Pawan Kalyan: Maverick star in political avatar

Pawan Kalyan, chief of the Jana Sena Party is seen as an uncoventional politician. Twitter via @JanaSenaParty

“Naakkonchem Thikkundi. Daaniko Lekkundi” (I have madness. There is a method to that madness).

This popular punch dialogue from the 2012 blockbuster “Gabbar Singh”, a Telugu remake of Salman Khan starrer “Dabaang”, is often invoked in the social media to define Pawan Kalyan’s real life moves. The actor dons the role of a quirky cop in the movie whose one-liners are a raging hit.

His fans adore him while his critics dismiss him as a maverick and mercurial person with unclear motives. But, one cannot ignore this 47 year old actor-turned-politician, popularly known as “power star”, who may well turn out to be an X factor in the just-held Assembly elections to Andhra Pradesh.

“Pawanism”, a compilation of the actor’s observations on life and society in general, has entered the lexicon of the Tollywood. A mishmash of high-sounding yet naïve and superficial assertions, Pawanism has a loyal following, particularly among the youth.

There is a massive army of his fans, who call themselves “Pawan Sena” and turn into online warriors to defend their hero from the mocking memes and spoofs on the actor.

He has 3.52 million followers on twitter but follows only one person—Amitabh Bachchan.

Restless, Brooding

Pawan Kalyan is the younger brother of megastar of Telugu cinema K Chiranjeevi whose tryst with politics ended in a disaster.

Having made his debut in 1996 with “Akkada Ammayi, Ikkada Abbayi”, Pawan has a string of hits and awards under his belt. Known for his penchant for unconventional style of film making, he has produced and directed a couple of movies.  He was listed by Forbes among the top 100 Indian celebrities while he was the most searched Indian personality on Google in 2014 when he had launched Jana Sena Party.

For someone who had five consecutive mega hits that earned him fame, fortune and fans, Pawan comes across as a brooding and lonely person yearning for some higher purpose in life.

“Sometimes, I used to feel completely out of place in the movies. I used to wonder why I am running around the trees, romancing heroines and dancing. Somehow, I was really not into it. I always used to slip into my own shell of introspection,” the actor had once said during a long conversation with this correspondent.

Behind the veneer of glamour and stardom, Pawan comes across as a restless young man awe-struck by history of revolutions and struggling to find an identity of his own and an ideology of his own.

“From ultra-left revolutionary literature to spiritual teachings, I have read everything that I could lay my hands on. I still read. I feel deeply disturbed by the social disparities, miseries and exploitation,” he says. However, the actor’s prescription for social change appears stuck in the romantic notions about socialism and represents a throwback to old school communism, particularly on wealth distribution and state control.

Known for his volatile mood swings and penchant for guns and revolvers, Pawan worships Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara. Much before the launch of Jana Sena party with the ‘red star’ as its symbol in March 2014, the actor had floated an NGO called “Common Man Protection Force” (CMPF) in October 2007.

The objective was to “solve social problems” and help the neglected sections of the society in India. However, it was largely inactive and merged into the Praja Rajyam Party floated by Chiranjeevi in the run-up to the 2009 elections.

Turbulent personal life

The personal life of the thrice-married actor often becomes a subject of debate in political circles with his detractors wondering how he can aspire to run the affairs of the state when he was so reckless about his choices in personal life and could not take care of his family.

Pawan is now married to Anna Lezhneva, a Russian actress. The couple has two children–Mark Shankar Pawanovich and Polena Anjana Pawanova. His earlier marriages to Nandini and Renu Desai, a co-star in his films “Badri” and “Johnny”, had ended in divorce. He has a son from his earlier marriage with Renu Desai. The actor has a fetish for Japan, as he spent two years learning the martial art Aikido for his first directorial venture “Johnny”.  His son Akira Nandan was named after Pawan’s favourite director Akira Kurosawa.

Icon of Kapus

Despite Pawan’s disdain for caste identities, he is largely seen as an icon of kapus, a numerically strong and influential community in coastal Andhra yearning to take control of the levers of political power. He has a cult following among the Kapu youth.

