Tamil Nadu has been a stronghold of the Dravidian parties for over 50 years now. Regardless of whether someone agrees with the Dravidian ideology, its rule has been continuous in this period.
However, as you read this, there is significant dissatisfaction brewing, especially with the Dravidian politics promoted by the current ruling party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
However, there isn't a credible alternative that can effectively tap into this dissatisfaction and translate it into votes.
Tamil Chauvinism is trying to emerge as one, but in its tone and its stance on many issues, it appears even more 'secessionist' than the Dravidianists.
As for the older national parties, they seem to have embraced Dravidian politics as an article of faith in Tamil Nadu.
The Indian National Congress (INC), which once stood for Indian unity, has now acknowledged the supremacy of the Dravidian ideology.
The Communist Party leaders too, who used to strongly oppose Dravidian identity politics until the 1980s, have now made their peace with Dravidianism.
Against this background, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the only choice for a Tamil Nadu voter with a nationalist outlook. However, the numbers of such voters were constantly dwindling with the ever-fading prospects of BJP in the state.
That was until Annamalai Kuppusamy took charge of the BJP in the state. Despite being in his 30s, he has willingly taken on the task of establishing the BJP as a pole of Tamil politics in an already crowded field.
To this end, Annamalai has embarked upon an ambitious six-months long mass-contact programme across Tamil Nadu. Its first phase is over.
It consisted of 22 days, covered seven parliamentary constituencies, 47 legislative assembly segments and 178 kilometres of distance.
Swarajya caught up with Annamalai at the end of this first phase for a conversation.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Swarajya: Tell me about your padayatra. What does it aim to achieve?
K Annamalai: In Indian tradition, a padayatra is a spiritual exercise usually undertaken to achieve a goal. This padayatra is also a spiritual exercise in the sense that it is undertaken to achieve a collective goal by meeting the people — whom we believe are the living gods, for us who have come to serve them.
S: How is this different or similar to the padayatra undertaken by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi?
KA: It is very different. See, Rahul Gandhi’s yatra is personality-centric and it has a singular aim of attacking Narendra Modi. Most of the people he met were divisive people. At the end of the day they have all come to take India and put dots between every letter in 'India'.
But here, the yatra is different. This is also a co-creation. It is not only me. It is a collective revitalised party that is meeting the people. We are taking our message of the change that is needed for Tamil Nadu.
We are taking the message of how the Modi government is the best thing that has happened to Tamil people so far. We are also learning how the people perceive us — the state party, and how much we have to work for taking the vision of PM Modi to the people of Tamil Nadu.
Look how carefully choreographed that (Rahul Gandhi's) yatra was. Every thing was planned. Here everything is spontaneous. It is not drama. It is yearning for hope.
I am also not going only through the main roads. I walk inside lanes and by-lanes in every constituency. These are the paths less travelled by conventional politicians. In every constituency, I travel five kilometres into such uncommon paths of real wisdom and real people, and every day 10-12 kilometres.
There are intense interactions and intelligent exchanges of information and visions. There is this overarching vision that PM Modi has for Tamil Nadu from his heart.
S: But what is this vision of Modi, particularly with respect to Tamil people, that you are talking about?
KA: Take one particular instance for example. The issue of Tamil fishermen.
Everybody knows that during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) regime, the killing of Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy was almost a regular event. But under PM Modi’s government, the killing of fishermen has almost been stopped.
There was a solitary exception of four fishermen killed in a boat collision. But killing by shooting has been completely stopped. This is a great achievement.
Even in the case of arrests of fishermen and seizure of their boats, etc, by Sri Lankan Navy, the strong intervention by Modi government at the Centre has secured their release. This decade marks the first time Tamil Nadu fishermen have experienced a relatively improved situation in this regard.
Also, it was the Modi government that constructed houses for Sri Lankan Tamils.
Consider Mudra loans...
S: But former finance minister P Chidambaram has tweeted that the Mudra loans are of no use or almost worthless.
KA: Is that so? Do you know who has benefitted the most from Mudra loans? Not just Tamil Nadu, brother. It is the women folk of Tamil Nadu.
Let me give you the data. Our Tamil Nadu state people, our brothers and sisters obtained loans to a tune of Rs 2.02 lakh crore since 1 April 2016. Tamil Nadu women have been the highest beneficiaries of the scheme across India.
