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In the lead-up to the Tamil Nadu state elections in 2021, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made significant efforts to attract the popular actor Rajinikanth, hoping to establish a foothold in the state. The goal was to disrupt the political landscape that had been dominated by the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) since 1967.
Rajinikanth had initially formed the Rajini Makkal Mandram but later decided to withdraw from active politics in December 2020. Subsequently, the DMK succeeded in toppling the AIADMK from power, while the BJP managed to secure only four seats in the 234-member House. It was in July 2021, a year after joining the party, that K Annamalai, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, was promoted to the position of state BJP chief.
Annamalai adopted an assertive political approach as the BJP aimed to expand its limited influence in Tamil Nadu. This approach created tensions with its ally, the AIADMK. The deteriorating relationship eventually led to the AIADMK’s decision to withdraw from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The immediate cause of the discord was Annamalai’s assertion that CN Annadurai, a prominent Dravidian movement leader, had apologized to Forward Bloc leader U Muthuramalinga Thevar for allegedly offending Hinduism. The AIADMK vehemently denied this claim, dismissing it as unfounded, which further escalated tensions. The situation reached a breaking point on September 11 when Annamalai cited an incident from 1956 to support his assertion about Annadurai.
KP Munuswamy, an AIADMK leader, accused the BJP’s state unit of disrespecting Annadurai and the late former chief minister J Jayalalithaa, as well as criticizing their ideology. While Munuswamy did not name anyone directly, his statement was widely interpreted as referring to Annamalai.
In a final attempt to resolve the conflict, BJP chief JP Nadda held a meeting with a delegation from the AIADMK. However, this meeting proved futile as the AIADMK announced its exit from the NDA, citing the support Annamalai enjoyed from the BJP leadership. In July, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had addressed Annamalai as “thambi” (younger brother) in Tamil and praised his work.
While the BJP tried to position Annamalai as a dedicated leader who left the IPS to pursue clean and corruption-free politics in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK viewed him as a politically inexperienced newcomer. Annamalai, born in 1984 in Thottampatti village in Karur district, Tamil Nadu, completed his engineering studies in Coimbatore before earning a Master of Business Administration degree from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Lucknow. He resigned from the IPS in June 2019 while serving as the Bengaluru South deputy police commissioner, coinciding with Rajinikanth’s entry into politics.
An unnamed BJP leader claimed that Annamalai had successfully brought the party into the mainstream in Tamil Nadu. Through regular press conferences, Annamalai ensured that the BJP remained in the news, with his comments, particularly those against the AIADMK, garnering attention.
However, Annamalai faced criticism within the state BJP unit. According to a second BJP leader, he marginalized many party veterans and dedicated workers who had long been associated with the party. Additionally, Annamalai reportedly threatened to quit politics during a closed-door BJP meeting earlier this year if the alliance with the AIADMK continued. In an interview, he also mentioned Jayalalithaa’s conviction in a disproportionate assets case, leading the AIADMK to pass a resolution against him in June. Since then, the AIADMK has repeatedly urged the BJP leadership to rein him in.
Despite several attempts to seek Annamalai’s comments, Hindustan Times did not receive a response. However, in a 2021 interview with the publication, Annamalai expressed his desire not to be recognized as a Dravidian politician.
About the author: Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. She currently serves as the Assistant Editor of Hindustan Times, covering Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. With a career that began as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu, where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins, Divya has covered politics, development, mental health, and issues pertaining to child and disability rights for The Times of India. She has been a journalism fellow for various programs, including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia-The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya holds a master’s degree in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK, and has contributed to Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.