Ever since he hinted at entering electoral politics, Annamalai Kuppusamy has been at the receiving end of both bouquets and brickbats. The former Karnataka cadre IPS officer has served as Deputy Commissioner of Police in Bengaluru South as well as Superintendent of Police in Udupi and Chikmagalur districts. After he quit his job, the former cop has been busy with organic farming in his hometown Karur. He has also started ‘We The Leaders Foundation’ to empower youngsters and train them for better job opportunities and to help farmers by promoting organic farming.
The officer first dropped hints of nursing political ambitions when opened up in a January 2020 TV interview. He said he quit his job and wanted to expand his horizon a bit more and politics could be an option. He said he likes Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being an honest man.
Kuppusamy spoke to indianexpress.com about his entry into politics and the political environment in the state.
What made you quit the police service and start a non-profit?
It is not 1980 or 1990 where we have to take one profession and stick to it for a lifetime. Once you are in a profession, that profession opens up a world of opportunities for you and this was exactly the case with me. Being in the police department and seeing things at a closer level helped me to know why certain things are happening in the society. I used to look at crime from a social perspective… that has pushed me to a different domain now. Having served as a police officer for a certain number of years, it gave me a clear perspective of social ills that are playing on the entire system. I quit my job in 2019 following the death of my close friend. It made me re-examine my life to see life in its full perspective. So I thought we should go back to our grassroots but I was not very clear where and how I am going to do things. While I was traveling around the country in 2019, I realised I need to focus on two things for the betterment of society. One is to work among the youth, specifically to skill them and second is to empower the farmers and bring them under one umbrella to help one another.
We are working on a project ‘Sun Rise’ in Karur where we empower the students, make them better communicators and thinkers which will help them during placements. We have more than 4,700 volunteers in this programme in districts like Karur, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, and others. We don’t do this full time, this is like a volunteer service by the foundation. We believe by empowering these two sectors, some kind of change will happen in the society at the bottom level. We allow them to come and do this so they become leaders in the process. With respect to farmers, we are in the process of setting up an organisation where a group of farmers can come and manage themselves in terms of seed, supply, post-harvest treatment of their products, etc. The goal is to promote organic farming. I have taken a resolution to do farming organically. I cannot push this to others, we need to make a profitable model before others get attracted because I see wherever organic farming is pushed, people don’t take it because at the end of the day, profits matter for them.
What do you think of PM Modi and his policies?
From a holistic perspective, PM Modi has made an honest attempt to bring in reforms to address a lot of issues that our county has had for a long time. One thing I could say is GST. It is not like GST was mooted by him, it was mooted by the previous regime also but somehow it couldn’t see the light of its day for many reasons and PM Modi was able to achieve it. Likewise, from a security perspective, demonetisation was a very good move. I believe it curtailed internal security threats, Maoism, and other kinds of stuff. I feel due to demonetisation, more money has come into the formal economic system, which is a good sign. With regard to Article 370, it is a temporary provision that we kept extending for a long time. The central government thought this is the right time to do and they did it. Many found fault with the process in which it was done. I believe Article 370 and 35A have to go but I think the method in which it was done could have been handled better. Even in the whole debate about CAA/NRC, I think the communication at the lower level was a problem. The social media was too vitiated at that time; no one was ready to listen to what the government was saying. The theory that was circulated claiming that Muslims will become the secondary citizens of the country was not the case. The case is all about persecuted religious minorities.
Rajinikanth said he will establish his party soon and will contest in the 2021 elections. Ever since there has been a constant attack on his Ideology and how he reacts to certain incidents, how do you see that?
There is no room here for some new person. When a person comes with a different vision, he is immediately subjected to harassment and ruthless trolling. His personal life has been brought into discussion rather than what he can offer for the betterment of society. He is bottled up with some ideology. This has to change, new people should enter politics only then there will be progress. In the next two-three months, after Rajinikanth announces his party, we will get to know his policies, what changes he wants to bring into this system, etc. Let us give him some space and then we can discuss his plans. And I cannot disclose anything about the discussion between Rajnikanth and myself. Right now, I have a task in my hand, we are doing something for the betterment of farmers and the younger generation. We need to complete that task before heading to another one. I am also waiting for Rajini sir to come and announce his plan and then I will take a call. He is a superstar and I am a common man. I think the discussion should end there.
You are labeled as a BJP sympathiser. How do you look at that?
People are asking whether I am right or left, I cannot be bottled somewhere. Mine is a fusion of both right and left-wing Ideology. It’s like my mind says right and heart says left. To be frank, I don’t know where I belong. People are linking me with BJP because I said I like Modi and I am spiritual. I have crossed that stage of paying importance to these trolls/memes. It’s a democratic country and people have got rights to express their opinions. As long as the Laxman-Rekha is not crossed, I am fine. I believe our work and life should be the answer to our critics.
