After appearing in nearly 150 films, Chiranjeevi has entered the unfamiliar theatre of politics with the hope of repeating the magic of N.T. Ramarao (NTR) in 1982 — sweeping the polls within nine months of launching a new party.
However, Chiranjeevi (54) is not NTR and the political situation in Andhra Pradesh today is not comparable to the one that helped catapult NTR, say his political opponents and independent observers.
“The leader and masses are there. But to win elections, you need a political programme and an organisation — he lacks both,” said Prof Hara Gopal, political scientist. “Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party is more a commercial venture than a political party,” said Parakala Prabhakaran, who was among its founding leaders in August last year.
Disillusioned, Prabhakaran resigned early this month. “We thought using his charisma and crowd-pulling capabilities, we would built a new political platform. But he was neither interested in politics nor in creating any structure.”
At a rally that Chiranjeevi addressed near Medak that went to polls in the first phase, a young crowd was ecstatic and charged as the star arrived three hours behind schedule on a scorching afternoon. They tried to touch him and were frantic as Chiranjeevi thanked them for their love. “Now I will give you a lifetime of happiness, not merely happiness that lasts couple of hours,” he said rhetorically and moved on to his recurring theme — ‘social justice’.
“He’s talking about social justice in an abstract sense,” said Gopal. “Many of us pleaded with him to define our programme. He didn’t bother,” said Prabhakaran. That’s where Chiranjeevi is not patch on TDP founder NTR, also a film star but who managed to rewrite Andhra’s political script.
“NTR had a political programme that combined the interests of the poor and pride of the Telugu people,” said N. Chandrababu Naidu, (59) his son-in-law and current TDP chief. “NTR had articulated politics ranging from centre-state relations to local governance,” recalled Prabhakaran.
There are more such dissimilarities that suggest Chiranjeevi is no comparison to the NTR phenomenon. The NTR fan following was better educated, socially respectable and spanned three generations; Chiranjeevi’s fans are less educated and restricted to the 18-30 age group. NTR made a social alliance of Khammas, a substantial section of backward castes and Madigas, a component of Dalits. “NTR picked up socially acceptable candidates. Moreover, the situation was ripe for a non-Congress party,” said Gopal. “PRP candidates are either moneybags or weak ones fielded to help either the Congress or TDP in a particular seats for a consideration,” adds Prabhakaran.
Chiranjeevi feels his persona is good enough. The PRP paid Rs 50 lakh to hire an engine — its election symbol — and rode around the state. The star himself, his son, nephew, daughter and son-in-law were the passengers, turning down suggestions that other leaders should be there too.
The impact that the PRP may make this time is going to be mere flicker that will die down in the storm of real politics.