Reality check for Pawan Kalyan’s party ahead of D-day

Updated 8:16 PM, 4 May, 2019
Ground reports suggest that Jana Sena Party could pick up a few seats in the coastal districts, but would not get the required critical mass of seats to be able to become a decisive force in government formation

After generating a buzz in political circles in the run-up to the April 11 elections, actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party is now caught in rumblings of dissent and self-doubt with the exit of key leaders from the five-year-old party.

Party treasurer and a close confidante of the actor M Raghavaiah has resigned, apparently irked over the ‘raw deal’ being meted out to seniors in the party. However, in his resignation letter addressed to the party president, Raghavaiah, who has been with the party since its inception in 2014, cited personal reasons for his decision to quit.

Party spokesperson Addepalli Sridhar too has been keeping himself away from party activities and infighting has broken out among party workers in several district units in the coastal region with some leaders even taking to social media to air their differences.

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Pawan slips into his shell

Widely seen as an ‘X-factor’ who can tilt the scales in a tight race in the simultaneous elections to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly and Lok Sabha, the maverick star has gone silent post polls. Except a statement voicing concern over the bungling in the junior college examination results in Telangana, the actor has not made any public appearance since April 11 when the polling was held.

His vanishing act is not surprising, given his penchant for going into a shell and remaining incommunicado even for his close aides. His brand of politics is marked by a burst of activity followed by a prolonged lull. Despite mass following, particularly among the youth of “Kapu” community to which he belongs, Pawan did not invest in building an organisational structure and a policy framework but allowed the party to depend heavily on his personal charisma.

The enthusiasm that his rallies had generated during the campaign has now been replaced by complete silence in the party camp.

Soon after his announcement that Jana Sena would contest all the 175 Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the expectation was that the party, with an aura of idealism around it, would come to power on its own, edging out the two major players—the ruling Telugu Desam Party headed by Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and the main opposition YSR Congress Party led by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy.

Bitter reality

Ground reports suggest that Jana Sena Party could pick up a few seats, particularly in the coastal districts of Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and West Godavari, but would not get the required critical mass of seats to be able to become a decisive force in government formation.

The key question is how a possible split in the votes of the Kapu community, who account for nearly 27 percent of the state’s 5 crore population, would play out in the end and which of the two major players—the TDP and YSRCP—would bear the brunt of the split.
The Kapu community had overwhelmingly voted for the TDP-BJP combine in the 2014 elections for which the actor had campaigned extensively. His party did not contest the previous elections but supported the TDP-BJP alliance.

The bets are now on whether Pawan will win from both Gajuwaka and Bhimavaram, the two assembly seats he contested from. “He will pull off in Gajuwaka (Visakhapatnam district) but is facing an uphill task in Bhimavaram (West Godavari district),” a close family friend of the actor told The Federal.

Self-doubt

The post-election mood in the Jana Sena camp is one of self-doubt and diffidence. The question being asked in political circles is whether Pawan will be a hit at political box office or end up like his elder brother Chiranjeevi, the mega star of Telugu cinema whose tryst with politics was 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 and Union minister. He is keeping himself away from active politics now. He has neither campaigned for Jana Sena nor did he issue any statement asking his fans to support his brother’s party.

Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam had won 18 seats in the united Andhra assembly in the 2009 polls and he himself had lost in Palakollu seat but won from Tirupati constituency.

Pawan appears to be following a similar political trajectory. After floating Jana Sena party in March 2014, he remained largely inactive and reclusive. 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. His campaigning played a key role in the TDP coming to power in Andhra Pradesh.

The Kapu community, which has been yearning to control the levers of political power, had pinned its hopes on Chiranjeevi but his failure at the political box office certainly came as a big disappointment for the numerically strong community. Historically, the Kapu community had to play second fiddle to the two dominant communities — Reddys and Kammas — which control political power.

Under the present circumstances, a split in the Kapu votes could potentially upset the TDP’s apple cart. 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 per cent. The TDP-BJP combine got 46.69 per cent votes against YSRCP’s 45.01 per cent. The TDP won 102 and the BJP bagged five seats to emerge with a clear majority in the 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 per cent 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.

Kapus are mostly concentrated in East and West Godavari districts, and in substantial numbers in Krishna district. 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.

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