In August last year, when former IPS officer K Annamalai was appointed the Vice President of the BJP in Tamil Nadu, the move was tracked with great interest by political observers and the media. Popularly referred to as ‘Singham’, Annamalai was amongst the few BJP leaders who were already well-known before his plunge into politics and was highly respected by the public. The police officer-turned-politician had been hailed in the past for his fearlessness in taking on illegal activities, and his entry into the BJP was speculated to create a flurry within the party. Now, close to six months since his joining, Annamalai remains frank and forthcoming as he talks to TNM about burning issues in Tamil Nadu but he is careful to toe the Centre’s line, even in the face of local opposition. For instance, in January, Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit passed the buck over early release for Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts, stating that the President of India would take the final decision. His failure to take a call on the matter comes after a delay of over two years. The move gained immense criticism from Tamil politicians, opposition parties, and even legal luminaries in the state. But Annamalai defends the Governor’s decision and asks why remission should even be considered for prisoners convicted of a grievous crime. When asked if the BJP was concerned that releasing the convicts would project them as ‘soft on terror’, he vehemently disagrees. “It’s not about hard or soft on terror. The BJP is a national party and we don’t have any parochial interests. And this party doesn’t serve any self-interest, only national interest,” he argues. But as a former IPS officer himself, does he not believe that 30 years in prison will lead to reformation? “The original idea of giving someone life imprisonment is that they actually remain in jail for life. Even today, there are some people who undergo full life terms because their crimes are very grievous in nature. That is why India as a country still has capital punishment. We had given capital punishment for Ajmal Kasab (Mumbai terror attack convict) also. By the same logic should I say Ajmal Kasab should also be given a chance to reform? Can I use the same logic?” he asks. When asked if he was comparing the Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts to the Pakistani terrorist, however, the BJP leader is quick to deny it. “I’m not saying that. It’s not about giving remission. It’s about the circumstances and applying a judicial scrutiny of the matter at hand and looking at the repercussions for the nation. All these factors should be holistic in nature,” he adds now, painting his argument in broader strokes. “All I’m saying is, in this particular case, four foreign nationals have been convicted for assassinating the ex-Prime Minister of India. He was killed for a decision he made as the PM of our country. And all these factors should have gone through the Governor’s head and the President’s head. So let us wait. I don’t think it’s a straightforward comparison to say 30 years in prison is too long and they should be given remission,” he states, taking a strong stand. But if the Governor and Union government claimed that the constitutional authority did not have powers to grant remission, why wait for over two years to take a decision on the matter? Was it just for the Governor to delay a decision he was never going to take? “I don’t want to comment on the rights or wrongs of the Governor’s decision or the time he has taken. We have cases where people (Governors) have taken a long time. It’s a matter of law and it depends purely on their discretion and that particular point of time how they want to look at that case. It will be unfair to point out that the Tamil Nadu Governor has taken three years extra only on a particular case. I don’t think a time limitation should be there because the Constitution itself permits him this time,” he argues. Annamalai points out that the CBI had investigated the case and that it has been a matter of confusion in the Supreme Court for a long time. The BJP leader explains that as the CBI comes under the Union government and not under the state government’s law and order subject, the Governor had taken a call that his powers guaranteed by the Constitution were not sufficient. But even judge (now retired) KT Thomas who was part of the Supreme Court bench that upheld the conviction of the seven pointed out that Purohit’s actions were unheard of. In an interview to Indian Express, he alleged that it was a dereliction on the part of the Governor to delay the decision for 28 months and that it was not in the spirit of the Constitution. Retired Madras High Court Justice K Chandru even went as far as calling the Governor’s decision illegal. “The Governor must have felt that it was best left to the President of India to take a call on this matter as it was handled by a Central government agency,” argues Annamalai. It was speculated briefly that the release of the convicts could be announced ahead of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections to gain favour from the voting population, which has sympathised in the past with the cause of Tamil Eelam. But as far as the southern state is concerned, Annamalai’s confidence seems to