Pawan has the potential to tilt the scales in the Kapu-dominated East Godavari and West Godavari districts, apart from some other constituencies in the Delta region.

Accounting for over 20% of the state’s 5 crore population, the community had overwhelmingly voted for the TDP-BJP combine in the 2014 general elections, for which the actor had campaigned extensively.

In the changed political dynamics, a split in the Kapu votes could potentially upset the ruling Telugu Desam Party’s apple cart.

While the five year old Jana Sena Party may not be looking at the critical mass of seats to capture power, it surely is eyeing to play the role of a king maker in the event of a fractured mandate.

Historically, whichever party swept the two Godavari districts had formed the government in the past. In the previous elections, the TDP had won 12 of the 19 Assembly constituencies in East Godavari and made a clean sweep in West Godavari, winning 14 of the 15 seats while its ally BJP had won the remaining seat.

While the main contest is between the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP and YSR Congress Party, headed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the maverick star with a mass appeal may well be an X-factor in a tight race.

Unconventional politician

Known for his impulsive ways and outspoken views, Pawan is not a politician in a conventional sense. His party still does not have a proper organisational structure nor is he a 24/7 politician. His brand of politics is marked by a burst of activity followed by a prolonged lull.

The question being asked in political circles is whether he will be a hit at political box office or end up like his elder brother Chiranjeevi whose political entry turned out to be a big flop show. Chiranjeevi had floated “Praja Rajyam” party in the run-up to the 2009 elections but it failed to make much impact at the hustings.

He had subsequently merged his party with the Congress and became a Rajya Sabha member. He is keeping himself away from active politics now and has remained silent over his brother’s electoral foray.

Pawan floated Jana Sena in March 2014 but has been largely inactive and reclusive since then. Barring a few public appearances in support of certain public issues and social causes, he kept himself busy with shooting assignments.

In the run-up to the 2014 elections, the mercurial star had supported the NDA, saying he was a big fan of Narendra Modi. He had even campaigned for the TDP-BJP combine, a factor that played a key role in the TDP coming to power in AP.

However, in his renewed political avatar, Kalyan has been critical of both the BJP and TDP for failing to keep up their promise of granting special category status to the Andhra Pradesh which suffered huge loss after bifurcation.

The critics point out that Pawan Kalyan has been at best a freelance politician and lacks seriousness, strategy and organisation building capacity that is required for a full-time politician.

In the 2014 elections, the difference in the vote share between the victorious TDP-BJP combine and the opposition YSRCP was a mere 1.6 percent. While the TDP-BJP combine got 46.69 percent of votes as against YSRCP’s 45.01 percent. The TDP won 102 and the BJP bagged five seats to emerge with a clear majority in 175-member State Assembly, while YSRCP bagged 67 seats. In Lok Sabha, the difference between the two sides was slightly higher at 2.34 per cent. While TDP BJP combine got 47.95 percent votes, the YSRCP came close second with 45.61 per cent. But this was enough to almost double the seats of the TDP-BJP, which bagged 17 LS seats against eight of the YSRCP.

Quota is key issue

The Kapu community has been on an agitation mode, demanding reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. Incidentally, the quota for Kapus was one of the key poll promises of the TDP in the 2014 elections.

Though the State Assembly had unanimously passed a bill in December 2017, providing for five percent reservation for Kapus, and sent it to the Centre for approval. However, it remained on paper as the proposed quota breached the 50 percent ceiling set by the Supreme Court. The state government has now allocated 5 percent quota to them from the 10 percent reservation for Economically Weaker Sections cleared by the Centre.

The state government’s move was based on the recommendations of the Justice Manjunatha Committee, which examined the demand of Kapus and suggested earmarking 5 percent quota for Kapu community.

The state had witnessed a violent agitation in January 2016 with M Padmanabham, former Congress MP from Kakinada and prominent leader of the community, undertaking an indefinite fast, demanding reservations for the community.

While Pawan’s star appeal may have attracted huge crowds to his rallies, it is doubtful whether it can translate into votes, given the lack of party structure and concrete programmes.

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