For the information of the ex-finance minister the loans in his own native Sivagangai district alone comes to Rs 2,447 crore. See, this is exactly the point.
A high-profile man like P Chidambaram, whom we all respect, a man who should act like a statesman and not a politician at his age, indulges in such distortion and disinformation campaign. So we have the duty to take to the people what our respected Modiji has achieved.
S: Regardless of whether someone critiques or refuses to endorse Dravidianist politics, its presence has endured for over five decades. What is the reason for its acceptance?
KA: The leaders of the Dravidian movement in the initial stages were mighty personalities. I do not agree with their ideologies to a large extent. But, they were mass leaders: Arignar C N Anna Durai, Kalaignar Karunanidhi, Puratchi Thalaivar MGR, Amma Jayalalithaa — note that I am saying their names with the honorific titles given to them by their followers — that is to indicate their cult status.
They held onto core values. But there has been a gradual ideological and organisational entropy. Do you know about the five point oath of DMK?
S: I vaguely remember that oath. . .
KA: (recites from memory)
We will tirelessly work in the path shown by Anna
We will create a society without exploitation and a society that is just
We will always oppose imposition of Hindi
Autonomous rule in the state and federal rule at the Centre
Eschewing violence, we will eliminate poverty
These are the oaths, brother. Once, generations back, the cadre used to take these oaths. Everyone. Today, do the cadre know or care about them? Can they even take these oaths?
Did their ‘Arignar’ Anna support dynastic politics? He was a man of democracy whatever his ideology.
MGR cared and felt for the poor. Do these values exist today?
Gradually corruption has increased and now it has attained gigantic proportions. It is stangling the development of the state.
S: But will you not agree that the state is far better than most of the other states in India? That is what the DMK leaders have been telling.
KA: One has to understand the baseline from where we started and where we are now. Tamil Nadu has the highest outstanding debt among all the states and Union Territories in India. I think it is over 7.5 lakh crore. There is a growing and justifiable fear that Tamil Nadu is moving towards a debt trap.
Consider Uttar Pradesh. Do you know that in terms of actual capital expenditure, Uttar Pradesh with around Rs 1.14 lakh crore has actually moved ahead of Tamil Nadu? This should be worrying us all.
In February 2023, the then finance minister PTR (Palanivel Thiagarajan) actually assured of a dramatic increase in capital expenditure but the only dramatic thing that happened was that the finance portfolio was taken away from him.
Also remember the major achievements of Tamil Nadu in terms of infrastructure building and developing the society, etc.
Stalwarts like Karma Yogi K Kamaraj, his minister Mahatma Kakkan who was personification of efficiency, honesty and patriotism and one of the greatest central ministers from Tamil Nadu, C Subramaniam — they made the base for Tamil Nadu. To be very frank, the DMK actually has been squandering the advantage those great men created for the state with their vision.
S: So how are you going to break the Dravidian spell over the state? What is your experience from the padayatra?
KA: I will come to your second question first. The people want change. The youth want change. The youth want to contribute to positive politics. They want to see that politics is not a place of dirty kickbacks and corruption. So they want to come with their education and qualifications and want to contribute. They see dynastic politics and corruption as a very negative thing.
Through this padayatra, I realised that we have a great potential waiting to be tapped for good and healthy politics in Tamil Nadu. Fortunately for us, the Tamil Nadu BJP is giving hope to such youth that they can come and achieve in politics the dreams they dream for the nation and society.
Take me for example. I have no dynastic background. My education and my hardwork through which I became an IPS officer and my honesty alone are my characteristics. For them alone, I could become the state president of the BJP.
This serves as an inspiration for the youths. You do not have to be born in a rich family. You do not have to be born in a dynasty. That is a great take-away for the youths.
Now to your first question. DMK is very good at theatrics. They wage a strong perception battle. Truth does not matter to them.
Take the example of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical colleges. They have been making a hue and cry about NEET being against Tamil Nadu students and NEET being against social justice.
But what is the truth?
If there is one government that has delivered positively in the matter of social justice it is our respected PM Modi's government.
