In the 1992 Tamil blockbuster ‘Annamalai’, actor Kushboo Sundar paired with super star Rajinikanth who was Annamalai, a poor milk man who turns into a business tycoon to avenge betrayal by a friend. Like most Rajinikanth films of that genre, ‘Annamalai’ set Tamil box offices ablaze.
However, in 2021, Kushboo Sundar, who has jumped ship from the DMK to the Congress and now to the Bharatiya Janata Party, doesn’t have Rajini – the reel life Annamalai – in real life politics, and has for company a real life K Annamalai, the young IPS officer who spurned the police and took to politics!
The actor and former cop’s entry into the BJP has been widely publicised, and has given the BJP air time in news space, but can they make any difference to the party’s prospects in Dravidian politics?
Star Face, But Political Lightweight
While Kushboo is a sought-after party spokesperson for television debates and has a certain star value, she is not a serious political entity with an electoral base or following. So, what she brings the BJP is attention on TV and Twitter, and not votes.
That she and the BJP have embraced each other is interesting because in 2012, Hindutva groups in Tamil Nadu had launched a campaign and even filed cases against Kushboo for ‘disrespecting’ Hindu gods.
Sangh Parivar outfits demanded an apology from the actor then, but she had famously replied, “I am not going to answer every Tom, Dick and Harry. Why should I? There is no need at all. Why are they worried about what a woman sports. Don't they have any other worthwhile work?”
While the past seldom matters in politics, history reveals that the union of the star and the party has little ideological basis, and is aimed at getting attention ahead of the 2021 assembly elections.
What it also reveals is that the BJP is using all the power in its arsenal to make its presence felt in Tamil Nadu, and its thirst for a face to lead the charge in the Dravidian state remains unquenched.
Hindutva has been lost in translation in Tamil Nadu, and with Rajinikanth leaving everyone, including the BJP, guessing, the party is still searching for a translator.
Karnataka’s ‘Singham’ In TN’s Grassroots
If Kushboo is a media face, K Annamalai gave up a promising career in the police force to soil himself in grassroots politics.
He hails from Karur district of Tamil Nadu, and belongs to the politically powerful OBC ‘Gounder’ caste that has a strong presence in western Tamil Nadu. He comes with a rural, agrarian understanding of politics, and is a strong young face at the local level.
He was dubbed ‘Singham’ by some media outlets in Karnataka for his work as a police officer, but in Tamil Nadu he was relatively unknown till his plunge into politics.
But, Annamalai had a ring side view of politics and caste alliances as he involved himself in the election strategy and party-related work of actor Vijayakanth’s DMDK much before he joined the civil services.
Can BJP Emerge As An Alternative to Dravidian Parties?
It is all this background that made the BJP appoint him as a vice president in the State unit. Some posters even show Annamalai as a young achiever and face of the party, as compared to family politics, resulting in the projection of DMK chief MK Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi Stalin as a young face.
The BJP and the ex-cop are investing in each other for the long run and, unlike in the case of Kushboo, this is not an election stunt.
Ideologically, Annamalai is part of the youth in Tamil Nadu who are disgruntled and disillusioned with the bi-polar ‘AIADMK vs DMK’ Tamil political narrative.
While Hindutva as an ideology may not be what attracts them, the question is, can BJP emerge as an alternative to Dravidian parties?
Answering that question may be the challenge for the party and its ‘Singham’ in 2021. The BJP as a political force is yet to gain acceptance at the grassroots and will have to depend on an alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam for votes.
BJP’s Dependence on AIADMK
The strategy for the party is to unify the factions within the AIADMK, ensure that it can strike an alliance with other regional parties and gain form an alliance vote share. Any inflow of seats to the party is a gain for it in 2021 as it is drew a blank in 2016 and has less than 2 percent vote share.
At a local level it is not clear how a face like Annamalai – with the promise of a refreshed politics – will play out as part of an alliance. However, it’s an experiment that will be watched and could have an impact in the long run.
In effect, BJP’s TN strategy has a short term 2021 election goal and a long term building of a base in Tamil Nadu objective.
In 2021, the best the BJP can do is to piggyback on an ally and have some attention through star faces like Kushboo, who create neither an ideological nor major electoral impact. It is still a long way from emerging as a political force in the state.
It is still hoping for Rajinikanth – the reel life Annamalai – to make a splash, but the stars seem uncertain. However, in the long run, the party is making efforts to build a grassroots base and wants to emerge as an ideological opponent to Dravidian politics – and this is where young faces like real life ‘Annamalai’ come into play.
(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
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