Annamalai In Tamil Nadu: The Tipping Point In Sight

Jai Menon

Mar 13, 2024, 12:51 PM | Updated Mar 14, 2024, 12:35 PM IST

BJP Tamil Nadu president K Annamalai.
BJP Tamil Nadu president K Annamalai.
  • Annamalai is what Tamil Nadu needs going forward into the century ahead.
  • People who bear a strong sense of kinship with Tamil Nadu, would likely agree that there is a churn at the grassroots level in the state. An energy and enthusiasm prevail, the likes of which have not been visible for some time.

    Clearly, the political ground is beginning to shake. This is obvious to anyone who sees the huge crowds drawn to the rallies of Annamalai Kuppuswamy, son of a farmer and the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Tamil Nadu.

    Why is this happening?

    A case can be made that the Tamil-speaking people are very much a "story" people. Think of the villu paatu (bow songs, story recitation in song form with a bow shaped instrument), the therukoothu (street play) and the katha kalak chebam (stories narrated in rhythmic verse).

    Narratives have a great deal of power in Tamil Nadu, especially those which carry a theme of heroic underdogs. But the people are not necessarily swayed easily. It takes time and visible effort.

    The underdog must win hearts and minds, and this is no easy task among a people who are very particular about whom they follow because once they do, it is with almost a divinely-inspired allegiance. Think of actor Rajinikanth’s followers.

    This may have something to do with a differentiation between "internal identity" and "external identity". Indians in general are masters at having a well disguised "internal identity" while the "external identity" is a costume (even if much loved) that can be discarded once the will is generated.

    This psychological feature may have developed post Islamic/Christian invasion, occupation, subjugation and conversion. The Tamil people are likely primus inter pares in India as far as this internal-external dichotomy is concerned.

    They have the capacity to change suddenly, dramatically and totally. What drives that change and can observers predict it?

    This is the hard part to fathom. One may logically assess that it can vary depending on what nuance in the narrative catches the imagination. This writer thinks we are close to the right nuance, the tipping point, as it were.

    Why? We come back to Annamalai. There is something about him, in particular, that agitates the identity of the Tamil people. There is an authenticity to him that is unmatched by anyone else in the political milieu. People can sense that he is an open book, and the reading of it sends an electric charge now and then to the internal identity.

    There is an emotional connect which may be related to his youth, his language and, very importantly, his looks. He is very dark skinned, handsome without trying to be, charismatic and a powerfully magnetic public and political persona. And yet personally very accessible.

    When, and where, in India have you seen that combination lately, if ever? The Tamil people, especially the youth, can instinctively sense that he is one of their own, unapologetically arising from amongst them, for them.

    Annamalai himself knows it, and his opponents know it too. He is a son of the soil who is much closer to the common man in every respect — and everyone can see it. Literally. At the same time, he is supremely confident yet self-effacing, rather than aloof or arrogant.

    In other words, he is the archetypal man of the people. This is a man that the Tamil people can "worship" at one time in the future — in other words allocate some divinity to, sort of like an MGR or a Karunanidhi.

    The Tamils are, if nothing else, a supremely worshipful people. And it is that which we remark when we see them thronging to temples, wearing and bearing fully the religious traditions, and the identifying marks.

    In Annamalai, they see a far greater synergy between their internal and external identities.

    Par for the course is the fact that he has none of the affectations of those currently in power in the state, nor the dismissive attitude towards the population and the egregious corruption.

    Those in power in Tamil Nadu realise this, hence that Bell & Ross Rafale watch story which they tried to embarrass Annamalai with, but which did not catch fire; it may, in fact, have backfired, since it turned out rather rapidly to be a case of glass houses and stones.

    Yet the clinching factor is not really those that have been mentioned above. At the core of this shift towards Annamalai is a deeply pragmatic impulse.

    It is based on an understanding that the promise of right administration, right economic conduct and right political action promised by Annamalai — and demonstrably delivered by the BJP elsewhere — is what Tamil Nadu needs going forward into the century ahead.

    In a campaign season where every rabble-rousing journalist speaks of the north-south divide, egged on by politicians who have nothing to offer other than inflammatory slogans which underestimate the intelligence of their constituencies, Annamalai is seen by many as the south Indian version of Narendra Modi in his earlier years. And, subliminally, since the internal has yet to transcend the external, as a prime minister of India one day.

    An EU citizen of Indian origin, Jai is based in East Africa and is a keen observer of Eurasian and South Asian developments.

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