The never-ending drama of Andhra Pradesh politics just witnessed a classic déjà vu.
Like his big brother ‘Mega Star’ Chiranjeevi who jumped ship to the Congress, after one election, in exchange for ministership, the younger brother and self-declared Che Guevara bhakt, ‘Power Star’ who vowed to “transform” politics just changed the colour of his bhakti, after one election.
In the process, he crushed the dreams and aspirations of lakhs of young people who spent their precious time, energy, money in the last couple of years to build a party with passion and commitment, to change the dirty, rotten, caste-ridden politics of AP.
Pawan Kalyan could not handle loss in just one election. The first election that he actually fought and received 6% vote share should have told him and his colleagues that it is indeed a decent start, that 6% is a significant vote share, considering how TDP and YSRCP poured thousands of crores into the election, not to mention their organisational strength in every booth and captive media.
This decision to join hands with the BJP baffled political observers and ordinary voters alike. Pawan Kalyan did not seem to pay attention to the NOTA vote in the last Assembly election before deciding to hitch his wagon to a party of much lesser stature than his own. NOTA got more votes than the BJP in 2019; things are so bad for the BJP that they performed better in Tamil Nadu!
This is an important factor to consider because the BJP in AP is a closed chapter. One of the main reasons for this situation is Pawan Kalyan himself, who went to town describing the two rotten laddus the Centre gave AP instead of the Special Category Status. His criticism of the BJP had so much traction with the public that then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu had to walk out of the NDA to shield himself from angry and emotional voters demanding justice. All parties made BJP the villain and the deeply hurt voters put them in the same bucket as the Congress. Result? 0.84% vote share.
When Chiranjeevi dissolved his Praja Rajyam Party and went over to the Congress, Pawan Kalyan was said to be upset and abandoned his brother, politically speaking. Pawan will now find it very difficult to defend this decision to his big brother considering the Congress was the ruling party at that time having won a decisive mandate for the second straight time under YSR.
The consequence of this political alliance can change the nature of Andhra politics. Caste politics are about to meet their match in muscular nationalism and Hindutva. Other than Karnataka and to some extent Telangana, the BJP has no base in south India due to the socio-political and cultural history of these regions. There is no mass leader from the grassroots like BS Yediyurappa anywhere else. The BJP has been desperately trying to break in with their time tested “sama dana bheda danda” strategy: defections, money, caste, positions, protection from CBI, ED, IT. The aura of Narendra Modi also helped them attract a small section of young people in 2014 looking for “development” oriented politics.
But the broken promise of Special Category Status changed all that. The arrogant attitude of the BJP made them Enemy No 1 to the 5 crore Andhra people who felt betrayed not just by the Congress but also by the BJP. That’s why NOTA won.
So why does Pawan Kalyan tie his fortunes to a dead party in AP? Why does he think BJP will change his electoral fortunes when his party has six times more votes than the BJP? Why does his defence of CAA sound like the same lame excuses and misinformation spread by the BJP? Would someone please tell him that those opposing CAA are not saying no to Hindus from Pakistan? Would someone explain to him that the massive protests across the nation are about CAA violating the spirit of the Constitution and making Muslims feel like second-class citizens?
It is clear that Pawan Kalyan does not have the courage of conviction in his own brand of politics. There is not a single BJP leader with name recognition in AP. The BJP has not taken a single issue to fruition. The BJP has all the money and resources but zero public support in the state at this point.
Perhaps that’s the reason for this alliance. The BJP needs someone who has reach and vote share. Pawan Kalyan needs institutional strength and cash. The BJP needs an orator who can captivate the audiences. Pawan Kalyan needs someone to bring that audience. The BJP needs a face that is recognised in all parts of the state. Pawan Kalyan needs someone to put his face on a hoarding or meme.
The BJP probably calculates that it can gain the trust of the numerically strong (17%?) but politically marginalised Kapu community with this move (having already appointed a Kapu politician as state unit head) but the 6% vote share of the Jana Sena doesn’t justify that logic either.
The conspiracy theory doing the rounds is that this is actually a deal between the TDP and the BJP using Pawan Kalyan as the Trojan horse. This theory is likely to have some truth to it, considering how Pawan Kalyan has targeted (then) opposition leader Jagan instead of (then) CM Naidu during the elections. The choice of candidates in several constituencies also raised eyebrows. The murmurs of a secret understanding between CBN, Pawan Kalyan and the BJP have been around because they were indeed together in 2014 and there doesn’t seem to be another way of stopping Jagan in 2024.
Jagan’s recent decision to water down the ambitious plan to build a mega capital at Amaravati seems to have precipitated this political marriage that could not be imagined just a few months ago. But then we live in strange times – the unthinkable happened in Mumbai when the Shiv Sena walked out of the alliance with long-time ally BJP and joined the “secular” Congress-NCP camp to seize power. We can safely assume that the BJP-Jana Sena combine will not get anywhere near power anytime soon. The only reason to do this then has to be some sort of secret understanding with the TDP. That announcement is likely to come when Naidu manages to get an appointment with Amit Shah, a privilege that wasn’t granted to Pawan Kalyan who had to make do with JP Nadda.
Here’s wishing Pawan Kalyan best of luck as the future Union Tourism Minister. That’s assuming he managed to negotiate a deal like his big brother. Perhaps we can expect to see him on the silver screen too, once again.
Srinivas Alavilli is a citizen activist and an occasional commentator on politics. He was an invited speaker at the Jana Sena Fact Finding Committee in 2018.
Views expressed are the author’s own.