Having tested the patience of the massive crowds in the legendary Guntur mirchi heat for nearly two-and-a-half hours, Pawan Kalyan's mega announcement was a fast unto death, if needed, to force the central government to deliver Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh.
Pawan Kalyan declared this at the grounds opposite the Acharya Nagarjuna Plaza on March 14, 2018, on Jana Sena Formation Day, that he did not want the youth of Andhra Pradesh to sacrifice their study and work. That it would be his sacrifice.
An all-out gambit. Just like that. No roadshow, no protests, no raising of temperatures gradually until the crescendo. A fast unto death. "If needed," was his caveat.
Dominating the Jana Sena chief's speech though was his target practice against the ruling Telugu Desam Party. A departure from the speeches of yore. Breaking free from his shackles, Pawan Kalyan delivered his debut speech as a quintessential politician, replete with provocation, passion, bluster and rhetoric, chiselling out a larger than life TDP to pit against his self-portrayed middle-class, man-of-the-people, saviour-of-the-youth image.
For the first time, Pawan Kalyan went all out against the TDP. He pulled up the TDP for nepotism, scams like sand mining and note-for-vote, the lack of jobs for youngsters, Uttarandhra's infant mortality rate and the overall imbalanced development of the state, with many districts remaining woefully backward.
The fact he mentioned Nara Lokesh, Chandrababu Naidu’s son, by name for inheriting political privilege signalled his readiness for battle. He also chose to explicitly call out intentions to fight the municipal, panchayat and corporation elections as evidence of a maturing Jana Sena organisation. In this speech, a political contender finally emerged from behind the screens.
Firing salvos at TDP's governance, specifically calling out the irony of the Chief Minister's allusion to the Singaporean governance model, he aimed straight for TDP's heart. Their trademark but dubious pride of superior governance. A governance that needed him to show up to count the tragedies of Uddanam, the public health disaster which was hitherto invisible to the TDP MLAS and MPs present right there.
In critiquing the Chief Minister's pet project of Amaravathi, a city that is swallowing over 30,000 acres of fertile land, he threw the spotlight on the leader's insatiable appetite of showcasing mega-centralised projects that continue to reinforce concentrated, skewed development. Pawan Kalyan emphasised that disrespecting Mother Earth in such a way would lead to disaster.
He lashed out at TDP MLA Chintamaneni Prabhakar, who violently misbehaved with a woman, and the Chief Minister's failure to uphold the rule of law for the victim.
He embarrassed the TDP government for ignoring Chandrababu Naidu’s home base of Rayalaseema and its infamous farming woes. He even offered to turn farmer, as he is wont to do, to assist with redeeming the Rayalaseema region. A snide reference to the state government's incapacity in addressing the needs of a largely agricultural state.
He cornered them on the Kapu reservation issue, the government having sought escape at the President's desk, first committing in their manifesto and then failing to deliver reservations.
Addressing Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in English, he went after the injustice and constitutional betrayal that AP witnessed. He also went after the YSR Congress Party and their no-confidence swagger.
But his mood was entirely anti-establishment and he went all guns blazing against the ruling TDP.
Pawan Kalyan’s highlighting of corruption in the state was long overdue, given neither the ruling establishment nor the Opposition have standing ground on the issue, what with both perceived as corrupt.
Ironically, the song before his speech mentioned that women do not need reservations, while he took cudgels against Chandrababu’s empty promises on Kapu reservation. This despite the fact that women only make up a woeful 12% in Parliament in the representative democracy of India, 68 years into elections.
His earlier public appearances saw him tentatively attack the ruling parties, both state and Centre, sometimes blistering, sometimes defensive, having allied with them. But he was far from shy here. Evoking Potti Sriramulu's fight for the formation of the first linguistic Andhra Pradesh state, he asserted that protest is Andhra heritage.
He certainly bared his fangs at Guntur, as a political contender must to be taken seriously. Action remains pending and that will the true test of his political mettle.
This is his definitive entry into state politics. Net practice done. Rehearsals complete.
Lights. Camera. Election!
Disclaimer: The author is a civic activist and independent member of the Joint Fact Finding Committee constituted by Pawan Kalyan of the Jana Sena Party. The views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.