The Jana Sena leader is hoping for pro-Narendra Modi and anti-Chandrababu Naidu waves to ride on in simultaneous elections in AP in 2019
By GS Radhakrishna
Chocolate hero of the Telugu screen and loose cannon of Andhra Pradesh politics, Pawan Kalyan, aka Konidela Kalyan Babu, is yet another relative newcomer to politics with ambitions to become AP Chief Minister in 2019.
The 47-year-old actor-turned-politician, an intermediate educated and twice divorced celebrity hailing from coastal AP, is looking for a hit on the political screen in 2019, after a series of flops on the cine screen in the last five years. With a message of ‘change’ and a vow to remain distant from the ‘castiest approach’, the new contender’s focus is on new voters.
“Two communities are dominating the political space in AP—Kammas and Reddys. I want to change this and want development without corruption and a non-nasty leadership to be in charge,” said Pawan Kalyan at a grand public meeting of his Jana Sena Party (JSP) in Tenali on January 13. Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) have been branded pro-Kamma and pro-Reddy parties, respectively.
Pawan went a step further in the native town of the renowned 16th century jester, Tenali Ramakrishna, saying that even the failure of his brother Konidela Chiranjeevi’s maiden political venture Praja Rajyam Party was due the mistake of getting dubbed as a party of Kapus. The JSP, hence, will not be representing any particular caste but all downtrodden socially and economically backward class people from all sections of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, backward, other backward and extremely castes, minorities, he said. Kalyan says that he was not a representative of just Kapus but also of Dalits. “I don’t brand myself as a Kapu leader, but as a leader of all sections,” he said.
Pawan patiently built Jana Sena’s platform over the past four years
Pawan’s party, founded on March 14, 2014, is just five years old and will make its debut in the electoral fray in 2019. The Election Commission has tagged it as an unrecognised party, but has granted it use of a common symbol—a glass tumbler—which Pawan displayed in his last two public meetings at Vijayawada and Tenali.
Pawan was not in a hurry and took his time over four years to shape his party program after interacting with thousands of people, intellectuals, farmers and youth. Former Speaker and Congress leader Nadendla Manohar from Tenali in Guntur has joined his ranks. His party now has the majority of leaders who left the Congress, including Pasupuleti Balaraju, Ravela Kishore Babu, Mutha Gopalakrishna, Thota Chandrasekhar, Chadalavada Krishnamurthy, Addepalli Sridhar and Chintala Parthasarathy. “We invite all to become part of our journey but we will not sacrifice our policies and principles for sake of accommodating them,” he said in a veiled warning to newcomers from TDP and YSRCP. JSP’s media consultants claim that it has over 1 lakh party members. Pawan is yet to announce the party’s policies but hopes to come out with a ‘farmers policy’ by February.
Pawan wants to contest all of AP’s 175 assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats in the simultaneous elections coming up in 2019, hoping for pro-Narendra Modi and anti-Chandrababu Naidu waves to ride on. Like Chandrababu and Jagan, Pawan is also touring the state and getting raving reports. Unlike Jagan, who owns the Sakshi media group and Chandrababu, who gets support from Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi, he does not have any committed media support but relies on his fan clubs.
Pawan wants to avoid the fate of elder brother Chiranjeevi’s party
Since 2014, Pawan has been playing calculated roles in films like Gabbar Singh (as a good Samaritan), Panjaa (fighting organised crime) and Agnyaathavaasi (fighting corporate intrigues), keeping his political journey in mind. The youngest brother of megastar Chiranjeevi and uncle to actor Allu Arjun, Pawan has had four hits, six flops and six averages in a film career since 1996. He has vowed to now focus completely on politics after he transformed Jana Sena, a movement against corruption, into a political party in March 2014.
Pawan had campaigned for Chiranjeevi in the 2009 elections, whose Praja Rajyam Party wanted to become a game changer in AP politics. Instead of bringing Chiranjeevi to power, the division of opposition votes only helped the ruling Congress party then led by Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy to get a second innings. “Praja Rajyam will only help Congress,” YSR had rightly predicted at the time. Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP was worst hit by the division of votes. Though it bagged a large number of seats in the assembly, it could not play any significant role in Opposition due to the subsequent flare-up of the Telangana movement.
Praja Rajyam’s poll performance, winning 18 assembly seats and none in Parliament, despite bagging a hefty 22% voteshare, drove both Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan into isolation and a political cocoon.
But after YSR’s sudden death in a helicopter crash after his election victory, Praja Rajyam came to focus when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti with 35 MLAs threatened to pull down the government under CM Kiran Kumar Reddy.
Chiranjeevi was driven to merge Praja Rajyam with Congress in exchange for a ministerial post in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, leaving the Kapu community somewhat frustrated. It was the end of the party formed for the empowerment of the 27% strong community.
Bitter over the collapse of their political platform, the disappointed Kapus took shelter equally in the YSRCP and TDP in the 2014 elections. The JSP did not enter the poll fray then. “Jana Sena is, in fact, Modi Sena,” Pawan had said, before Chandrababu paid a visit to his home in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. After that visit, Pawan turned TDP-friendly and campaigned for the TDP-BJP alliance in 2014, which went on to win.
Relations sour between Chandrababu and Pawan, who had campaigned for the TDP-BJP alliance
Post-2014, after CM Chandrababu Naidu got embroiled in a controversy on the Kapu agitation and subsequently ended his honeymoon with BJP on the issue of special status for AP, Pawan Kalyan attacked Chandrababu, left, right and centre. TDP insiders and political analysts contend that the rise of Chandrababu’s son Nara Lokesh, first as MLC and later as cabinet minister, had soured relations between Pawan and Chandrababu. “There is no room for dynasties in socialism,” Pawan had declared during his tour of north Andhra districts which were plagued by health issues.
