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Can 'Singham Anna' Deliver For The BJP?

April 17, 2024 20:14 IST

Annamalai has faced criticism for the breakup between the AIADMK and the BJP, but BJP leaders say 'he attracts youth, who needs change'.

IMAGE: K Annamalai, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Coimbatore, with BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman during a roadshow in the constituency, April 13, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Annamalai Kuppuswamy, a former Indian Police Service officer, earned the affectionate moniker 'Singham Anna' from his admirers, who saw in him a reflection of the dedicated character from the film Singham.

Five years after he departed from the police service, Annamalai, now a politician, is making giant strides in the political landscape of Tamil Nadu.

As the BJP chief in Tamil Nadu, Annamalai drew national attention when Prime Minister Narendra D Modi highlighted an RTI reply concerning Katchatheevu island.

Modi accused Indira Gandhi's government of 'giving away' the island to Sri Lanka.

Katchatheevu, an island in the Palk Straits that connects India and Sri Lanka, covers an area of 285.20 acres.

Annamalai, who consistently makes headlines in a state otherwise dominated by Dravidian parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, is more than just a politician: An engineering graduate with an MBA from IIM-Lucknow, he was drawn to the civil services by the idea of connecting with people, even though his ambition was to become an entrepreneur.

The moniker 'Singham' became popular after his undercover crackdowns on gutka sales and drug rackets as assistant superintendent of police in Karkala, Karnataka.

His empathetic approach was highlighted when he handled a rape and murder case of a teenager as superintendent of police in Udupi district -- Annamalai promised the victim's mother that he would not only bring the culprits to justice but also ensure her daughter's memory lived on.

He fulfilled his promise by arresting the culprits and instituting a scholarship in the girl's name.

The 39 year old is also a veteran of Islamic studies, having chosen to learn about the religion to understand how religious texts are allegedly misinterpreted.

Annamalai quit the police service in September 2019 and joined the BJP in 2020.

Despite losing the 2021 assembly polls from Aravakurichi, he was elevated to the post of state party chief the same year.

Narayanan Thirupathy, spokesperson for the BJP in Tamil Nadu, described Annamalai as a "young, energetic individual committed to establishing the BJP as a significant force in Tamil Nadu."

"He has been travelling throughout the state through the En Mann En Makkal (my land, my people) yatra. He attracts youth, who needs change," said Thirupathy.

Thirupathy praised Annamalai's ability to counter the DMK with bold, statistics-backed arguments that blend aggression and ideology.

IMAGE: Annamalai with Nirmala Sitharaman. Photograph: ANI Photo

However, Annamalai has faced criticism for the breakup between the AIADMK and the BJP, with a rift with him leading to the withdrawal of the AIADMK from the National Democratic Alliance.

The immediate reason cited for the move was Annamalai's critical remarks about the late Dravidian stalwart C N Annadurai.

He claimed that Annadurai had insulted Hinduism during an event in Madurai in 1956, and as a consequence of this statement, the latter had to go into hiding in Madurai, only being able to resume his travels after issuing an apology.

In June 2023, Annamalai responded to a question regarding whether the period from 1991 to 1996 was one of the worst in terms of corruption.

He stated that several administrations in Tamil Nadu were corrupt, leading to the conviction of former chief ministers in courts of law, making it one of the most corrupt states in India.

These remarks forced the AIADMK to pass a resolution against the state BJP chief.

The remarks were considered unacceptable for the AIADMK also because the party was formed by M G Ramachandran in 1972 and the name 'Anna' was added to the party paying respect to Annadurai.

IMAGE: Annamalai files his nomination from the Coimbatore parliamentary constituency, March 27, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In the general elections, Annamalai is contesting from the Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency. All the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu will be polled during the first phase of elections on Friday, April 19.

Annamalai's rallies are already receiving a warm reception in Coimbatore. He also belongs to the Gounder community, which is considered strong in the Kongu region of the state.

Annamalai was instrumental in raising corruption allegations against the DMK leaders.

He released a series of audio tapes called 'DMK Files', in which then state finance minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan was allegedly saying that Udhayanidhi Stalin and Sabareesan (Chief Minister M K Stalin's son-in-law) had made Rs 30,000 crore (Rs 300 billion) in a year.

The DMK has filed defamation cases against these allegations.

The task at hand for this young leader is not small, as the party had only 3.66 per cent votes in the 2019 general elections, which came down to 2.6 per cent in the 2021 assembly polls.

The big question before the BJP is whether Annamalai can compete with the cadre structure of the two Dravidian parties or match the persona of a leader like Chief Minister Stalin.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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