A field overflowing with supporters of a popular film star boisterously cheering his every word last weekend at the temple town of Tirupati has ratcheted up political temperatures in Andhra Pradesh.
The show of strength by Pawan Kalyan, 46, the younger brother of former union minister and Telugu matinee idol K Chiranjeevi, has set off a new round of animated debate over his ambitions and to what extent he could redraw the political alignments in the state.
Kalyan heads a regional party, Jana Sena, which he had floated weeks before the 2014 general elections. He, however, abstained from contesting the elections and chose to back the Telugu Desam-BJP combine instead, rallying votes of the influential Kapu votes for the alliance that won the state.
His latest foray after a few years of relative hibernation has been more dramatic. He announced a three-phase agitation to secure special category status for Andhra Pradesh – starting with a rally at Kakinada in East Godavari on September 9. A special status for Andhra, which has been financially emaciated after the new state of Telangana was carved out, is an emotive issue that many politicians are seeking to exploit.
At the Tirupati rally, Kalyan lost no opportunities in milking it. Though considered an ally of the BJP, he took veiled pot shots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not delivering on the special category status that expectedly would bring economic and financial benefits to the state. “If a person gives a word, it should be like an arrow that would not return once released from a bow,” he said.
He also criticized Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and his MPs for failing to bring adequate pressure on the central government. “Why did they speak in a begging and pleading tone? Why didn’t they stall Parliament? Why did they mortgage the self-respect of Telugus in Delhi?” he asked in his theatrical style and the crowd roared in collective agreement.
Political commentators see a design in Kalyan’s histrionics. “It appears that he is keen on emerging as an alternative political force by 2019 elections. If he is able to make a mark for himself as a politician in the next two years, the political scenario in AP will undergo a dramatic change,” said political analyst Chalasani Srinivas.
Several factors could work in the actor’s favour. Having acted in 23 movies, many of which such as Tholi Prema, Khushi, Jalsa and Badri went on to become smash hits, he enjoys a huge fan base. Many of his followers are known to be fanatics and only weeks ago one of his fans was killed in a brawl with the fan of a rival film star.
He is also supposedly a big draw for members of his Kapu caste who make up some 27% of the state’s population. The Kapus dominate East and West Godavari districts, accounting for 34 of the state’s 175 assembly seats. He can also influence another 30 seats in Chittoor, Visakhapatnam, Krishna and Guntur districts. No wonder, Modi met him one-on-one to discuss the issues of the state in 2014.
Few expect Kalyan to do another NTR – the yesteryear actor who became the chief minister in the 1980s. “Kalyan might not be able to come to power on his own, but one might witness a change in the political equations in the coming days, since Kalyan will be a force to reckon with and all parties will try to woo him,” added Srinivas.