K Annamalai, the newly-appointed of the BJP's Tamil Nadu unit draws a difference between Congress, “a national party” and BJP, a “nationalist party”. The former Karnataka IPS officer asserts that BJP functions as a team.

Tasked with the critical job of clearing BJP of its “outsider” tag in the land of Dravidian politics, in an interview to indianexpress.com, K Annamalai, the newly-appointed president of the saffron party’s state unit draws a difference between Congress, “a national party” and BJP, a “nationalist party”. The 37-year-old former Karnataka cadre IPS officer also expresses his views on NEET, the Mekedatu issue and reacts to the criticism that his party is trying to overshadow AIADMK to create a straight BJP vs DMK narrative in the coming years.

Excerpts:

How does it feel to be promoted as the state president within 10 months after joining the party?

Unlike other parties of Tamil Nadu, where they keep promoting the same people, BJP is different. The rest of the parties drive on the Numero Uno theory. There is no question of seniority here, everyone has a role to play. I think it comes with the training and Ideology. BJP functions as a team. I have now been given the responsibility to lead the party here. Yes, it is a huge responsibility and I have to deliver.

What difference do you find between politics and civil service? What will be your approach on party issues?

Although a cliché, politics is a different cup of tea. Being a bureaucrat, you take a straightforward approach, it is either a yes or a no and there is nothing in between. In politics, you sail alongside other people. At the end of the day, it’s people’s issues, you deal with different emotions. Politics requires a lot of evolutions, maturity and the ability to take along different viewpoints. In several issues, each of our members might have different opinions but I will have to consider every point and make a statement with regards to the party’s position. Post my stint as a bureaucrat, I had a lot of unlearning and learning to do.

BJP is branded as an outsider in Tamil Nadu and despite its performance in the assembly election, it is still considered as a non-native party. How do you look to counter this?

It is DMK’s political narrative to address BJP as an outsider and they claim the party doesn’t belong here. Every single BJP leader who contested in the recent assembly elections were from Tamil Nadu, don’t they belong to this land? There is a difference between a national party like Congress and a nationalist party like BJP which represents regional aspirations. Tamil Nadu BJP will do what is right for Tamil Nadu, it will represent the people and their aspirations. For instance, in the Mekedatu issue, BJP is truly representing the interest of Tamil Nadu’s farmers and we believe the dam should not be constructed as it will be a problem for our farmers during the drought. How can Tamil Nadu BJP still be called an outsider? Even on national issues, we don’t keep changing our stance. We do what is right for the country which implies that we do what is right for the state, for the people.

You hail from a Cauvery Delta region and understand the ground situation of the Mekedatu issue and know how the construction of the dam could impact the farmers. At the same time, having served for several years in Karnataka, you also understand the local issues of that region. What’s your stand on this issue?

Bengaluru as a city has a sizable population of Tamilians. Bengaluru central region alone has around five and a half lakh population of Tamils. A similar set up is seen in areas like Chikmagalur and other parts. My only concern is till now politicians on both sides of the states have stoked emotions only for political mileage. You see riots occurring once in a while and innocent people falling in trouble because of the politicians. We (politicians) nicely sit in some space and comment on issues but on the ground, the innocent people suffer. As a former police officer, I can tell you that in a riot, the first person to suffer is the common man. We have to understand that BJP is not playing politics on this issue and the party has taken a firm stand. There is a judicial issue and NGT is also in the picture. In totality, the project cannot take off as the Supreme Court did not allow the construction to happen without the permission of the lower riparian states. We see a lot of reckless statements from both sides of the border. This is a principle issue, Karnataka might do what is good for them but Tamil Nadu, from a legal standpoint and lower riparian river standpoint, we are fully within our rights to say Mekedatu should not be constructed and I hope people will understand the importance and not bring emotions into this. They should not convert this into a state vs state, people vs people issue.

Your comments on controlling the media had its share of criticism. You later clarified that it is aimed only at social media, not traditional media houses. However, don’t you think your statement is against freedom of expression?

I never used the expression suppressing or controlling freedom of speech, it was used by a few media channels which misinterpreted my speech in Tamil. The basic foundation of the Indian democracy is built on a free press which includes free expression of thoughts. Press is the fourth pillar of democracy, it encapsulates everything. Newspapers/ media can never be controlled, the government has paid a heavy price whenever it has tried to do so. At the same time, society is changing fast. The old traditional media had a check and balance. They had an editor who decides which is right/wrong, they had a Press Council of India, a broadcasting association and feedback mechanism from the public. Now, news consumption is different. Yes, traditional media still plays a vital role but the larger consumption is going through news aggregators, the so-called single person-run channels, social media pages. That’s the news with just two-three people on the ground which has got a political connection, an ulterior motive. Once the new IT rules come into force, you will see news that doesn’t have any authenticity will have a drastic fall because it rides on social media. This is needed as we are getting into a dangerous zone, fake news destroys the essence of the spirit of democracy.

Your party supports NEET and you said you will explain its benefits in every village in the state but your ally AIADMK is against it. How do you look at it?

We are two different parties with different ideologies but an alliance was forged since our principles match. If we are on the same page on every issue then there is no need for two different parties, we can merge them as one. We have different bases and have different thought processes and that’s how we all sail together. On nationalistic issues, AIADMK supports BJP. Be it Article 370, Triple Talaq or the farmer’s Bills, Edappadi K Palaniswami has vociferously defended them. On NEET, we are arguing based on numbers. From 2006-2016, of the 29,700 medical seats in Tamil Nadu, an average of 19 purely Tamil medium students from the rural areas got admission. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, NEET had a tethering issue, the Tamil translation alone created 50% of the confusion. The syllabus was revised in subsequent years and 2020 was the best year for Tamil Nadu. Of the 183 questions, 173 were from Tamil Nadu. The state had a 57% pass percentage. On top of that, 430 students from the rural areas got admission. In terms of social character, NEET is a success. Look at the numbers, they are not lying. DMK has a hidden logic in opposing NEET and we are worried for the students. DMK launched campaigns claiming NEET won’t take place, now they are asking students to prepare for it. I hope the students had not listened to the fake claims of DMK and had prepared well for the exams.

By repeatedly targeting DMK, their families and conducting events like ‘Vel Yatra’, is BJP trying to sideline AIADMK and portray a BJP vs DMK narrative in the state?

AIADMK is the largest party. The opposition leader is Edappadi K Palaniswami. If you look at Tamil Nadu politics, after DMK came to power, every single issue they are taking up is against BJP and attacking the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So, naturally, the narrative is BJP vs DMK. Opposition can be in two ways. Either you have a number-based opposition with ground-level support or you debate in the assembly on fake narratives or mistaken logic like rise in petrol prices, etc. Yes, it is an ideological fight straight away between BJP and DMK but it is in no way to say that we are the bigger opposition party. AIADMK is the biggest opposition party and that is the mandate people have given but narrative-wise, it is between BJP and DMK.

Source: Read Full Article