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regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

Lok Sabha elections: Khaki to saffron, a dare to Dravidian status quo in Tamil Nadu

Annamalai has been unsparing of AIADMK too, once considered BJP’s 'natural ally' in Tamil Nadu, alluding to its former leadership being not free of 'corruption taint'

M.R. Venkatesh Chennai Published 18.04.24, 06:31 AM
Kuppusamy Annamalai, the BJP Tamil Nadu president, on the campaign trail in a picture shared on X 

Kuppusamy Annamalai, the BJP Tamil Nadu president, on the campaign trail in a picture shared on X 

Kuppusamy Annamalai, the youngest president yet of the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit who gave up khaki to embrace saffron, resists any classification: either one of a political conservative with a dash of idealism or of a politician in a hurry.

“I have not come here to please anyone,” Annamalai, set to turn 40 in early June, recently remarked when asked about his often brash, unkind cuts or belligerent denunciations when he sets out to tear into his political rivals, the Dravidian major, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in particular.

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Annamalai has been unsparing of the AIADMK too, once considered BJP’s “natural ally” in Tamil Nadu, alluding to its former leadership being not free of the “corruption taint” (a reference to the late J Jayalalithaa). Thus far and no further, decided the present AIADMK leader and former chief minister EK Palaniswamy, who quit the NDA.

Annamalai, as the “enfant terrible” of post-2014 Tamil Nadu politics, is unabashed about challenging the DMK’s inclusive, secular Dravidian ideology on the one hand, and to elbow out the AIADMK on the other. His strategy looks beyond the 2024 Lok Sabha polls into the state arena of the 2026 Assembly elections.

As a tough, disciplinarian former IPS officer, this role comes spontaneously to Annamalai. He hails from a traditional agriculturist community in Karur district, the ‘Vellala Gounders’, a dominant OBC group in western Tamil Nadu. The BJP has been assiduously cultivating this constituency for quite some time — since the February 1998 serial blasts in the textile city of Coimbatore.

Annamalai studied engineering at the PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore, and followed it up with a management degree from IIM-Lucknow. He then entered the civil services in 2010, qualifying for the IPS and was placed in the Karnataka cadre.

A tech-savvy, duty-driven police officer, he was soon sought after by the people in the areas he served, including as ASP Karkala, SP of Udupi and Chikmagalur until he got the coveted posting of DCP, South Bangalore.

However, in a surprise turn of events in September 2019, he resigned from the IPS to take up social service. His spouse Akila, a software professional in Bangalore, has been a big support in his life.

Annamalai joined the BJP in August 2020 and was elevated to president of its state unit.

Annamalai’s bid for quick electoral success though didn’t come off. He lost the 2021 Assembly polls from Aravakuruchi in Karur district. Now, he is locked in a three-cornered contest in Coimbatore with the DMK and AIADMK candidates, Ganapathy P. Rajkumar and Singai G. Ramachandran, respectively.

But why quit the IPS? The sacred-ash sporting Annamalai’s recently published memoir, Stepping Beyond Khaki, seeks to answer this query.

Travelling around Uttar Pradesh when he was at IIM-Lucknow, the rural poverty made a deep impression on a young Annamalai, triggering an impulse for public service. Subsequently, his rigorous training in the National Police Academy (NPA) in Hyderabad “made me who I am,” he writes. After being in the IPS for about nine years, a trip to Kailash and the untimely demise of a senior officer “whom I deeply admired, gave me the final impetus to take the uncharted path”. From grassroots change-focused initiatives, the RSS-BJP influence came as a neat fit for him.

Now the poster boy of Modi, whom he calls “my Vishwa Guru”, Annamalai took the Prime Minister’s development agenda on an ‘En Mann, En Makkal (My Land, My People) yatra’, covering 200 Assembly segments over roughly 94 days. The yatra started in Rameshwaram and ended in Tirupur district with a rally addressed by Modi.

Will the ‘yatra’ be a game-changer? Not really, says senior CPI leader Perundurai Periyasamy. “Politics is much more than policing. His ‘yatra’, with the Union government’s backing, has increased BJP’s visibility in Tamil Nadu, but not to the point of taking roots here,” he told The Telegraph over telephone.

Tamil Nadu votes on April 19

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