After a disastrous tryst with electoral politics, actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan has been sending confusing signals about his future.
Given his popularity among the youth in Andhra Pradesh, the mercurial star’s statements are lapped up by his fans with gusto.
Known for his maverick ways, both in film career and in politics, Pawan Kalyan has just set off ripples in political circles by his remarks on the BJP, signalling that he is gravitating towards the saffron party.
“I never distanced myself from the BJP. I only differed from the party on the issue of Special Category status for Andhra Pradesh because it was the aspiration of the people,” he said recently, setting off a storm in the social media.
“Political equations keep changing with time in the interests of the people. One should look at the change only in the spirit of the Constitution,” he says.
Pawan Kalyan, the younger brother Telugu megastar Chiranjeevi, did indeed support the BJP during the 2014 elections, after declaring himself as a “fan of Narendra Modi”. He had actively campaigned for the BJP-Telugu Desam Party combine and played a key role in the TDP coming to power in the first election held after bifurcation of the state.
However, he had subsequently distanced himself from both the parties and contested the April elections on his own. His Jana Sena Party bombed at the ballot box office, managing to win just one assembly seat in the 175-member House. It drew blank in the Lok Sabha polls. Such was the scale of its drubbing on its electoral debut that the actor himself lost both the assembly seats he contested in the Kapu community dominated coastal region—Gajuwaka and Bheemavaram–while the party candidates lost deposits in a majority of the constituencies. The party registered a meagre vote share of 6.78 percent and lost deposits in as many as 120 assembly seats.
Warming up to BJP
There have been reports that Pawan had meetings with the top BJP leadership in Delhi last month. Though both sides are tight-lipped about what transpired during these meetings, there is a clear change in the tone and tenor of his statements since then.
He has spoken about Hindu sentiments while commenting on the affairs of the Tirumala temple board, though the actor is never known to be religious. He has also echoed the views of the BJP and TDP leaders while opposing introduction of English medium education in schools by the YSR Congress government.
While supporting the NDA government on controversial issues like abrogation of Article 370, he has, of late, stepped up attack on the Jagan Mohan Reddy government on the issue of religious conversions.
“I have respect for Amit Shah whereas YSRCP fears him,” he remarked, setting off speculation about his party joining hands with the BJP.
The ‘power star’, as he is popularly known, has also questioned the state government over its collection of 23.5 per cent tax from Hindu temples while increasing subsidies for Hajj and Jerusalem pilgrimages, an issue closer to the BJP’s heart.
He has also been critical of the state government over the alleged mismanagement of sand supply, an issue that has affected the livelihood of lakhs of construction workers.
“If I had aligned with the TDP and BJP in the last elections, the YSRCP would not have come to power,” he says. The YSRCP, headed by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, had swept the polls, bagging 151 out of 175 Assembly seats and 22 out of 25 LS seats.
BJP’s poaching game
The BJP, which is looking to expand its footprint in the Southern states, has been poaching the top leaders of the TDP which is smarting under the electoral drubbing. Four of its six Rajya Sabha members have already switched over to the saffron party. The TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu himself has been bending backwards to get closer to the BJP once again, even admitting that walking out of the NDA last year over special category status issue was a mistake.
Not surprisingly, the BJP leadership is delighted over Pawan’s recent statements. The actor would be a big catch for the saffron party which is looking for a leader with pan-Andhra appeal. It will also help the party in wooing the numerically strong Kapu community to which the actor belongs.
“If Pawan is interested in merging his party with the BJP, we wholeheartedly welcome it. He should have done it before the recent elections itself, but for some reason, he differed with us,” the party spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao said.
The BJP wants Pawan to take the merger route on the lines of what his elder brother Chiranjeevi had done with the Congress. The Megastar had merged his Praja Rajyam with the Congress and became a minister in the UPA-II government.
The YSRCP leader and State Information minister Perni Nani said Pawan’s statements were a clear indication that he was going to merge his party with the BJP soon.
Threat to Hinduism
Jana Sena chief has said that the country needed leaders like Modi and Amita Shah who were the “best bet” for the present-day politics.
Interestingly, he also expressed concern over the growing threat to Hinduism under Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy.
“Propagation of other religions has been going on in Hindu temples and religious institutions. Why doesn’t Jagan utter a word when the conversion of Hindus into Christianity has been going on blatantly on the banks of Krishna River in Vijayawada, hardly a couple of kilometres from his residence?” he wondered.
He said unlike other political parties, which followed pseudo-secularism, he had no fear of losing the votes of other religions, as he was speaking the truth.
“I will not tolerate if there was any harm to Hinduism in my state,” the actor said.
Ironically, his Jana Sena Party had an alliance with left parties and BSP in the last elections.
His fans adore him while his critics dismiss him as a maverick and mercurial person with unclear motives. 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.
“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.
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.
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.