He had a two-pronged approach. He increased the number of medical colleges throughout India in a steep manner. In 2014, when he became PM there were 387 medical colleges in the entire nation.
Today, that number has almost doubled. I think it is around 660. The total number of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has also increased. This means total number of seats in medical colleges which could be attained through NEET has increased dramatically.
Tamil Nadu students now have access to all these seats. Along with that there is the reservation given for government school students in Tamil Nadu. If this is not social justice what else is?
Today, for the first time after NEET, we are hearing, every year, instances of children from very low-income families getting into medical colleges. Those students have to be encouraged.
Instead it is the tragic suicides that get almost all the publicity. This is very dangerous. However, the deliberate emphasis on these tragic events in the media is not a coincidence. One cannot rule out the concern that it is so by design.
Over all DMK ruled Tamil Nadu for 30 years. But they brought up only six medical colleges. At the same time they allowed a large number of private medical colleges, more than 25 in number. Many medical colleges have exorbitant capitation fees.
An old DMK minister even explained in an interview, some of these private medical colleges in pre-NEET times were in collusion with the ministries and contributed to election funding of political parties.
As against this, the Modi government in nine years brought 11 medical colleges to Tamil Nadu. Now can you see how real hard work and commitment to social justice is behind the drive of PM Modi while the DMK theatrics are run by its vested interests. We are taking these things to the people of Tamil Nadu and explaining to them.
S: So you have a vision for Tamil Nadu then?
KA: Yes. We have a vision. We want to liberate Tamil Nadu from the clutches of Dravidian politics. Dravidian politics is today empty rhetoric, dynastic power and ruthless corruption.
We have absorbed whatever is good from every political philosophy. You know we believe in the Vedic statement that noble thoughts should come to us from everywhere.
So concern for the poor as MGR has shown, we have taken. Concern for justice as Anna has shown we have taken. We have also seen the adaptable nature of Anna. When war with China came, he became very patriotic and completely supported the Indian Army. Deep within, he was patriotic. We appreciate such aspects.
Not that it was not with us anyway. But we have seen, observed and studied them. In fact our basic philosophy, Integral Humanism by Deendayal Upadhyaya, itself is an open-ended system. It absorbs and assimilates the good aspects from everywhere.
We do not hate anyone. We hate corruption. We hate dynasty politics. But we do not hate individuals or attack individuals. That unfortunately is what Dravidian politics has done to Tamil Nadu. They even personally and falsely attacked K Kamaraj.
We want to set an example for new politics. We want to set an example for out-of-the-box politics. It is not easy. We know. Take for example the Cauvery issue.
We can take a stand based on linguistic divide or we can think out-of-the-box and create a common agro-eco system. We can create common irrigation networks. We have to think out-of-the-box. We emphasise such a political vision.
S: Any other important ideas you wish to share?
KA: I also stress an ecological vision. Dr Abdul Kalam had given us this vision of PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas). I want to see a transformation of the villages — both at digital and ecological level.
The farmers should have value addition and intelligent networking for production and marketing.
S: But farmers have been weaponised against the government and we saw how the government had to beat a retreat with respect to key reforms.
KA: It is quite a tragedy that some farmers have been weaponised by vested interests from within and outside the nation. They do not understand the larger vision of our Prime Minister.
Consider his vision of soil health cards. Consider his welfare scheme which provides such great schemes to farmers. For example, there is PM-KISAN scheme. Our PM disbursed Rs 16,800 crore to 8 crore farmers directly to their bank accounts. This is such an important achievement.
He is bringing in Swadeshi and technological research together as never seen before.
For example, he is introducing the production of liquid nano-urea. With soil health card scheme and boost in indigenous urea production, India will become self-reliant in urea. We will not be importing urea. These are such holistic schemes with vision of nation-building beyond elections.
I am taking this vision of technology and prosperity, revitalising of villages and rebuilding our economty to my people of Tamil Nadu.
While it is definitely an emotional mission for me personally, we are not playing on the emotions of people as DMK politicians do.
We are appealing to rationalism, patriotism and humanism and we are appealing to the parents for the welfare of their children, we are appealing to the youth for the future of their lives and we are appealing to every Indian who is there even in the heart of those DMK cadre that this land is theirs and in its greatness is the greatness of this nation.
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