Since taking charge of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Tamil Nadu unit in July 2021, policeman-turned-politician K Annamalai has laid down the law for local leaders and cadres, and has cracked the whip on non-performers. He earned praise from the top brass after leading the BJP to a creditable performance in this year’s Tamil Nadu urban civic polls, and has now set his sights on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the 2026 Assembly polls. He spoke exclusively to News18 on a wide range of issues, including the BJP’s plans to grow in Tamil Nadu, its ‘anti-Tamil’ image, what he thinks about the ruling DMK, his party’s relationship with the AIADMK, as well as issues like ‘Dravidianism’ and ‘conversion’. Edited excerpts:
How do you see the BJP in Tamil Nadu since you have taken over?
More than me taking over, it is the continuity that is important. The BJP has a strategy and we are working towards achieving it. In the party, we do not focus on individuals but party objective and collective leadership. In the last ten months, we have gone aggressive in taking on the DMK and highlighting their mistakes in the people’s forum. I strongly believe people in Tamil Nadu want an alternative to the DMK— one that stands against family politics, corruption, and corporate politics. The BJP is that kind of a party and the real alternative for the DMK in Tamil Nadu in the future.
How are you positioning yourself differently from the DMK to the people of Tamil Nadu?
The BJP’s ideology is 180 degrees opposite of what the DMK has been standing for. We believe in solving the issues of the people and focusing on every segment of society, unlike the DMK. Wherever we are in power, our service delivery has been extremely good and we have solved the last-mile delivery issue and provided to the people what they want. The DMK can’t even deliver a Pongal gift that they promised…one of 22 items… properly to their electorate. The BJP on the other hand is all about empowering the common man, providing a clean image — both public and personal— and handling the money in the most effective manner. On the other hand, the DMK’s idea of governance is to make people dependent on the party and the government.
Tamil Nadu is being mismanaged by the DMK. The state is in debt of over Rs 6.5 lakh crore and we have seen how close to Rs 9,000 crore of revenue comes from TASMAC. According to the DMK, social justice is to allow liquor to flow freely. Look at Modiji’s governance in Gujarat— without taking a single paisa from the liquor lobby as revenue, the government ran, and even a surplus budget was presented. There will certainly be a clash of ideas between the DMK and the BJP in the future.
Tamil Nadu is a state dominated by Dravidian ideology. Why do you think the BJP can become a major force?
There is nothing called Dravidian ideology. I keep questioning Tamil Nadu chief minister Stalin on what is the Dravidian model of development. The CM replies that the Dravidian model is about inclusion. Isn’t the BJP inclusive? If the DMK is inclusive, how is it that one family runs the party? Tamil Nadu has 44 families that dominate the DMK and that means two to three generations of that family keep coming to power. Is this what they called the Dravidian model of inclusivity? The model that is highly corrupt, personality centric, and one that does not focus on empowering the common man? It is not the Dravidian model but they should call it the Gopalapuram model or the DMK model. The DMK cannot take ownership of the Dravidian world. We believe that anybody who belongs to this land is rightfully a Dravidian and it is the BJP that is the alternative for the people to trust. We are taking the DMK head-on over this issue.
So how do you define Dravidianism and the BJP’s relationship with Dravidianism?
Dravidianism is about taking everybody along and social justice. It is not about Brahmin bashing, OBC bashing, or being anti-Hindu. Dravidianism is about empowering all segments of society, like it has been doing for more than 350 years. It is about keeping the land spiritual and nationalistic. This is the land of Bharathiya who spoke of Bharat Mata. Tamil Nadu has produced scholars, researchers, freedom fighters until 1967. Somebody takes over the Dravidian land and claims it as their own? That is not acceptable.
You recently broke away from your ally AIADMK for a friendly contest in the urban body elections. How do you assess the party’s performance after contesting alone?
For any party, the legitimate test is to allow it to grow. Firstly, in the urban body elections, the BJP found a great opportunity to take the party across the state. Secondly, we were able to identify 5,000 next-generation young leaders who contested on our party ticket. Thirdly, the party was able to win in seats where we had no presence at all. And fourthly, in terms of vote share, we are now the largest party. Overall we can say the goals and parameters the party had set for itself have been achieved during the urban body polls. This is just the beginning, we will only grow bigger and stronger from here.
What do you see as the future of the AIADMK?
I believe that all our political partners should do well. It is for the benefit of the state. But as the state president of Tamil Nadu, I am more interested in growing the BJP. My primary task is to increase the party cadre base.
Does Sasikala still have a future in politics? What is your opinion about the possibility of TTV Dhinakaran and Sasikala being brought back to the AIADMK?
I see 8.5 crore people of Tamil Nadu have a future in politics if they want. Anybody can come and contest elections. I do not want to comment on a specific individual. The people of Tamil Nadu like those who work for them, fight for their rights and needs, and serve them. Anybody who wants to do this has a future in Tamil Nadu politics. I don’t want to comment on the AIADMK and what’s happening in their party. It is for their party leaders to take a call. I am not interested in how the other party tries to resolve its internal issues. I am busy running my own party in TN.
Do you think Tamil Nadu should have an anti-conversion law?
We have to understand the difference between anti-conversion law and forced-conversion law. You cannot force anybody by any means and try to convert them from the religion they are born into. They are doing a disservice of two kinds: one to the religion that they are born in and the other to the new religion that they are trying to enter. Any type of forced conversion is condemnable.
What is your target for the number of seats for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
As a party, we do not keep targets or numbers. But I would be really happy and take it as my responsibility to send a large number of MPs from Tamil Nadu to Modiji’s cabinet. Modiji has done a lot for the people of TN and there should be a connection between the PM and the Tamil Nadu MPs who will be elected. The schemes from the Centre should flow seamlessly. Until now, TN has received Rs 7.5 lakh crore from the Centre. The people of Tamil Nadu deserve better governance and I am hell-bent on sending a large number of MPs from our state. For the 2026 assembly elections, I have set a target of 150 MLAs and for 2024 the larger the number the better for us.
What do you think of Kamal Haasan’s political future?
A lot of members have left Kamal Haasan’s party and joined other parties. The people gave him two chances. They later realised that the party was not taking up the cause of the people. It is for him to decide his future in politics and of MNM. If you look at the recent urban body elections, there was not a single place where MNM came close to the BJP. Just because Kamal Haasan opposed Modiji and the BJP, one does not gain votes. People realised that it was being done only for the sake of politics.
Can the BJP shake off the anti-Tamil, pro-Hindi tag?
People don’t believe all this. There may be parties who may try to use their own television channels to propagate such allegations. It does not convert into votes. People do not believe in tags, rather they understand that the BJP stands for its principles and the people are accepting it slowly.