OPN Annamalai
Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai in Chennai Image Credit: ANI

In Tamil Nadu politics the march to power in the does not start from the North. What is meant by this nugget of political wisdom is that the road to Chennai begins in Madurai or, in the present circumstances, even farther below, the very tip of the Indian peninsula, Kanyakumari.

For this is the area where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a foothold or presence in the southern state that has been ruled by Dravidian politics and parties for over half a century. Can the BJP breach this bastion?

Clearly, it is not a leader from Delhi or elsewhere who will make a dent or a difference in this region. What is needed is a son of the soil. As we have seen over and over again, there are three keys to power in state elections in India — a strong and visible leadership, clear and well-articulated ideology, and well-oiled and efficient party machine.

Of all these, the BJP does have a well-defined ideology. However, Hindutva does not resonate as well here as it does in the Hindi belt. Yet, there is a craving for a national party, even if not one that necessarily represents Hindu interests. As to the third component, an efficient party machinery, that too needs to be strengthened as far is the BJP is concerned.

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'My Land, My People'

But what the BJP has now acquired is a visible and charismatic local leader in K. Annamalai. A former Indian Police Service officer and rising star in Indian politics, Annamalai is also the state BJP president. Last month, Tamil Nadu witnessed a new political phenomenon in Annamalai’s padyatra, or march on foot, across the state.

Annamalai, launched his six-month-long walkathon on July 28, 2023, from Rameswaram, the holy town where Sri Rama is believed to have crossed over to Sri Lanka to kill the demon-king, Ravana. The sacred temple town is also the birthplace of former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam.

Annamalai’s “My Land, My People” (En Mann, En Makkal in Tamil) march aims to cover all 234 assembly constituencies in the state, with a massive outreach to the masses. His main task is to communicate BJP’s vision of development and nationalism. But the more important objective is to garner votes in the general elections in 2024 by projecting the BJP as a viable alternative to the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party.

Annamalai’s padyatra is a march to power that cannot be ignored or dismissed easily. While comparisons are unnecessary if not odious, Annamalai may well succeed in pulling off in Tamil Nadu what Rahul Gandhi tried, but did not quite succeed, in his all India “Bharat Jodo” or knit India walk


The first phase of Annamalai’s padyatra concluded on Aug. 24 at Tirunelveli after covering 41 assembly constituencies in seven districts. The second phase will begin on Sep. 3, from Alangulam in Tenkasi district, covering another 41 constituencies in seven districts before ending on Sep. 27 at Singanallur in Coimbatore district.

The remaining phases of the padyatra will be completed by Jan. 11, 2024, four months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Spreading Modi’s message of nationalism 

Annamalai’s padyatra received a boost by the presence of several senior BJP leaders who joined him at various stages of his journey. Union Home Minister Amit Shah flagged off the padyatra from Rameswaram and praised Annamalai as a leader who can spread Modi’s nationalism across Tamil Nadu.

Shah also said that the padyatra is not only a political yatra, but a crusade to make Tamil Nadu free from family dynastic politics, corruption, and lawlessness in the state. Other prominent BJP leaders who have accompanied Annamalai include Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Kishan Reddy, Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman, and Piyush Goyal.

Annamalai even hopes that when the state goes to the polls in 2026, he may be able to unseat Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin, the present chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

Wherever he goes, Annamalai has attracted large audiences, with dozens of his admirers giving him requests and petitions to help them solve their problems. Annamalai, on his part, has tried to tell the masses about prime minister Narendra Modi’s vision for India and the benefits of central government’s development programmes.

The BJP has been a marginal political player in Tamil Nadu, never able to garner even 10% of the popular votes. In the 2021 assembly elections, the BJP allied with the AIADMK, contested 20 seats, winning only two. But Annamalai appears to be on the verge of changing all that. He is determined to make the BJP a formidable force in Tamil Nadu.

Annamalai has been addressing large crowds during his padyatra and highlighting the failures of the DMK government on various fronts such as law and order, corruption, education, health, and infrastructure.

He has also been projecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a role model of good governance and a champion of Tamil culture and language. He has accused the DMK and its allies of indulging in family politics and minority appeasement and vowed to end their dominance in the state.

So far, Annamalai’s padyatra has generated a lot of buzz and curiosity among the people of Tamil Nadu, who are used to seeing only Dravidian parties dominating the political landscape. Many people have welcomed Annamalai’s initiative and expressed their support for his agenda of development and nationalism.

Tamil Nadu’s hope for change

Some have also compared him to Modi and Kalam and hailed him as Tamil Nadu’s hope for change. However, some have also expressed their scepticism and resentment towards the BJP and its policies that are seen as against the interests and sentiments of Tamil Nadu.

Having met Annamalai myself at a book launch in the national capital, I can say with some degree of confidence that he is an inspiring and eloquent presence. Moreover, he is a good orator in Tamil, which is the sine qua non of political success in the state.

He is also very articulate in English, with strong leadership skills as well as an unaffected and humble demeanour. His padyatra is undoubtedly a bold and ambitious move by the BJP to make its presence felt in Tamil Nadu politics. It is also a test of Annamalai’s leadership skills and popularity among the masses.

Thus far, one thing is clear: Annamalai’s padyatra is a march to power that cannot be ignored or dismissed easily. While comparisons are unnecessary if not odious, Annamalai may well succeed in pulling off in Tamil Nadu what Rahul Gandhi tried, but did not quite succeed, in his all India “Bharat Jodo” or knit India walk, which I also covered in this column.

Whether Annamalai’s padyatra will translate into a significant share of votes for the BJP remains to be seen. Only time will tell. But well begun, as they say, is half-done.