TIRUPATI: Enigmatic Tollywood actor Pawan Kalyan's public meeting here on Saturday, much anticipated for the smoke signals it was expected to send out, left scratching their heads and asking the question yet again: Excatly whose side is he on?
For the Jana Sena chief lashed out at both the BJP and TDP, and shot off questions at the Prime Minister himself: why had he not kept the Centre's promise of special category status for Andhra Pradesh. He didn't blame Chandrababu Naidu directly, but used the impersonal device of asking the TDP why it had not brought enough pressure on Narendra Modi.
Still, it was a surprise that the actor chose to come out in the open against the BJP, and that he particularly referenced Narendra Modi himself. Hadn't the PM himself described the division of Andhra Pradesh as giving birth to a baby after killing its mother? And so now why wasn't he, having come to power, showing any attention to the residuary state? "His attitude makes one wonder whether he wants for the body (meaning the residuary state) to be dumped somewhere," he said.
Further along the speech, he lambasted BJP leaders in the state for behaving much like Congress MPs during the UPA-II dispensation. "At that time, it was please madam, please madam and now it is please sir, please sir," he said.
Such strong words, in an address that lasted more than an hour, were delivered in a histrionic style replete with filmi 'punch dialogues', clearly indicating that the star meant to rouse his supporters. The audience at Indira Maidan in Tirupati were treated to typical mannerisms and voice modulation that are now popularly being codified as Pawanisms.
"I'm not going to step back even if there is a knife on my neck, ready slice through it," he said to an audience in rapture. And of course, he made it clear repeatedly, he wasn't after political power. "I can earn money in no time. I can sit at home and lead a comfortable life.
I am not lusting for power. What I want is that the state should prosper," he said.
He rubbished the criticism that he is a champion of one caste. "They say that when I raise the issue of farmers in Amaravti. And when I show a little bit of appreciation for Chandrababu Naidu, I'm described as a TDP stooge. I am not a stooge of Modi or Naidu. I am a stooge of the people," Pawan Kalyan said.
The speech wasn't just political, it was personal. "I am above caste, religion and region. My daughter is a Christian. When my wife said she wanted her to be baptised in a church in Russia, I readily agreed. Though I am a Hindu, I have respect for other religions because I believe that all religions lead to the same God," the actor said.
Just as TDP supporters began to gloat at the actor's barbs against the BJP and Congress, Pawan Kalyan came up with a stinging attack on Union civil aviation minister P Ashok Gajapati Raju, a TDP MP, for saying that three chief ministers are opposing special category status for AP. "Why are you clinging to a cabinet berth? Don't you have self-respect? Why don't you resign and come out?" he asked of the minister.
He also made comments on the wealth TDP MPs and one particular state minister have allegedly amassed. "I beseech the Centre to not be misled by those who are loaded with money. Don't look at TDP MPs Kesineni Nani, Murali Mohan and Avanti Srinivas and think that the people don't need special category status. The people of Andha Pradesh, particularly the youth, need it very badly," Pawan Kalyan said.
Union urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu was given this chiding: "You are a Telugu man. In fact you had argued for special category status for 10 years. Please don't say now that special category status means nothing to AP. It is not proper for a senior and elderly leader like you."
The Jana Sena Chief wanted an agitation for special category status. When the Centre could split the state even though six crore people were against it, why can't the same Centre grant special category status despite opposition from three chief ministers? "We have to raise our voice. MPs of all parties including the BJP, MLAs, central and state ministers should fight for special category status. Our MPs should stall Parliament. Don't ask for special category status. Demand it."
The takeaway from the Tirupati quotefest was that it signalled a more political Pawan Kalyan. The actor said he would visit all districts and raise the issue of special category status. "On Sept. 9, I will address my first meeting at Kakinada where in 1998 the BJP passed a resolution seeking division of the state. After addressing public meetings in all districts, I will then think of how to take the fight to the streets," he said.