In Conversation with Karnataka’s Singham: A Man With a Plan

Shwetha Chawadi
Published: January 2020

The Baba Budangiri Hills, located about 30 km from Chickamagaluru in the Sahyadri Western Ghats of Karnataka, has been a syncretic pilgrimage centre for centuries. However, since the 1970s, the harmonious milieu of the region has been marred by deep-rooted communal tensions.

The year 2017 saw a heightened display of these tensions as vandalism and hooliganism broke out between religious sects during festivities. Just as the situation was getting out of hand, one man appeared on the scene and single-handedly took the mobs to task, dispersed the crowds and dissipated the situation.

The man is none other than Kuppuswamy Annamalai aka Annamalai, fondly known as Karnataka’s Singham. And this incident is but one of the many that he has handled with courage and conviction.

Annamalai, one of the most beloved IPS officers, sent shock waves across the state when he announced his resignation in May, earlier this year. He was serving as the Bengaluru DCP (South) when he called it quits. But, his decision is driven by a vision. In fact, he is all set to launch Annamalai Version 2.0 shortly. The former IPS officer may have shed his khaki uniform to don the suit of a game-changer; nevertheless, he exuded the energy and rigor of a policeman during this tête-à-tête.

While people may still like to call his resignation a hasty decision, the legend stands by his statement that it was indeed a deliberate, planned move. Being inside the system, one’s perspective is perhaps blinkered. Distance often brings clarity. “Sometimes to move forward, you need to take a step back. That’s not called giving up. It is just stepping back to see a larger picture. Sometimes you need to hit that reset button to restart the system. That’s exactly what I am doing,” he says.

“I have given myself six whole months to decide on my future course of action. Politics, NGO, volunteering, starting a foundation – all of these are on the cards, but nothing is final yet. I will go by my instinct and the knowledge gained at the end of the six months,” he says.

Presently, however, Annamalai is busy traveling to explore different countries to get a larger perspective of life.
Eventually, he plans to foray into policy-making and he is working in that direction. Why policy-making? We prod, to which he says, “I have understood that by changing one policy, we can change the lives of millions of people overnight. It is a miraculous grind that contributes towards the betterment of several people and the society in a broader sense. So, I figured, that way, I can contribute more towards the benefit of the society.”

For most people, personal wealth and comfort are the driving force. Annamalai is however, driven by the need to contribute to the larger good of the society. This sentiment is expressed clearly, when he says, “I have been in the profession for over 10 years. I have built myself a comfortable nest and a financial cushion. I can experiment with different things at least for the next five years without causing any disturbance to my family.

A high-pressure job like this sucks the life out of you. You end up becoming a frog in the well. It is always better to get out of the well and see the world, and be the change, than be stuck in it forever. This is just another step to reform myself and the society,” he says.

He believes that the moral-ethical fiber of the society is slowly breaking. “Over the years, I have seen several people knocking the doors of the police station with problems that could have been solved if they had been righteous. That’s where the groundwork needs to be done – to inculcate moral and ethical responsibilities at a young age so that children can grow up to be well-informed citizens. The idea is to fix things at a young age, so they automatically grow up to be model citizens,” he says.

According to him, education and healthcare are two sectors that urgently need policy change so as to establish equal opportunity. “In the field of education, we are yet to mark ourselves average on the global map, despite having some of the best schools in the world. But, we also have schools where one teacher teaches all the subjects to over 200 kids under one roof. Why the difference? Don’t make the rich poor, just make the poor rich and give both equal opportunities. If we can fix this now, then a few years down the line, we can at least try to compete with global leaders to provide quality education” he says.
“It is a shame that we are only allocating 5 per cent of the budget for education while countries like the US and Europe spend between 10 and 13 per cent. No wonder they are able to stay at the top and produce some of the finest minds,” he adds.

He believes that policy change in terms of health-care cost regulations is imperative to create an equal society and to fulfill basic needs of its citizens. He says, “Obama Care was a game-changer in America. We need something like that here. Doctors need to get rid of their moneymaking mentality and must serve the poor and needy. They are empowered with life-saving skills.”

He quotes the example of an MRI scan, which in reality costs no more than Rs 60 and Rs 200 after including electricity consumed. But, the minimum charge is Rs. 10,000. He reiterates the importance of the inculcation of a service mind-set in the healthcare industry. He points out that a few years ago, Karnataka government offered attractive salary packages for doctors willing to work in rural areas. But there were hardly any takers. “Rural service must be made mandatory,” he adds. “I have been keenly observing – a small window has opened for the young blood to enter political arena. They are fearless. The youth are now comfortable to experiment, fail and taste success. Unlike the previous generation stuck in the rut, the new gen is ready to take risks in their early 20s, which I believe is a very courageous move; you can only experiment comfortably between the age of 21 and 25. That is when your mind opens up to the world. Politics right now is filled with real-estate agents, who have no basic idea about the society, making rules and regulations. Once they are replaced by young blood filled with innovative ideas, we can see a sea change in politics. Now is the era of economic change; within a few years we will see a change in the society, followed by change in political developments,” he adds, hinting about his future plans.

Driven by ethics and dilemmas and guided by an internal compass throughout his career, the Karnataka Singham is taking time to recharge himself. “I am always told that to get hold of something new, one must first let go of something they’ve been holding tight for years. That is what I have done. This is the time for my second evolution. I decided to become an IPS officer following the Mumbai Taj attack in 2008. It had triggered a spark in me. Now, as I have enjoyed the power and privilege with and without selfish motives for over a decade, it is time to move on and give back to the society. Ultimately, it is the Karma that will take its course. At this point, an internal journey seems like an important task in hand and that is where I am,” he concludes candidly.