The World Health Organisation had dubbed the Uddanam region, comprising 100 villages, as one of three in the world with the highest concentration of chronic kidney diseases after Sri Lanka and Nicaragua. As of 2015, it was estimated that more than 4,500 people had died in the previous decade, and around 34,000 people were still suffering from kidney diseases in this area alone. Pawan Kalyan put TDP and Chandrababu in the dock for allegedly neglecting Uttarandhra (north AP districts).
Pawan had extensively toured the Kapu belts in north coastal Andhra and brought national focus on the issue. He also visited the central Andhra (East and West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, and Chittoor districts) where the menace of the particular ailments of the region and scope for healthcare had been documented by media houses and the film industry.
Pawan attacked Chandrababu Naidu on lack of healthcare and medicare in tribal and backward areas in north Andhra. “If there are 10 people, there are 20 diseases. Through these horrible health issues of kidney, anthrax and more, are you going to create bio-terrorism? Why are there no doctors in hospitals, no ambulances,” he had lashed out at Chandrababu. The JSP leader’s extensive tour of these areas forced the Chandrababu government to act, which set up dialysis units and kidney labs in each mandal.
Perhaps due to these reports by Pawan Kalyan, the Modi government cancelled the funds allocated to the region for Health Mission, as there was allegedly no government activity.
This hardened Chandrababu’s resolve against Pawan Kalyan, who he blamed for placing obstacles in the path of AP’s development. “Both Jagan and Pawan Kalyan are acting as puppets of Modi and BJP and finding faults with me and TDP. Instead of fighting against centre on special status for AP, they are finding fault and attacking me,” Chandrababu publicly declared at a Janmabhoomi program in Srikakulam district last week. The CM also said the JSP leader had declared that the centre’s dues to AP were of the order of Rs 75,000 crore and he (Pawan) should use his good offices with Modi to get it.
Jana Sena focuses on north and coastal Andhra
During his tours of Uttarandhra, the actor-turned-politician gave the impression that the vexed poor of the region could force the leadership to go the Telangana way and launch a movement for a separate Uttarandhra state. But many like activist Professor Shivaji of Visakhapatnam contend that people of Uttarandhra do not want a separate state, but preferential treatment on the lines of coastal and Rayalaseema districts. “This region has become a poor cousin of Delta and Rayalaseema and hence nobody bothers much. Every government had claimed special funds for development of this backward region, but nothing substantial is done to do away with economic and social backwardness of the region,” says human rights activist VS Krishna.
Besides Uttarandhra, Pawan is also focusing on central coastal Andhra region districts of East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur, all of which have sizable Kapu and Dalit populations.
Last October, Pawan met Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and proposed a poll tie-up in AP to consolidate Dalit votes in the central coastal assembly segments where Kapu and Dalits are predominant. In West and East Godavari, Guntur and Krishna districts, a combination of BSP and JSP would become a win-win combination, says political analyst Pasam Jagannadh Naidu.
Foreseeing trouble from a future alliance between BSP and Jana Sena, Chandrababu Naidu made a dash to Lucknow to meet Mayawati. There was no report about what transpired between the duo, but analysts say that Chandrababu might have succeeded in stopping the JSP-BSP alliance as of now. For Mayawati, between Chandrababu and Pawan, the former is a better bet.
The Chandrababu-Pawan fight gets bitter as polls approach
Pawan has now raised the tempo against the TDP, accusing Chandrababu and his MLAs of corruption and maladministration.
In November 2018, Pawan Kalyan slammed Chandrababu Naidu for allying with the Congress during the Telangana assembly elections, terming it a “politics of convenience” which had “killed the Telugu self-respect”. Pawan claimed that the coming alliance was not for the benefit of Andhra Pradesh or even TDP, but only for (the personal gain) of Chandrababu), who he accused of being “shameless”.
Pawan said he had differed with his own brother, former Union minister Chiranjeevi when the latter joined the Congress for personal gain in the guise of protecting the state’s interests. Kalyan claimed Chandrababu Naidu’s peevish act had closed all windows and doors for any realignment of political parties in the state.
Pawan also harped on JSP emerging as a totally regional platform which was not interested in becoming the tail end of any national party. The national parties (Congress and BJP) had always “looked down at us” and there should be no slavery. There was seething anger among youth (new voters) who want a real-time alternative, not opportunistic politics,” said Kalyan.
In yet another hit at Chandrababu and his ruling party MLAs on allegations of destroying the state with corruption and undemocratic rule, he said, “I would drag Chandrababu Naidu and his MLAs on the roads by holding their collars as their corrupt practices were in a rotten stage”.
While addressing a meeting of party workers at Vijayawada on January 10, Pawan alleged that corruption has flourished under TDP rule and Chandrababu’s leadership, claiming that the ruling party has amended the laws to its advantage.
Pawan said the youth are not seeking sops like free rice, but want jobs and conditions for a bright future. “They don’t want 25 kgs of rice free, but an environment in the state for 25 years of bright future,” he said.
Pawan is emerging as an alternative to Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSRCP, whose support base among Reddys was collapsing in view of Jagan’s eccentric ways and loose party framework. Whether Pawan Kalyan has succeeded in filling up the void in Reddy and Kapu leadership in AP, only the 2019 polls will show.