Updated: March 29, 2021 10:50:35 am
Accompanied by scores of “volunteers” — most of them non-locals — in a cavalcade of cars and SUVs, K Annamalai is moving through the parched lands and rocky terrain of this backward constituency which has always voted for the AIADMK or the DMK. The campaign of this former police officer is lavish — videographers and photographers capture his every moment and a tech team provides back-up. In his car, between brief speeches, he takes inputs from professional consultants.
But his task, while challenging, is simple — introduce the symbol Lotus to an electorate which only knows the Two Leaves (the AIADMK) and Rising Sun (the DMK). Suave and articulate, Annamalai, 36, quit the IPS in 2019 and joined the BJP last year, and is the party’s state vice-president.
The lack of a BJP cadre base in the constituency has been met by Annamalai with his extensive network of friends and other volunteers, around 1,200-1,500 in all.
Aravakurichi, one of the 20 seats the BJP is contesting in the AIADMK alliance and among the largest Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps for the first time in the electoral history of the country, the Election Commission had rescinded the poll notification for Aravakurichi — along with Thanjavur — in 2016, after reports of large-scale distribution of money and gifts to voters by candidates and parties.
Local AIADMK strongman and former transport minister Senthil Balaji had won the election that was finally held six months later. He had subsequently moved to the T T V Dhinakaran faction, and was among the 18 AIADMK MLAs disqualified in 2017 for doing so. Balaji soon after found place in the DMK and won Aravakurichi in a by-election in May 2019.
This time Balaji has shifted to Karur seat but holds sway in the constituency. The DMK has fielded Monjanur P R Elango.
Annamalai was the natural choice for the BJP as he hails from Aravakurichi. With the constituency having a sizeable Muslim population, Annamalai says, “From the outside, it might look very risky… 16.5% minority votes, rural voters with no party recognition, no symbol recognition… lots of challenges.”
However, he adds, “I have come to politics not to win elections. I want to make a difference. What will I do in an urban constituency? I thought this constituency deserves my attention… It is a big social experiment, whether the people can recognise the Lotus symbol.”
That is the main task before his volunteers too, who repeatedly underline that a vote for Lotus is a vote for Two Leaves.
Annamalai talks of Central government support “to bring funds, industries, water management best practices”. He also mentions his IPS stint in every speech (he was Superintendent of Police in Udupi and Chikkamagaluru and then DCP in Bengaluru south) — the point being that he is here for public service and understands the system very well. Annamalai also talks of the fact that he is a native. “My opponent operates from Karur, the district headquarters… I live amongst you… We can all sit on the temple premises to discuss your every issue every day,” he tells people.
At his series of corner meetings, Annamalai repeats, “If you make me victorious, Edappadi annan (brother) will become the Chief Minister, and Aravakurichi will get the direct attention of Modi and Amit Shah.”
While he argues that he has nothing against “Muslim brothers and sisters”, the local Jamaat’s declaration that it will not allow him to enter the Pallapatti village could polarise the election, and Annamalai has hit back at it.
Asked about the perception that the BJP coerced the AIADMK into aligning with it, and that this may hurt the ruling party, Annamalai says, “It is a free country, free democracy. People have their own logic and reason to align with any party.”
The BJP will make gains in the upcoming elections, Ann- amalai asserts, adding that he is in politics for the long haul. “We are winning this… there is no question. It is a long stay. Nothing comes easy in life and in Tamil Nadu politics.”
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