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The newcomers shaping Tamil Nadu's political landscape: Senthil's slow rise and Annamalai's swift climb

Over the last four years, Senthil and Annamalai have transitioned from serving as officers in Karnataka to political figures in their home state of Tamil Nadu. The soft-spoken Senthil worked behind the scenes to rebuild the Congress, while Annamalai’s confrontational style brought him and the BJP into the spotlight in the Dravidian bastion of Tamil Nadu.
Last Updated : 05 June 2024, 23:45 IST
Last Updated : 05 June 2024, 23:45 IST

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Chennai: Sasikanth Senthil and K Annamalai served as IAS and IPS officers respectively in Karnataka, coincidentally in the same district at one point. Both quit the service voluntarily in 2019. Senthil resigned after the BJP was voted to power at the Centre for a second consecutive term, while Annamalai retired following a yatra to Kailash Mansarovar in 2018.

Over the last four years, Senthil and Annamalai have transitioned from serving as officers in Karnataka to political figures in their home state of Tamil Nadu. The soft-spoken Senthil worked behind the scenes to rebuild the Congress, while Annamalai’s confrontational style brought him and the BJP into the spotlight in the Dravidian bastion of Tamil Nadu.

In the Lok Sabha polls, Senthil won from the Tiruvallur constituency with the highest margin of 5.72 lakh in the state. His former colleague, the aggressive Annamalai, lost in Coimbatore but emerged as the runner-up, pushing the AIADMK to the third place.

Since joining the Congress in 2020, Senthil has been working to rebuild the party in Tamil Nadu and crafting poll strategies in Karnataka and Rajasthan.

His success in Karnataka led the Congress to appoint him as the head of its Lok Sabha war room in Delhi. Senthil wanted to be in the Lok Sabha, not the Rajya Sabha.

He chose Tiruvallur, his mother’s hometown, for his electoral debut. But the party didn’t want him to contest as he was crucial to the 2024 election work. Yet, Rahul Gandhi insisted and Senthil got the seat, and emerged victorious.

Contrast this with Annamalai’s meteoric rise in the BJP. The blue-eyed boy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Annamalai’s outspoken nature and confrontational attitude made him a polarising figure in Tamil Nadu and a darling of the media since he became the BJP state unit chief in 2021.

In the largely bipolar state of Tamil Nadu, Annamalai, though mocked for his tall claims of the BJP crossing a 20% vote share in the 2024 polls, brought the party into the spotlight through relentless engagement. He contested two elections since entering politics and lost both. His first candidature was from Aravakurichi, in 2021, to the state Assembly.

The BJP sees him as its future in Tamil Nadu. With Modi and Amit Shah’s trust, he had a free hand to run the party in the state. Though the BJP drew a blank under his leadership, it posted a double-digit vote share in the Dravidian fortress for the first time without help from the DMK or the AIADMK.

The growth of a newcomer in the Congress is slower and more conventional due to its legacy, size and a complex-distributed power structure. In contrast, the BJP’s more centralised power structure allowed Annamalai a rapid rise, making him the state party chief within 10 months of joining the party. 

While Senthil secured an election victory and Annamalai faced defeat, their growth trajectories will diverge due to their parties’ differences. Despite their shared past, as they now walk separate paths, their conversations are left behind in the corridors of power. 

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Published 05 June 2024, 23:45 IST

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