Amid strategy lacuna, BJP gives Annamalai free hand in Tamil Nadu

Amid strategy lacuna, BJP gives Annamalai free hand in Tamil Nadu

Nobody is happy with the TN BJP chief — AIADMK, DMK, or his own party colleagues; but then, BJP has nothing to lose in the state

Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai’s hyped-up release of the ‘DMK Files’ on April 14  is the latest twist to his December 2022 vow to unravel ‘corruption’ in the state. Releasing the DMK Files, Annamalai claimed he would expose ‘corruption’ of all political parties which have ruled the state, including BJP ally AIADMK.

His campaign to ‘end corruption’ and create a ‘healthy political environment’ in Tamil Nadu was first aimed at Arivalayam (DMK’s headquarters) but now it seems to be targeted at alliance partner AIADMK. This has led to a war of words between the leaders of the alliance partners in the state. 

Even as AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K Palaniswamy blithely brushed aside Annamalai’s allegations as “immature”, other leaders of the party trained their guns at the 39-year-old former IPS officer.

Also read | ‘DMK Files’: Udhayanidhi slaps legal notice on Annamalai

“People should not resort to throwing mud at others without taking legal recourse to prove the allegations,” said senior AIADMK leader S Semmalai. “BJP is trying to arm-twist people with its power in the centre,” he added.

Meanwhile, former AIADMK minister D Jayakumar warned of serious consequences if his party colleagues are accused of corruption and challenged Annamalai to confiscate the assets of DMK leaders, as mentioned in the DMK Files. 

On a weak wicket

Annamalai is on a weak wicket, political commentator R Thirunavukkarasu, a professor at University of Hyderabad, told The Federal. The allegations are mere claims over assets and not proof towards any corrupt practices, he added.

“What he has released involves his version of their list of properties and doesn’t in any way prove whether the gain of wealth is legitimate or not. Only when he establishes that these properties have been obtained through illegitimate sources that his allegations of corruption can stick,” he said. 

Also, he pointed out, the mismatch between what is mentioned in the leaders’ election affidavits and the actual assets he has shown on his list have to be proved on solid legal grounds.

Also read: ‘DMK Files’: Party demands Rs 500 cr in damages; ready for legal action, says Annamalai

Political optics with high command approval

Political observers believe Annamalai is indulging in political optics to portray the BJP as a clean party and prop it up as an alternative to Dravidian parties in TN. They also point out that it is highly possible he is doing this with the approval of the BJP top brass.

Jagadheeswaran D, a political analyst and former leader of Lok Satta party, concurred with the view. “Annamalai has voiced his disapproval of the BJP’s alliance with the AIADMK twice in recent times. That too after his meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi. This clearly shows that he is doing all this with the blessings of the party high command,” he said.

“He has openly said that he prefers to be a cadre if the BJP continues its relationship with the AIADMK. The talk about releasing asset details of leaders from multiple parties who ruled over Tamil Nadu cannot be taken as just an individual statement made by Annamalai. It is part of the strategy of the central leadership,” reasoned Jagadheeswaran.


The BJP does need the AIADMK’s support to win elections in TN, as the party has a minuscule independent vote share of 2-5 per cent. But, the national party has also come out in the open stating it can build its own independent base — at least in select pockets. 

Watch | Annamalai’s watch, cynosure of all eyes, is part of pilot equipment

Union Law Minister L Murugan, who hails from the state, named nine Lok Sabha constituencies where he believes the BJP is strong. Political observers also felt that Annamalai’s audacious statements are aimed at getting a better bargaining power for the saffron party during seat sharing talks.

So, Jagadheeswaran said, the fire lit by Annamalai will continue till the Assembly elections in Karnataka in May 2023, or even closer to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Also, he said, since senior AIADMK leaders have been concerned about losing out on minority votes (close to 14 per cent of the total) because of the party alliance with the BJP, Palaniswami may well be happy if the national party opts out. 

“Annamalai is also said to be pushing BJP’s top leadership to test the success of his recent strategies to prove the party can garner independent vote share,” said Jagadheeswaran. But, the discord and lack of unity in the state BJP are stumbling blocks.

