A bizarre figure in Andhra Pradesh politics that has perhaps left everyone perplexed with his antics, is pastor-turned-politician K A Paul. As the state heads to the polls on April 11, few have left voters as confused, as Paul.
The Praja Shanti Party (PSP) has fielded candidates in all the 175 Assembly and 25 MP constituencies in the state. Videos of Paul’s bizarre behaviour in front of the cameras frequently do the rounds on social media and he has managed to capture the attention of many people, if not their votes. So who exactly is he and what is his strategy?
'Dummy' candidates and symbol
The PSP has used the same colours as the YSRCP; blue, white and green. The election symbol of the PSP, is a helicopter, similar to YSRCP's fan. With the possibility of voters getting confused quite high, Jagan holds a fan in his hands at every rally and tells people that the fan is the YSRCP symbol.
The YSRCP, led by Jagan Mohan Reddy, says that in at least 35 Assembly constituencies and four MP constituencies, the names of the PSP candidates are similar to those of the YSRCP candidates, if not the exact same. Out of the 35, 19 candidatures were accepted.
In Penamuluru, the YSRCP candidate is Kolusu Partha Sarathy, while the PSP candidate is Vemuri Partha Saradhi. The YSRCP candidate in Mylavaram is Vasantha Venkata Krishna Prasad, while the PSP candidate is Venkata Krishna Rao Bogulu. In Razole, the YSRCP candidate is Rajeswara Rao Bonthu, while Paul's candidate is Bonthu Rajeswara Rao. In Parchur, where former minister Daggubati Venkateswara Rao is contesting on a YSRCP ticket, PSP has fielded Daggubati Venkateswarlu.
Understandably, the YSRCP is not too happy. Alleging that Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu was close to Paul, the party has accused the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of using the PSP to nominate ‘dummy’ candidates.
YSRCP General Secretary Vijayasai Reddy even shot off a letter to the Chief Election Officer, saying, "The Praja Shanthi Party chose a party symbol similar to that of the YSRCP’s party symbol, and then it chose the same party colours as that of YSRCP. Now, by setting up candidates with identical and similar names, the intention of Praja Shanthi Party to create confusion among the voters of Andhra Pradesh is well established.”
That is not all. Things have turned so peculiar that Paul has claimed that he doesn’t recognise some of his own candidates, accusing the TDP and YSRCP of handing out ‘B-forms’ of the PSP to other candidates.
“B-forms (of PSP) given by other candidates have been accepted. Now, we don’t know who’s contesting in the name of PSP. All this was done by the Election Commission under the pressure of Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu,” Paul alleged earlier this week.
Where is Paul himself contesting from? While he first claimed that he would contest against actor-politician Pawan Kalyan from Bhimavaram, Paul showed up late, an hour after the scheduled time for filing nominations and his papers were rejected. However, he has successfully filed his nomination papers from the Narasapuram Lok Sabha seat, where Pawan's brother, Naga Babu is contesting.
While Paul can be dismissed as a joke, his presence in Andhra Pradesh raises a larger question on who is funding him and his party.
According to his own claims, Kilari Anand Paul was born to staunch Hindu parents and converted to Christianity in 1966 along with his family. Following this, he travelled across the state, as a preacher. In 1989, Paul said that he migrated to the United States, where he founded a non-profit, Gospel to the Unreached Millions (GUM). He later settled in Texas and also started the Global Peace Initiative, as part of which he claimed to have met many prominent world figures including Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Yugoslav politician Slobodan Milosevic and even Mother Teresa.
However, his career hasn’t been without controversies. Paul has been accused of misappropriation of funds and his land deals for his charities have also been under scrutiny.
In 2007, Paul alleged that then Andhra Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy demanded $5 million for the state elections in 2004, as funds for his election campaign, and had even intimidated him. Paul had said that top Congress leadership was also involved in this, and moved the Delhi High Court against YSR, then Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and former minister K Natwar Singh. However, the court dismissed the suit.
In 2012, he was even arrested by the Ongole police, for allegedly trying to hush up the murder of his brother, by bribing a police officer to kill the main accused in the case, under the guise of an 'encounter'.
In 2008, he formed the Praja Shanthi Party (PSP), and is now making his political entry in the upcoming elections in Andhra, but his eccentricity has contributed only to making the elections in the state more chaotic.