Two days before, K Annamalai had accused a reporter of ‘taking a bribe’ from the DMK.
On May 30, around 50 journalists gathered in the oppressive summer heat at the Chennai Press Club’s premises in Chepauk, shouting slogans.
“Do not insult journalists,” one shouted, while another yelled, “We won’t let this go until you apologise.” “We seek justice,” said a third.
The protest was against K Annamalai, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Tamil Nadu unit, and his “bad attitude” towards journalists.
On May 27, Annamalai had attended a press meet organised by the BJP in Chennai where he accused chief minister MK Stalin of staging a “political drama” during prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the city a day before.
During the interaction, a journalist named Manickam, who works with a news channel, asked Annamalai about the BJP putting up “illegal banners” in Chennai ahead of Modi’s visit – in violation of a high court order banning temporary hoardings and flex boards. (Manickam asked Newslaundry not to name his employer since he was worried about being “trolled and harassed” by BJP supporters.)
Annamalai replied, “Brother, come with me. DMK’s violation can be seen right outside Stalin’s house.”
When Manickam repeated his question, Annamalai cut him off: “Brother, you will get your Rs 200 today. Don’t worry.”
He then suggested Manickam had been paid “Rs 1,000” before saying: “Arivalayam will give you Rs 1,500. Leave it...Show us the video evidence where we have violated the rules. Please complain with the police...You spoke for three minutes. Arivalayam would be happy. Take Rs 2,000 today.”
Arivalayam refers to Anna Arivalayam, the DMK’s headquarters on Chennai’s Anna Salai. BJP Tamil Nadu also helpfully tweeted a video clip of this interaction.
Journalists at the press club insisted that Annamalai should apologise for suggesting that Manickam had been “bribed” by the DMK to ask the BJP questions.
“Annamalai has been behaving this way [with journalists] for the past eight months,” said Lakshmi Subramanian who works for the Week magazine.
Shabbir Ahmed of the News Minute said, “Annamalai intimidates reporters when he doesn’t have answers to their questions. With the attitude of a cop, he thinks he can get people to withdraw by attacking them.” Annamalai is a former IPS officer who was appointed president of the state BJP last July.
Ahmed added, addressing Annamalai, “We go to press meets only if your PRO invites us. There is a way to treat us. You should learn how to tackle difficult questions from former leaders of the BJP.”
There is a history of Annamalai bumping heads with “anti-establishment” journalists in Tamil Nadu. In November, he had allegedly called Ahmed an “Arivalayam reporter” when the latter – then with Times Now – reported on the state BJP chief “staging a photo op” during a flood.
Ahmed pointed out his report had criticised chief minister Stalin as well. “I was trolled by the BJP and right-wing members,” he said. “It was nothing but a strategy to intimidate and eventually shut us up.”
Similarly, this January, Annamalai described Times of India journalist Julie Mariappan as having a “perennial bias” towards the state BJP.
Earlier this month, the Indian Federation of Working Journalists had issued a statement complaining of Annamalai’s “uncivilised behaviour”, referring to a particular instance where Annamalai had allegedly refused to answer a journalist’s question.
The statement also said Annamalai “responds to difficult questions” by asking if the journalist in question is a part of “Gopalapuram media” – Gopalapuram being where Stalin’s father and former chief minister M Karunanidhi had lived in Chennai. Other members of the DMK family also owned property in the neighbourhood.
Newslaundry sent Annamalai a questionnaire. This report will be updated if he responds.
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