Pawan Kalyan at Kakinada: BJP's deafening burial and Jana Sena's quiet rebirth?

It's hard to explain why the BJP-TDP showed such urgency other than a growing threat in the form of Pawan Kalyan.
Pawan Kalyan at Kakinada: BJP's deafening burial and Jana Sena's quiet rebirth?
Pawan Kalyan at Kakinada: BJP's deafening burial and Jana Sena's quiet rebirth?
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By Srinivas Alavilli

Ten days after the unexpected public meeting in Tirupati in which Pawan Kalyan practically declared war against his erstwhile friends, the BJP and the TDP, over the long-pending demand for special status, and just in time before the Kakinada meeting, the Union Government moved swiftly and announced a special 'package' for Andhra Pradesh.

In a midnight press conference, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, flanked by his cabinet colleagues M Venkiah Naidu and Sujana Choudary (TDP), awarded various 'boons' to AP.

Make no mistake, this is a political victory for Pawan Kalyan. It is hard to explain why the BJP and the TDP showed such a great sense of urgency other than a growing threat in the form of Pawan Kalyan. 

Within minutes, in a perfectly choreographed puppet show, the Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu accepted the package while acting reluctant. The BJP was now left holding their breath for 48 hours for Pawan Kalyan's verdict.

Unfortunately for them, in the very first few minutes of the 2 lakh strong public rally at Kakinada, christened as ‘Seemandhrula Aatma Gourava Sabha’, Pawan Kalyan, in perfect harmony with the mood of the people of Andhra Pradesh, ridiculed the boons as 'stale laddoos'.

The anxious crowd, thronging to the JNTU grounds from all over the East Godavari district, held on to every word he said and roared in denial when he asked if they wanted the 'stale laddoos'.  He called Naidu's bluff on towing the BJP line and accepting the package.

While the massive crowds clearly demonstrated Pawan Kalyan's pull, his speech lacked pace and coherence. Unlike in Tirupati, this speech left observers confused and fans disappointed as he was repeating himself, making points of little relevance, distracted and losing his train of thought a few times while failing to regulate the emotional pitch. 

In Tirupati, he announced clear next steps, including the Kakinada meeting and a tour of the districts, raising the political temperature, but this meeting ended without any forward looking political announcements. Translation: not quite in full time politics, yet.

It appears that Pawan Kalyan himself realized his hour long speech didn't quite hit the sweet spots, so he followed it up with couple of interviews on Telugu TV channels.

Regardless, there are three things that stand out from the meeting.

1. C for Candidate, not Caste: Pawan seems to be trying to change the political narrative in AP which is primarily centered around caste identity and empty rhetoric. He repeatedly taunted the elected representatives, especially the MPs, to do due diligence and fight for the state in the Parliament instead of leaving their constituents to fend for themselves.  He explicitly asked people to hold their individual MPs "accountable". He questioned why ordinary people should agitate on streets leaving their work aside when the elected MPs who enjoy the subsidized meals in Parliament should be the ones fighting on behalf of people.

His speech is a symptom of a new paradigm because it places the burden on the individual elected representatives, not just the party or the top brass of party. Therefore it could inspire people to vote for candidates based on performance instead of caste and party considerations.

2. Enemy #1 is BJP: This meeting further reinforced his mission to seal BJP's fate in AP.  He branded BJP as an arrogant 'north Indian hegemony' and Venkaiah Naidu as the villain who destroyed the BJP in AP. Stoking the simmering anger of the people against the BJP, he exposed their hypocrisy of making special status promises in simple terms in 2014 to win the election and then hiding behind rule books to deceive the people post victory.

He also asked BJP leaders in the state to look for other parties for their political future. His strategy seems to be to reduce the relevance of BJP and create a political space for Jana Sena.

3. Team Jana Sena: In a clear departure from the past, there are noticeable physical indications of people in Jana Sena beyond Pawan Kalyan. A sea of red towels in the audience, Jana Sena personnel on the sidelines of the stage and undeclared spokespeople making appearances on TV show that there is an organization in the making.

While it remains true that Jana Sena has only one public face, an event of this magnitude could not have been organized without a whole team of people working on it. Indeed, Pawan Kalyan himself referred to his 'strong team' perhaps for the first time. 

It appears that the plan is to build a party structure that remains below the radar and yet acts like a bridge between the millions of followers and their leader. This may not be a bad idea considering the fact that once a formal party structure takes shape, internal conflicts and tussles for access to their leader consumes precious bandwidth that could be spent on political action to grow the base.

Post Tirupati, there was plenty of speculation in political and media circles about the 'hidden agenda' of Pawan Kalyan. Was he executing a secret plan of the BJP? Was he being driven by CBN to go after the BJP?  Did he get a nice 'package' for himself to deliver a real life acting assignment?

It appears that the wild conspiracy theories can be put to rest. In forcing the BJP to deliver the special package, he has undoubtedly demonstrated the political power of his word.

Further, he has openly declared that Jana Sena is here to stay and will be on the ballot in 2019. He is also clearly positioning himself as a unifying figure across both AP and Telangana, beyond caste, regional and religious barriers.  With all this, whether Jana Sena will develop into an electoral force to reckon with depends entirely on Pawan Kalyan's ability to stay the course over the next two years, assemble a strong leadership team and sharpen his message as he builds on the momentum generated in Tirupati and Kakinada.

Srinivas Alavilli is a software professional based in Bengaluru. Srinivas volunteers for civic, social and political campaigns.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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