Andhra Pradesh

Decoding Pawan Kalyan’s election campaign strategy

What does one make of Pawan Kalyan’s comment that people from Andhra Pradesh are being thrashed in Telangana? Is it a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment because it is certainly not true. Or is it an attempt to rake up the wounds of bifurcation ahead of the elections in Andhra Pradesh?

Addressing a gathering before going to file his nomination papers for the Bhimavaram assembly constituency in West Godavari district on Friday, Pawan observed that people in Andhra are fighting among themselves in the name of caste while being subjected to harsh treatment in the neighbouring state. 

The reaction from Hyderabad was swift. KT Rama Rao, the working president of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti, tweeted : “Dear @PawanKalyan Garu, I hope this was misrepresentation of your thoughts. As you’re aware, Telangana is home to people from 29 states who are living harmoniously since formation of the state. I am sure you agree with me that this sort of rhetoric creates undesirable negativity.”

The tweet is no longer on ABN Telugu TV twitter handle. While it is true that during the Telangana agitation, anti-Andhra rhetoric was used, since 2014, there has been no occasion when a person from Andhra Pradesh settled in any part of Telangana has been targeted on the basis of his or her nativity.

That’s not all. Pawan at a public meeting in Bhimavaram took on the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, daring its leadership to set up its office in Andhra Pradesh. Accusing Jaganmohan Reddy of being hand-in-glove with K Chandrasekhar Rao, Pawan asked if the YSR Congress chief was scared of the Telangana chief minister.

“They pelted stones at Jagan (in Warangal district during the Telangana agitation in 2010) but are today supporting him. Is Jagan scared of KCR? I respect KCR but am not scared of him,” thundered Pawan. 

Why this allegation of a KCR-Jagan political friendship is significant is because it is astonishingly similar to Chandrababu Naidu’s narrative. On his campaign trail, the Andhra chief minister has called Narendra Modi the power supply, KCR the switch and Jagan the fan (YSRC poll symbol is the ceiling fan), suggesting that the YSR Congress draws its support from Hyderabad and Delhi. Pawan speaking in Naidu’s voice would only strengthen suspicion that there is a deal struck between the TDP and the Jana Sena and that the actor-turned-politician is targeting Jagan to split the anti-TDP vote and benefit Naidu electorally. 

Pawan-speak also raised eyebrows because in January 2018, he had met KCR at his official residence in Hyderabad and praised his power policy in Telangana.    

Pawan Kalyan with Telangana CM KCR in January 2018

There is more. During his roadshows on Friday, Naidu kept harping on the “criminal elements” in the YSRC.

“If they come to power, even the local rowdies in your area will become bigger rowdies. All your assets will be confiscated by them and you will have nowhere to complain. Casting vote for Jagan and his party is writing one’s own death declaration,” said Naidu. 

Almost at the same time, in Bhimavaram, Pawan said, “I will not tolerate if hired hooligans from Pulivendula (Jagan’s constituency in Kadapa district) create any violence in Bhimavaram. I will thrash them on the road myself.”

While Pawan Kalyan is within his rights to formulate his election strategy, his best bet would be to be seen as an independent new force, a third axis, in Andhra politics. The more he is seen as talking Naidu’s language, the more the charges of the Jana Sena being a B team of the TDP will stick. That will not help boost Jana Sena’s electoral fortunes.

But in the complex world of Indian politics, there are wheels within wheels. Even though the Jana Sena has no political base to speak of in Telangana, Pawan has fielded a candidate in Malkajgiri Lok Sabha constituency in Hyderabad. This seat has a significant Andhra population that the Jana Sena candidate, Mahender Reddy will hope to tap into. The flip side is that Pawan’s decision to contest in Malkajgiri will only help the TRS as the Jana Sena would nibble into the voteshare of Congress candidate Revanth Reddy who till last year was in the TDP and is still very close to Chandrababu Naidu.

Pawan Kalyan with Jana Sena Malkajgiri candidate Mahender Reddy

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