Updated: June 9, 2022 8:30:28 am
He has sceptics both within his party and outside. But, unlike his predecessors, Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai has managed to increase the party’s visibility in media in the past few months, so much so that the principal Opposition and BJP ally, the AIADMK, recently accused it of being “anti-Tamil” and “stealing” state revenue.
The 38-year-old former IPS officer was appointed at the helm of the state BJP last year and has managed to remain in the media glare by attacking the DMK, hitting out at journalists, for his brusque manner of speaking, and for alleged links to people caught up in financial frauds. On June 5, he levelled corruption allegations against the DMK-led state government and the family of Chief Minister M K Stalin.
For a national party that is not so popular in Tamil Nadu, launching Annamalai into state politics was an experimental move, just like the appointment of a woman state chief, Tamilisai Soundararajan, in August 2014. But though the former police officer may have succeeded in increasing the party’s profile, he has rubbed many people the wrong way. A senior state BJP leader described him as “a leader without a profile” while another leader who claims to have been sidelined by the new state party leadership said Annamalai’s “story is like making a mountain out of a molehill”.
“It is true that the Tamil Nadu state chief of BJP is a political novice who shot to fame for his previous job as an IPS officer,” said a senior party leader. “As a leader, we do not know his strengths and weaknesses. He is like a leader without a profile. A person heading a national party in Tamil Nadu should be someone who worked on the ground with cadres for at least a decade. Unfortunately, he isn’t like that. He was launched by B L Santhosh (BJP national general secretary) from Karnataka. He was there when Rajinikanth’s political entry was being awaited.”
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Another functionary who is not on friendly terms with Annamalai over his style of functioning said the state BJP chief could be a long-term leader for the party. “But mostly what happens is a lack of consistency and they (state party presidents) are shifted out,” he added.
A top Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader in Tamil Nadu said the state BJP was more Brahminical than party units in northern states, and Annamalai’s style of functioning and doing things on his own had already created an internal rift. Annamalai belongs to the powerful Gounder community in western Tamil Nadu, and though he contested unsuccessfully from the Aravakuruchi constituency in the 2021 Assembly polls, he helped the party win two seats in the western region. This helped propel his rapid elevation in the party hierarchy.
“Tamilisai wasn’t confrontational, she was a seasoned politician who used to talk to everyone,” he said. “L Murugan (former state chief) was a hard worker but he failed to come up to the level of a state leader. Annamalai is a different case. Being in the Opposition, against DMK, is his advantage now. While his fresh mind and enthusiasm make him exciting, his ignorance of issues and immature behaviour lead to serious troubles. We had to deal with cases of him making communal remarks about journalists, asking senior journalists whether they go to temples or churches, and enquiring about the religion of their spouses. Inside or outside the party, he cannot go on in this way. Especially, the strong Brahmin lobby in the party and the RSS will not tolerate indifference or arrogant tones that they are being meted out.”
Some see Annamalai’s appointment as a result of an attempt to align the party in a society that looks at power differently. “When there is an IPS or IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) or a foreign university tag, you command an awe in the profile,” said a civil servant from Karnataka who knows the Tamil Nadu BJP president. “He was neither corrupt nor immoral in service. But we see him as a victim of that societal approach to power. He can be cut off immediately by the BJP if he fails to deliver. He could have done much more for the people if he continued in the service.”
Professor Ramu Manivannan, who taught political science at the University of Madras, said Annamalai was a politician whose connection was with the media and not the masses. “This interesting belief has a lot of takers in politics these days — that we can manage people if we manage the media properly. But mistaking the masses for the media will be foolish. What makes Annamalai a sellable commodity is that interesting mix of his IPS tag, age, and sudden elevation in the party. Both Annamalai and the media mutually benefit in the process. We can see many people on social media who are seemingly popular for no reason. They neither understand issues nor have fresh thoughts. They thrive on information. Unfortunately, dumping information is not politics. Having a perspective is politics.”
He said that attributing extraordinary powers to Annamalai for his IPS tag would be fooling people as “it is not Annamalai but the BJP ruling that the Centre is playing the role of principal Opposition in Tamil Nadu with all their government machinery”.
A BJP-RSS veteran from Tamil Nadu said the party had seen many state unit presidents come and go, and that there would be two terms for anyone in the post. “That is all. Actually, the president is not a very important thing for the party. So, I don’t want to comment on Annamalai. But from early 2020, especially when the pro and anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests and campaigns happened here, we have started seeing a significant trend in favour of nationalist politics in Tamil Nadu. Our pro-CAA meetings in smaller towns had an average of over 4,000 people. Even a recent rally in Sivaganga had about 8,000 people. Annamalai is just the face of it all, nothing more or less,” he said.
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