lie in Prime Minister Modi's development agenda and the party’s ‘Hindus are under threat’ warning, if the DMK comes to power. The ‘Vel’ has been lifted Over the last decade, the BJP has faced several allegations that it is communalising politics in Tamil Nadu. The legal battle against members of Karuppar Koottam, a YouTube channel run by rationalists, for ‘insulting’ the Kanda Shasti Kavasam and the Vel yatra that followed, have all been quoted by the opposition as an attempt to wedge a divide between communities in the state. But Annamalai alleges that the BJP’s efforts are merely in response to the DMK’s ‘communal politics’. “What the DMK is currently doing is communalising. They are trying to divide and rule to create a very powerful lobby in certain communities while taking the other religion for granted. We treat everyone as equals. But the DMK is deliberately against one religion as a party itself. I think ‘communalising’ Tamil politics is being incorrectly used for the BJP,” he alleges. However, last year permission for the Vel Yatra, which was largely seen as polarising by the BJP’s retractors, was rejected even by the AIADMK government. Even though the state claimed that it was withholding permission due to the possible spread of COVID-19, Advocate General Vijay Narayan informed the Madras High Court that “there were certainly other overtones too to the yatra”. Despite its own ally’s actions, the BJP Vice President maintains that the party does not consider the yatra polarising. He even points out pertinently that the party’s efforts are now being imitated by the opposition. “If our efforts are not working, then why is Stalin posing with a Vel, why is Udhayanidhi Stalin taking a Vel, why is Seeman taking the Vel? They know this is working and not just in terms of electoral strategy but in terms of people’s emotions. Have any of these leaders touched a Vel before in their political careers?” he asks. Last week, Coimbatore Collector K Rajamani invoked the Goondas Act against former National Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Mazdoor Mahasangh (BJMM) and BJP state working committee member Kalyanaraman. This after he was booked by the police for degrading statements against Prophet Muhammad, which instigated communal violence, multiple times. “We’re not here to hurt any sentiments,” Annamalai clarifies, when presented with this argument. “I have issued a public condemnation from my side also. Whoever has spoken against Prophet Muhammed, they have to face the law of the land,” he adds. ‘Hindus are under threat’ Amongst Annamalai’s main contentions against the state’s opposition parties is that ‘Hindus are under threat’ if they come to power. But two important aspects work against his argument – the first is that the DMK is predominantly made of Hindus, at least a crore as per the party’s estimate, and secondly, DMK founder M Karunanidhi has been hailed for his social justice policies aimed at oppressed Hindus, by even his staunchest critics. So, which are the Hindus that Annamalai is concerned will be under threat? “It’s not about that. The DMK is consistently trying to de-root the Hindu religion itself. Putting under question all their civilisational aspects, deliberate insults and deliberate promotion of a group that speaks ill against gods,” he says, “The DMK’s social justice claims are all superficial. If they really believe that Scheduled Communities are oppressed, will they make a member of this community A Raja their President? The TN BJP’s President is from a Scheduled Community,” he argues. But does positioning themselves against Dravidian ideology or rationalist leaders such as Periyar (EV Ramasamy), who are revered by a large section of society, leave the BJP in a precarious position? “We never positioned ourselves against anybody. This is their ideology. Whether they accept it or not is left to the Tamil people. Our ideology is Muthuramalinga Thevar’s ideology,” says Annamalai. The Assembly election agenda The BJP Vice President’s statement in this regard is significant, as Muthuramalinga Thevar was a Tamil politician and patriarch of the Thevar community which has a large vote share in southern Tamil Nadu. The community, which was considered to be loyal supporters of the DMK, has become a subject of discussion among political experts after the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and the imprisonment of her aide VK Sasikala. But with Sasikala’s return to active politics now, both the ruling party and the opposition may see a three-way split of votes within this community. But the BJP still presents a picture of confidence when asked about Sasikala’s impact on the elections. “We have waited for 3.5 years, and have to wait for 3.5 months. This election, all calculations will go for a toss. You will see the BJP’s reach amongst all castes, communities and regions. Thanks to Narendra Modi’s development schemes and the local activities done by the Tamil Nadu BJP, political pundits will be taken by surprise once the results are out,” he says. As far as seat sharing talks are concerned, Annamalai maintains that it will be done amicably with the ruling party. And while he admits that the western region will see them discussing constituencies where both parties hold sway, he refuses to divulge much else.