VIJAYAWADA: Actor-politician Pawan Kalyan is giving sleepless nights to the ruling TDP-BJP combine in Andhra Pradesh with his public posturing for special category status for the State. Having announced his intention to contest the elections in 2019 and to enrol as a voter in Eluru, he has forced the TDP in particular to revise its electoral calculus.
His high-pitched campaign for special status at Vizag and his hard-hitting press conference in Hyderabad on Friday, make it clear that Pawan Kalyan is no longer a guest actor in Andhra politics. Till his public meeting in Tirupati a few months ago, the Power Star of Telugu cinema was known for his occasional tweets rather than his activities on the stump. But since Tirupati, his public appearances have become more frequent and his voice more strident.
Though it is premature to say if he will capture power in 2019 since his party Jana Sena does not have a grassroots network, Pawan Kalyan campers boast that he has his sights set on the chief minister’s gaddi. "Do you have any doubt? He is aiming high," said a key Jana Sena functionary.
In the press conference, Pawan clarified that he supported the BJP in 2014 hoping that democracy would flourish in Narendra Modi's rule and backed the TDP under the impression that Chandrababu Naidu would rebuild the State. Now, he said, he regrets it, for the two leaders “have reneged on their promise of special status to Andhra Pradesh ".
This may be Pawan Kalyan’s way of distancing himself from the BJP-TDP coalition and occupying a political space that is increasingly becoming spacious. His partymen say that going forward, Pawan will be in the forefront of all issues, particularly on special category status.
They claim that their leader has something that others lack — scholarship. "He is attending the 14th edition of the India Conference at Harvard University on Feb. 11 and 12. He is looking forward to meeting an agriculture scientist and a nuclear physicist there as he wants to know how to improve farm production and learn about the harmful effects of a nuclear plant since one such is coming up at Kovvada in Srikakulam," a Jana Sena leader told New Indian Express.
At the moment though, Pawan is busy trying to shed the image of a guest actor in politics. "He is a serious politician. Yesterday, he was very agitated when the police picked up students who were trying to organise a protest on Vizag beach. Unlike Naidu and Jagan, he cannot come out in the open because fans tend to mob him. He has to plan his own logistics and he cannot do that at short notice," the leader explained, referring to Thursday's protests in Vizag and subsequent criticism that Pawan Kalyan was egging on protestors online sitting at home.
The more active he becomes, the more worried the TDP is for it knows that it was Pawan who helped it come to power in 2014. In fact, the vote share of the YSRC was 45 per cent and that of the TDP only 35 per cent. But TDP mustered 47 per cent with the transfer of the 9 per cent share of the Congress vote and the BJP's 3 per cent. The TDP won by a margin of just 2 per cent votes. Though it is difficult to say how much of the TDP’s vote share was due to Pawan, there are no two opinions that his campaign helped the TDP win a majority. It is assumed that Pawan swung the Kapus, the community to which he belongs, in favour of the TDP. In 2009, the Kapus had supported his eldest brother Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam and helped him win 18 seats but after he merged his party with the Congress, they were left leaderless — that is until Pawan arrived on the scene.
In public, TDP leaders are putting up a brave face. "He cannot be called a serious contender. If he contests elections on his own with the communists’ support, the outcome would be in TDP's favour since the anti-incumbency votes would be divided between Pawan and Jagan," reasoned a TDP leader. Another TDP leader claimed that if Naidu succeeds in getting statutory support for the special package announced for the State by the Centre in lieu of special status, the people may forget special status demand.
The BJP, on the other hand, is far more worried over the prospect of Pawan snapping his ties. "The writing on the wall is clear. We are losing him. But it is not too late. If a delegation comprising TDP-BJP leaders meets Pawan and explains to him how constitutionally it is difficult to give special category status to Andhra Pradesh, he might after all listen. If you do not meet him, you would be hurting his ego since after all, he did help the TDP come to power," a BJP leader admitted.