Why do you think BJP is not able to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu?
Tamil Nadu is a very tough state. It is a regional politics-oriented state. Social-welfare politics is very high here unlike other states. The regional parties mobilise the voters here based on Ideology and hence the number of committed voters for the established parties is very high here. In this state, narratives matter, media channels matter. I am not saying BJP is not an established party here but I feel somehow they need to strengthen their party workers at the grass-root level. The national parties including Congress are finding it difficult to find a foothold because the regional parties are deep-rooted right down to the booth-level. If you look at 2014, Narendra Modi got a very good reception in Tamil Nadu. BJP got more than 5 per cent of votes, and they were able to split the votes into many areas making it difficult for other parties. But 2019 became a completely polarised vote share. The whole narrative was set up like BJP didn’t do anything for Tamil Nadu which is not true. The ‘Go Back Modi’ trolling and other things on social media and at the grassroots level worked against the party. Due to this, unfortunately, there is no cabinet minister from Tamil Nadu. It’s not like Modi Ji doesn’t like Tamil Nadu, if you look at all his recent speeches and actions, you can see how he respects the language, the tradition, and the people. Many of the bureaucrats who work at the PM’s office are Tamilians. I think there is some perception issue at the ground level which is somehow contributed to by the vitiation of social media.
There has been a constant criticism by the opposition parties as well as the activists that centre is trying to impose various things that are against the genetic DNA of Tamil Nadu.
Let me take NEET as an example. The whole county is trying to adapt to the common system of admission so there is some commonality that is maintained. But in Tamil Nadu, the state board syllabus is in operation for a very long time. Students will find it tough if they are asked to suddenly prepare for a CBSE modeled paper. There is no doubt that the state has to merge with centre at some point but I think at this moment, the central government should give a certain leeway to the state. We are having many success stories of NEET from Tamil Nadu but at the same time, there is no doubt that the students from the remote areas are struggling to have access to NEET coaching materials. I think technology is going to be a leveller, the state also has to consciously push it to the education system not necessarily NEET but certain teaching where the students can crack other higher educational institutional entrance exams like CAT, IIT or Jipmer, etc. All these entrance examinations revolve around a certain syllabus and our students should not feel let down when it comes to cracking these examinations. I think the education department will soon bring a solution.
What is your view on 2021 assembly election? How do you think it is going to differ from previous elections?
2021 is going to be the most complex election in Tamil Nadu. It is going to be a tough election post-pandemic. Ideological and personality attacks are taking place on social media. The margins are going to be extremely close.
The recent Sathankulam incident has put the entire state of TN to shame. As a former police officer, how do you look at the incident?
It’s a gruesome incident. When I came to know about it, I felt a lack of command and control in the district from top-level officers to bottom. Secondly, these kinds of issues should be nipped in the bud by certain measures taken by the department seniors itself. When the officers don’t have fear of their senior officials, they resort to these kinds of activities. It’s a petty issue, someone opened the shop beyond the curfew time and there is no need for the police to drag them to the police station, beat them and do all kinds of nonsense. Sathankulam is a black mark for Tamil Nadu Police, there is no doubt about that, but at the same time, we cannot label the entire police department with just one incident. The incident is a lesson to all the police officers. In a democracy, when they try to cross the Laxman-Rekha, it is always going to bounce back. Police have to be more responsible and more law-abiding in a pandemic situation like this rather than thinking that the whole city is shut due to the pandemic and they can do whatever they want. People are evolving, they get to know all the things through social media and other platforms. Police officers should not be wishing for speedy justice for any act. They are a part of the criminal justice system, they are not the justice system itself.
What steps do you think the government should take to avert these kinds of acts in the future?
Police officers have to be trained more. The government should allocate more money to train them which is unfortunately not happening here. They should be allowed to work on a shift basis. When I was DCP at Bengaluru, I made sure the police officers don’t extend their shift beyond 10 hours. When they work overtime, their strength of judgment gets impaired, and if that happens unnecessary things might take place. Before every promotion, the officers should go through some tests. It shouldn’t be artificial promotion. The officers should be given periodical training on human rights, behavioural issues, communications, etc. Apart from physical training, officers should focus more on improving their soft skills also.
Do you think glorifying police officers on-screen is paving the way for such incidents?
Policing is a very tough job. The situation demands the officers to act tough at certain times but the Sathakulam incident is entirely a different one, it’s more about the failure in the internal system. Those officers had become rogues and committed such a brutal act. We shouldn’t be generalising all the police officers like that. Movies don’t glorify police officers, in many of the movies, police are portrayed as villains as well. So I don’t think movies are provoking the officers to act in a certain manner. The state police should go back to their basics. They should sit down on their drawing board, analyse what went wrong and make sure such incidents never happen again. A more empathetic, kind approach can only win back people’s trust.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines