Actor and Jana Sena leader Pawan Kalyan is set to script a new era in Andhra Pradesh politics with his party’s Foundation Day celebrations held on Wednesday, in Guntur’s Mangalagiri district, where he claimed to be a serious contender for power in the state.
This was a striking departure from his earlier stand where he claimed he was not hankering after power, but supporting the popular governments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Such posturing earned him titles such as ‘proxy’ and ‘agent’ of the ruling parties from Opposition camps.
The actor, hailing from the Kapu community, aims to capture power in the state on the plank of social justice. “How long shall we allow the two dominant communities to rule the state?” he asked.
It’s an oblique reference to the Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu, who represents the Kammas, and YSR Congress Party’s Jaganmohan Reddy, identified with the Reddys.
Referring to the history of caste equations in undivided Andhra Pradesh, he said one community (the Reddys) ruled the state till the early 1980s since Independence and another community (the Kammas) has continued its political dominance since then.
Reddys from Rayalaseema and Telangana held sway over politics in the state after the decline of the era of Brahmins.
From the Reddys, administration passed on to the Kammas, by and large a business community, when matinee idol NTR Rama Rao took the plunge into politics and his fledgling TDP swept into power in 1983.
The dominance of these two powerful, yet minority, communities in politics prompted the other numerically strong communities like Kapus and BCs to seek their pound of flesh.
Strikingly, Pawan’s brother, mega star Chiranjeevi, too played the social justice card in the 2009 elections, but failed to succeed, culminating in a merger of his Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) with the Congress.
Chiranjeevi, projected as the CM candidate from the PRP, lost the election in his native Palacol Assembly segment for failing to bring the Kapu community and BCs on board. Pawan backed his brother in leading the PRP fight in the elections. But he did not endorse the PRP’s merger with the Congress and took a political sabbatical until the state bifurcation. Chiranjeevi’s social justice plank largely failed to click due to a lack of unity in communities other than the Kammas and Reddys.
In an apparent bid to keep his social justice plank intact, Pawan accused the TDP government of pitting the Kapus against the BCs in the name of reservations for Kapus. The Quota Bill passed in the AP Assembly, in line with the TDP’s election manifesto, hit a constitutional roadblock and went into cold storage.
It will be difficult for Pawan to wrest power from the TDP and YSRCP unless the BCs and Kapus, currently at loggerheads about the Quota Bill, unite. BCs make up close to 50% of the state population, while Kapus can influence the elections in 35-40 Assembly segments in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.
Without aspiring for power, Pawan supported the BJP-TDP combine and ensured its victory in the 2014 elections, which took place post bifurcation.
After that, however, he assumed a ‘watchdog’ stance, taking digs at the CM and the Centre. He made a conscious effort to get rid of the image of a backroom boy of sorts to Chandrababu, by attacking him personally and his son Lokesh on charges of corruption at the rally.
He tried to pre-empt Jagan by attempting to capitalise on the growing anti-incumbency wave against the TDP government by labelling his one-time ally as a liar and painting the CM as someone who can’t be trusted.
According to Pawan, even though Chandrababu is working to change the state post-bifurcation into “sunrise Andhra”, it has turned into “corrupt Andhra” for all practical purposes. He added that Lokesh is mired in corruption right under his father’s nose, but no action has been taken.
A senior TDP leader said his party could no longer view Pawan as an ally or friend after his barbs aimed at Chandrababu and Lokesh.
In the process, Pawan even sought to play the role of “Bharatiyudu” with a vow to combat corrupt politicos by invoking Arvind Kejriwal, the Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi CM,.
The Jana Sena leader said he intended to fight public issues without the people’s participation. He wanted people to not waste their time and energy by participating in agitations.
“I will just do it on your behalf at any cost,” was his refrain at the rally.
But analysts remain sceptical. Political commentator K Nageswar says that a movement cannot be a success without people’s participation. “It’s not a cinema where a hero can do miracles single-handedly,” he added.
Pawan also hinted at plans to forge a third front in the state, which has till now been dominated only two parties. “I will chart a course of action with regard to the Special Category Status in consultation with the Left parties,” he said.
Given the shrinking base of the Left parties across the nation, Pawan’s third front in Andhra politics raises more questions, instead of answering them.