I don’t want to fit into the Dravidian political mould, says TN BJP president Annamalai
Recently-appointed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tamil Nadu unit president K Annamalai is expected to overthrow current rulers Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in a state where the electorate has not warmed up to the national party. In an interview with Divya Chandrababu, Annamalai explains the party’s stance on NEET, suggesting that the BJP is not in the business of running medical colleges. He also clarifies that there is no factionalism over the recent scandal over a sexually explicit video released by a party member forcing BJP’s general secretary to resign from his post. Annamalai is confident that the BJP will rule Tamil Nadu in a few years, and as a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, he doesn’t want to fit into a mould as a Dravidian politician. Edited Excerpts:
BJP is the only party that has opposed the NEET Bill on Monday. Does this further alienate BJP from Tamil Nadu’s electorate?
It is not people who think that they don’t want NEET, it is the DMK that doesn’t want NEET. It is their election agenda, and they have done it. NEET turnout is more than 94%--110k people participated (from Tamil Nadu on Sunday). People want NEET. 2020 was a good year for Tamil Nadu in its NEET performance. Last year, 57% of students passed the exam. Politically, they (the DMK) are playing to the gallery, trying to create emotional issues. It is all vested interests and emotional politics at play. BJP is very clear that NEET is pro-poor, pro-social justice, pro-Tamils. All this points to the fact that NEET is good for Tamil Nadu. They have got signatures from some 80,000 people in the A K Rajan committee’s report. The report is not yet public. The question is: who signed it? Anybody can sign it because they have a lot of party members. Even for BJP, to get signatures of one million people, who are pro-NEET, is not a big thing.
In the Mekedatu dam issue, the BJP is on the side of Tamil Nadu, along with other parties, though your party is in power in Karnataka as well as in the Centre. How would you explain taking a different position?
It’s a straightforward explanation. We have taken a position that is in the interest of Tamil Nadu and the nation. We believe NEET is good for Tamil Nadu because a poor student can get into a medical college without paying a capitation fee. BJP is not in the business of running medical colleges like what DMK is doing- DMK leaders have medical colleges. Why are you bringing Centre into Mekedatu? It is between two states. The Centre is a neutral arbiter. They will do what is right, as per law. So we have taken a position that favours Tamil farmers. In both (issues), our stand is consistent, logical and clear.
As BJP chief now what is your assessment of why the party hasn’t been able to make a mark in Tamil Nadu?
Tamil Nadu is very different. We have to understand that the BJP has been a party here since 1982. Dravidian parties have pre-existed since 1949. Secondly, Congress was in power for a long time in New Delhi and Tamil Nadu until 1967. As you can see, the party is growing well in the last seven years. BJP is growing very fast in Tamil Nadu because the Central BJP is paying special attention. We are happy with where we are. We are confident that in the coming years will be the BJP years. We stand for an ideology that is pro-Tamil, that is against corruption, and that is pro-development. People are coming to our party in large numbers, so it’s a matter of time before BJP will be the ruling party in Tamil Nadu.
But BJP is often criticised as being anti-Tamil and an upper-caste pro-Hindi party. BJP supporters have said that it’s a media narrative.
Many of the media here is controlled by political parties. They have affiliations to one party or another. That’s okay. That is how many states are. The local challenge is always there. But we are focused on a grassroots approach, taking the party to people’s doorsteps. To have direct contact with the Tamil voters and reaching out to the Central government beneficiaries. Once we can get the critical mass (voters), then I don’t think the negative propaganda will matter. If we do that, we should be okay. Even now, the negative propaganda will never work because vested interests are doing this.
BJP leaders have said that the larger aim is to come on their own in 2026 to the state. Will you continue your alliance with the AIADMK for the ensuing local body polls?
The party is determined by ambition. The alliance decision is always taken by the central Parliamentary board. As of now, our alliance has no problem, and we are cooperating right – in the Assembly and outside. As for who will contest and where the decision regarding this will be taken by the collective the central Parliamentary board.
The recent controversy of the sexually explicit video has made experts question if it brought existing factions with the BJP to the fore.
When an allegation comes against an individual, it is BJP’s culture is that they (the accused) stay away from party activities. That’s what has happened. The BJP is a very unified and determined party. There is no groupism in the party, unlike the G23 in the Congress and the Tamil Nadu Congress. You would have seen P Chidambaram’s meeting (on September 12 in Sivaganga district where a spat broke out between a Congress functionary and Chidambaram). The BJP is not like that. When allegations like this are thrown at us, we will look into it 100%, and the party will take action if there is any mistake. But till then, let’s wait for the enquiry committee to come out with its report.
What is the status of the internal committee’s probe on the matter?
The committee is investigating the root of the issue and they will get back.
There is a personal observation that political analysts make is that you are running the BJP like a tough cop and not like a politician.
I don’t want to be like a typical Tamil politician. I’m clear. If you fit me into a Dravidian politician mould, I’ll be happy that I don’t fit into that mould. I have a unique way of doing things. The BJP has a unique way of doing it. I don’t do any of these dealings (like DMK). BJP is a clean party. We want to back youngsters, see individuals grow and we want to show leadership at the grassroots level. As a political party, you don’t operate on black and white. You mostly operate in a grey area. I don’t want to fit into the typical Dravidian political mould. I stay away from that. So I’ll be happy if people pass that as genuine criticism. I’ll take that as an appreciation.