Pawan Kalyan's Sankranti release was titled Agnathavaasi, which loosely translates to ‘Prince in Exile'. Directed by Trivikram Srinivas, the movie was meant to be the Power Star's swansong in Telugu cinema – just the right vehicle to propel him into the political orbit. But the plan came unstuck when the film tanked at the box office and worse, was accused of plagiarism. For the record, however, Team Pawan Kalyan insists that the movie, despite being panned by critics, is a commercial hit.
Lest the prince in exile become a politician in exile, Pawan Kalyan decided to press the reset button quickly and hit the ground running with his new political avatar. But what has taken people by surprise is his decision to tour Telangana, which is not exactly his karmabhoomi as a neta.
In the 2014 elections, and his sporadic political meetings, he has focused on Andhra Pradesh, where he hails from. He has also announced that he will contest the 2019 elections from a constituency in the Anantapur district in Andhra.
On Monday, Pawan left for northern Telangana to travel through Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam districts over four days to meet his Jana Sena cadre. In a first, his wife, Anna Lezhneva, too was seen in public, first attending mass at St Mary's Church in Hyderabad with Pawan on Sunday and then performing the Hindu rituals before seeing the actor off on his journey.
What exactly is Pawan Kalyan's game plan? It is a question that has foxed many in Telangana’s political circles.
During the Andhra bifurcation agitation, Pawan Kalyan was clear that he was not in favour of dividing the state. However, since Telangana is the lucrative Nizam's territory, in film parlance, and is important for the fortunes of any Telugu film, he was careful to nuance it to sound critical of the way the division was carried out. Pawan was scathing in his criticism of the Congress in 2014 when the bifurcation was carried out.
Which is why the Congress in Telangana has asked how an anti-Telangana person is being allowed to travel through the state, when the government and the police machinery are stingy about granting permission to rallies organised by any of the opposition leaders. The Congress suspects Pawan Kalyan's Telangana foray is not as innocent as it seems.
When Pawan launched his party in 2014, he tore into K Chandrasekhar Rao and even asked for the accounts of Telangana Jagruthi, an outfit that KCR's daughter Kavitha heads, to be made public.
KCR had paid him back in kind, feigning ignorance when the media asked him about Pawan's remarks. “I don't watch films; I do not know him,” said KCR, tongue firmly in cheek.
Which is why eyebrows went up when this month, just before the release of Agnathavaasi, Pawan went to the Chief Minister's residence and had a long discussion with him. He came out to praise the CM’s power policy. Soon after, orders were issued to allow a screening of the movie during the long Sankranti weekend. His critics are convinced after the tour that a quid pro quo was worked out during the meeting.
Having mended fences with KCR, it is highly unlikely that Pawan can now train his arrows at the chief minister again. But the intention seems to pit the actor in the role of a messiah of the youth in Telangana. In the last three-and-a-half years since the Telangana Rashtra Samiti came to power, the youth – particularly those who took part in the separate Telangana struggle – have been agitating for jobs. The TRS stock among this category is not very high. Given the actor's immense popularity among the youth, Pawan’s gambit seems to act as a magnet and make them vote for the Jana Sena, effectively eating into the Congress kitty.
KCR would also be wary of a party like the Telugu Desam Party walking away with the vote of the people of Andhra who have settled down in Telangana, mainly Hyderabad. In the event of a hung assembly, the TDP, with a few seats, could even hold the key to power. Pawan again could be used to attract those Andhra votes, cutting into the TDP vote share.
The yatra is interestingly christened ‘Chalo Re Chalo Re’, which is a song from Pawan's 2008 super hit Jalsa. Just like what elder brother Chiranjeevi did when he launched Praja Rajyam in 2008, making ‘Nenu Saitham’, the inspiring number from Tagore, his party's theme song.
In 2014, even though he had launched Jana Sena, Pawan chose to campaign for the TDP-BJP combine and helped it come to power in Andhra Pradesh. His relations with the two parties subsequently hit a rough patch, with his criticism over the refusal to grant Special Category Status for Andhra. On available evidence, PK, as Pawan Kalyan is referred to, seems to have found a new friend.