside, Udayanidhi’s brick stood as a symbol of the DMK’s poll campaign, in highlighting the AIADMK’s drawbacks. It also helped that a bruised BJP filed a case of theft against Udayanidhi for stealing a brick from the AIIMS construction site.
The ‘performance’ also catapulted Stalin Junior into a league of his own. This wasn’t someone who was blessed with Karunanidhi’s oratory or Stalin’s administrative acumen. This was Udayanidhi Stalin and his style of leadership was his own.
Soon, Udayanidhi and the red brick would go on to become a watershed moment in the DMK’s 2021 electoral campaign. The brick became a symbol of every promise the ruling AIADMK and its poll partner the BJP, failed to keep.
It was also perhaps apt that the DMK, under Udayanidhi succeeded in milking the symbolic red brick in a manner that only he could do best, going on to pitch their poll campaign on how the AIADMK had let the people of Tamil Nadu down, while “selling out” to the BJP.
Hence, it was only apt that on a day that saw the DMK script a historic and decisive mandate, the red brick makes a comeback, and feature as part of the Stalin household.