People of Tamil Nadu want to sync with the Central government this election, says Annamalai

BJP Tamil Nadu president K. Annamalai on Friday said that the old narrative of the Dravidian parties on the north-south divide, Hindi, and Sanskrit will not reflect on the ground any more. In an interview with The Hindu amid his election campaign in Chennai on Friday, he dismissed charges that the BJP had a role in smaller parties not getting their intended election symbols. Excerpts from the interview

Updated - March 30, 2024 09:24 am IST

Published - March 29, 2024 11:02 pm IST - CHENNAI

BJP State president K. Annamalai campaigning for the party’s Tiruvallur (SC) Lok Sabha constituency candidate Pon. V. Balaganapathy at Madhavaram in Chennai on Friday.

BJP State president K. Annamalai campaigning for the party’s Tiruvallur (SC) Lok Sabha constituency candidate Pon. V. Balaganapathy at Madhavaram in Chennai on Friday. | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

What are the prospects of the BJP in Tamil Nadu in the 2024 Lok Sabha election?

The coming Lok Sabha election is unique because, for the very first time, people of India know it is Modiji [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] who is going to come back to power. We are very clear about it and the ground is reflecting it too. When that is going to happen, the way people make choices will be different from normal times. In the last 10 years, even though MPs from Tamil Nadu were on the Opposition bench in the Lok Sabha, there were a lot of good things that happened to the State. This time, the mood on the ground is to sync with the Central government. There will be a disproportionate increase in the number of candidates from the NDA who are going to get elected. Local and State issues are becoming irrelevant because it is a national election. I am confident the NDA will record its best vote share and a large number of MPs from Tamil Nadu will be part of Modiji’s 400 MPs.

Is the BJP’s focus on getting more seats or increasing its vote share?

The party focuses on both because to win in a three-way fight, the party has to cross the 35% vote share. The BJP has set a target to increase 370 votes at each booth, in addition to what we polled in the last election. We aim to cross 40% in each Lok Sabha seat. We are very confident, going by the mood on the ground.

The DMK and the AIADMK claim the battle is between them, and the BJP is nowhere in the contest...

It is good for us because other parties are still campaigning as if it were local bodies elections or State-level elections. They don’t understand it is a national election and the issues we are bringing to the table reflect the character of the nation. They are still in the 1960s and talking about north-south divide, Hindi, Sanskrit, and all of them don’t reflect on the ground when people know Modiji is pro-Tamil and pro-Tamil Nadu. We are speaking a positive language of development. We hope and pray people will appreciate it.

While you have a rainbow alliance in places where the BJP is strong, such as Coimbatore or Kanniyakumari, your allies do not have a greater presence, and vice versa. What impact would this have on vote transfer?

Every election has a unique phenomenon and the vote transfer differs from election to election. Workers of each party should share the vision of the alliance and have to believe that Modiji is very important for the country. That is happening in our alliance. However, the INDIA bloc does not have a common vision and they are fighting internally. For example, the Congress and the Communists are fighting each other in Kerala, but they are joining hands in Tamil Nadu.

The BJP allies, AMMK and TMC(M), have got their election symbols ‘pressure cooker’ and ‘bicycle’ respectively. However, smaller parties in the Opposition have not got their symbols and they accuse the BJP of a conspiracy. What is your opinion?

The allocation of a symbol to a party by the Election Commission is a very transparent process, and has been done according to rules. The TMC(M) was the first to apply for the ‘bicycle’ symbol and it got the symbol on a first-come first-served basis. But the NTK failed to apply on time. Accusing the BJP of a conspiracy is illogical and not acceptable.

The BJP-led government at the Centre passed an Act to reserve one-third of seats in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies to women. Though it will be implemented after a few years, why is the party not fielding 33% of women in T.N., to uphold the essence of the Act?

Out of 19 seats that the BJP is contesting directly, we have given seats to three women candidates. We have tried our best to accommodate aspirants. It is a work in progress and we are moving towards giving more seats to women aspirants. In the 2019 election, there was only one woman candidate from the BJP, now it is three. In future, close to 50% of our candidates will be women.

You hail from Karur, but why did you choose to contest from Coimbatore?

Coimbatore was not chosen by me. It was the party’s high command that chose Annamalai for Coimbatore. The party has given me the responsibility to contest from Coimbatore because of various reasons. First, Coimbatore, in the last 10 years, has suffered so much from terrorist and ISIS-module attacks. Secondly, the use of narcotic drugs is on the rise. Lots of repairs and work need to be done in Coimbatore.

Recently, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh alleged the Modi government had destroyed India’s MSME manufacturing capacities with demonetisation, GST, and the unplanned COVID-19 lockdown. Since you are contesting in Coimbatore, which is an industrial zone, how do you respond to his comments?

MSMEs are doing very well. The number of registered MSMEs is at an all-time high. Coimbatore is the largest beneficiary of the MUDRA scheme. More than two lakh crore rupees have come to the State. Now Coimbatore believes, even if they have a minor issue, they don’t have a mechanism to inform the Central government. They don’t have a representative. We have been operating through party channels by bringing our Finance Minister, Industries Minister and Textile Minister. In Coimbatore, they want a representative from the ruling party. Coimbatore and other parts of Tamil Nadu are interlinked globally through supply chain. Global issues such as the Russia-Ukraine war, Israel-Palestine issue, and recession in Europe, will create an after-effect on the industrialised cities. To insulate them, you need to have a public representative who can immediately voice out their concern by taking it to the Central government and speaking in the Parliament to bring mechanisms to resolve it. When you had a Communist MP for five years, who was anti-growth, what can you expect? The whole of Coimbatore is unanimously clear that they want a ruling party representative.

There is criticism that the BJP has fielded Union Minister L. Murugan [Rajya Sabha member], Nainar Nagendran [MLA], and Tamilisai Soundararajan, who was a Governor....

As for Nainar Nagendran, the party is looking at a specific or even bigger role, probably to serve the entire Tirunelveli. All these leaders are contesting because we want to establish a ‘direct pipeline’ between the Central government and the State. They have a wealth of experience. For the Lok Sabha election, experience does matter, because what you speak in the House matters.

But why did Mr. Murugan and Mr. Nagendran not resign to contest in the election?

The rules of the Election Commission allow the incumbent MPs and MLAs to contest without resigning from their posts. If they win, they will resign, and the BJP will surely contest in the by-elections.

What is your view on the DMK’s election manifesto which promised reduction in fuel prices?

DMK should come out of their selective amnesia and read their 2021 poll promises. What authority do they have to promise that they will reduce the fuel prices when they failed to implement their previous poll promises? The DMK knows they are not going to win. I am surprised why [DMK president and Chief Minister] Mr. Stalin didn’t say that he would bring one moon to everyone’s house.

Why has the BJP started the outreach campaign called NaMo in Tamil?

This is a platform for the people of Tamil Nadu to understand what Modi ji speaks across the country. NaMo in Tamil is doing very well when compared to other language platforms. People of the State are fond of Narendra Modi ji.

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