Also read: BJP’s Annamalai stops media from questioning him, sparks outrage

Lack of unity 

While Annamalai wants to drop the AIADMK as an alliance partner, Murugan is advocating for the opposite. Various BJP party men and sympathisers are reportedly upset or confused with Annamalai’s game of one-upmanship. If Murugan is focusing on seats to demand from AIADMK, another senior leader, Vanathi Srinivasan, is taking pot-shots at Annamalai. While talking about the receipt he produced for the Rafael watch, she quipped, “Did you ask him about its serial number?”

Unlike Tamilisai Soundarrajan or L Murugan, Annamalai seems to want to grow above the party, observed Jagadheeswaran.

“We see social media handles such as Annamalai Army or even the war room concept (IT wing). People like Amar Prasad Reddy have suddenly risen up in the ladder. But all this seems unsustainable in the long run,” he said. Political observers also added that such issues will be sorted out closer to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. There may well be a change in the leadership which will help cement BJP’s alliance with the AIADMK.

Till the BJP makes a decision on continuing its tie-up with the AIADMK, the saffron party is said to be giving Annamalai a free rein to test his strategies. But, according to Thirunavukarasu, the BJP’s political strategies lack proper direction and the leaders seem to be running around like “headless chickens”.

Confused strategy

He pointed out, “They (BJP) are clueless on how to pursue their poll strategy. Since they have power and money, they hope to get a foothold using social media. But, their lack of political vision or innovation is not going to help them.”

Annamalai sees anti-corruption as a solid political plank.  The Dravidian parties have been ruling the state for the last five decades, making them easy targets. But Thirunavukarasu believes that anti-corruption as a political strategy won’t work. 

“All parties indulge in corruption, it’s common knowledge. People have started looking at corruption as a new form of circulation of money, which they feel is good. Especially so in a state which elected Jayalalithaa, who was convicted of corruption multiple times,” he added. “Corruption is seen more as a problem to be handled, contained and legally proceeded with. It cannot be a political plank, not in Tamil Nadu for sure.” 

Senior Congress leader Vinay Kumar Sorake’s accusation that Annamalai, co-in-charge for BJP’s election campaign in Karnataka, brought cash for election expenses in his helicopter cannot be brushed aside. Even though the allegation was vehemently denied, such incidents are bound to weaken Annamalai’s strategy of depicting the regimes of Dravidian parties as corrupt. 

The BJP leadership is reportedly continuing with Annamalai’s strategy of exposing Dravidian parties since its earlier strategy of polarising the population failed to take off. The Vel Yatra launched by Murugan as part of the initiative to consolidate Hindu votes didn’t get the expected results.

The BJP’s efforts to fish in AIADMK’s troubled waters also won’t work in a state with bipolar politics, said Thirunavukarasu.

“O Pannerselvam might be sulking today (as he is thrown out of the party). But the Mukkulathor vote bank (Kallar, Agamudaiyar, Thevar) is traditionally based on anti-DMK politics,” he said. Obviously, AIADMK is seen as the only party which can dethrone DMK at present.

Where Tamil Nadu differs

Tamil Nadu’s politics is largely based on regional sentiments which a pan-India party will find it difficult to breach, said Thirunavukarasu. “The efforts such as the Kashi-Saurashtra Sangamam aren’t going to yield results for the party as these linkages are much older and just because there are cultural religious roots, it won’t convert into votes. One RSS ideologue I know for long was flabbergasted after visiting Tamil Nadu. ‘What, you have temples (Hindu) in every nook and corner but you won’t vote for the BJP,’ he said. Despite BJP’s efforts, people in Tamil Nadu see a difference between their religious beliefs and political choice,” he said.

Earlier, former BJP MP Tarun Vijay had talked about cultural linkages of the Ganga in North India and the Cauvery in Tamil Nadu. He wanted to unveil the statue of Tamil saint poet Tiruvalluvar on the shores of the Ganga, as part of his strategy of cultural engineering. But it is lying abandoned in Haridwar after the sadhus objected to it.

The sadhus reportedly took offence since Thiruvalluvar was projected as a “Dalit icon” and the statue’s relevance on the shores of the Ganga was questioned. As BJP’s tryst with multiple strategies to prop up the party in Tamil Nadu have failed in the past, the party seems to be left with not much else but Annamalai’s bravado.

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