Ever since Andhra Pradesh voted on 11 April, Pawan Kalyan has been out of the public glare. Barring an appearance at a VIP wedding in Hyderabad and a statement on the suicides by Intermediate students in Telangana after the declaration of results, Pawan has taken a virtual sabbatical from politics and public affairs.
No one grudges the Jana Sena chief this break given the grueling schedule he maintained for the past many months. As the lone star campaigner for his party, the onus was on Pawan to not only enthuse the Jana Sena cadre but also give a fillip to his candidates who were in the fray. Things took a serious turn towards the end of the campaign period when he had to be rushed to hospital in Vijayawada, with the doctors advising him bed rest.
Contrary to the enthusiasm during the election campaign that Jana Sena will come to power on its own, the realistic assessment now is that it is unlikely to happen. Most poll surveys have indicated that the tussle for power is still between the Telugu Desam and the YSR Congress, with the Jana Sena having established its presence in three districts of Visakhapatnam, East and West Godavari. It is likely to pick up a decent vote share in constituencies in these districts but the jury is out over whether it will convert into many seats.
The bets are on whether Pawan will win from both Gajuwaka and Bhimavaram, the two seats he contested from or manage to triumph in only one of them. Pollsters have predicted that both seats have witnessed a very close contest with Pawan netting over 30 per cent of the vote share in both constituencies.
What ought to be Pawan Kalyan’s strategy from now on?
In the interest of healthy politics in Andhra Pradesh, I hope Pawan Kalyan becomes an MLA. His energy, passion for public issues and the manner of articulating them, would do the debates in the Andhra Pradesh assembly a lot of good.
I also think Andhra Pradesh needs a third axis, an alternative of sorts to the TDP and the YSRCP. The last experiment with Praja Rajyam that Pawan’s brother Chiranjeevi floated came a cropper and that was one of the reasons why many people from within the Kapu community were wary of supporting Pawan completely. Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam won 18 seats in the united Andhra assembly but within three years, the actor merged his party with the Congress, became a Union minister and returned to films after the party lost power in 2014. This election, despite two of his brothers – Pawan and Nagababu – contesting on the Jana Sena ticket, Chiranjeevi stayed away from canvassing for them.
Pawan had announced the launch of his party in 2014 but pretty much stayed away politics barring occasional utterances till 2018 when he went whole hog over the denial of special category status to Andhra Pradesh. His admirers would hope he would not do a similar vanishing act this time.
That he does not do so is also important from an emotional point of view. The Kapu community for decades, has seen political power concentrated in the hands of either the Reddys (Congress/YSR Congress) or the Kammas (TDP). Despite being numerically superior, the Kapus have had to play second fiddle to the two communities. With Chiranjeevi’s entry, their hopes soared. If Pawan does a Chiranjeevi, any leader emerging from the community in the future will face a trust deficit. That alone should be good reason for Pawan to stick on.
With his affidavit mentioning that he has taken a Rs 33.72 crore loan from eight people, including three movie production houses, there is buzz over whether Pawan too will return to films. In his interviews during the election campaign, Pawan spoke about how he did not enjoy doing playacting for the camera and that politics of the Jana Sena kind is what he always aspired to do.
“I do not like the world of films. I never felt comfortable,” Pawan had said. “It was a pain to act. Here I feel natural, I am myself.”
While there is nothing wrong in Pawan doing a film or two to earn his livelihood, he needs to ensure against a call sheet approach to his political career. His Jana Sena may not win many seats this time but what is unique about Pawan’s support base is its commitment levels. The rank and file consists mainly of youth who swear by Pawan. It is easy to dismiss them as star-struck but the loyalty quotient will be any leader’s envy. It is this energy that Pawan should harness to Andhra Pradesh and Jana Sena’s advantage.
Why it is necessary for Pawan to stay the course also is that election 2019 is bound to be a gamechanger in Andhra politics. Whichever regional party loses, will find it hard to stay out of power for the next five years. If YSRCP does not make it this time, it will mean 15 years out of power for Jagan. He has been in the political wilderness since 2009 when YSR died and his relations with the Congress nosedived.
If the TDP loses, it will have to contend with three political enemies – Jagan in Andhra, KCR in Telangana and Narendra Modi (if he returns to power) at the Centre – going after Chandrababu Naidu. The troika is bound to make the going very tough for the TDP leadership.
In this scenario, there can emerge political space for a grassroots outfit like the Jana Sena. Its USP has to be raising public issues that impact daily life – be it the Uddanam kidney issue in north coastal Andhra or pollution-related issues in West Godavari district. Pawan needs to remain invested in the kind of candidates he chose – young, educated, committed people who have done social activism on the ground.
2024 is after all, just five years away.