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Once ridiculed as ‘part-time’ politician, Pawan Kalyan takes centre stage in Andhra politics

Amaravati, June 20 2024-

From being ridiculed by his critics as a “non-serious” and “part-time” politician till a couple of years ago to now Deputy Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, it’s quite an achievement for actor-politician Konidela Pawan Kalyan.

The Jana Sena leader, who assumed office on Wednesday, has come a long way since floating the party a decade ago despite the political disaster experienced by his more famous elder brother Chiranjeevi.

Though he made a modest beginning as a campaigner for the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its ally Bharatiya Jana Party (BJP) in 2014 and had a disastrous electoral debut five years later, Pawan Kalyan stayed the course, determined to carve a niche for himself.

He, however, had to face bitter attacks from YSRCP leaders on his personal life. YSRCP President and former Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, at every public meeting, targeted the actor-politician over his three marriages, always referred to him as the “foster son” of TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and called him a “non-resident politician” and a “package star”.

“Power star”, as Pawan Kalyan is popularly known in film circles, has finally tasted victory and power. After succeeding in his mission to end the “destructive rule” of the YSRCP, he appears set to play a big role in the changed political environment.

As the number two in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the actor-politician is expected to have a major say in the decision-making. He has been entrusted with key portfolios like Panchayati Raj, Rural Development & Rural Water Supply, Environment and Forest, and Science and Technology.

Over the last decade, he has shown keen interest in subjects like rural development and the environment.

As Chandrababu Naidu’s deputy, Pawan Kalyan will not only be looking for an active role in government but may also capitalise on this to strengthen his party, which put up an incredible show in recent elections to win all 21 Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats it contested. After the 2019 disaster when he lost both the seats he contested, Pawan Kalyan was elected from the Pithapuram constituency in Kakinada.

His Jana Sena, which has three ministers in the Cabinet including him, is the second biggest party in the 175-member Assembly after the TDP, which won a whopping 135 seats.

Many from his party had criticised Pawan Kalyan for not bargaining for more seats. He, however, was realistic and admitted the limited bargaining power of his party. “If we had a few seats in the Assembly, we could have bargained,” was his response.

In 2019, the Jana Sena had won a single seat and the lone MLA had also deserted the party. Pawan Kalyan also sacrificed a few more seats to bring the BJP on board in a grand alliance to ensure that anti-incumbency votes are not divided. His initiative to ally with the TDP and later convince the BJP leadership to join them proved a game changer as the YSRCP, which had 151 seats in the previous Assembly, bit the dust.

As the YSRCP’s tally dropped to just 11 in the Assembly, the Jana Sena will be looking to expand in areas beyond certain pockets of south coastal Andhra.

Political analysts say Pawan Kalyan has got a platform from where he can build his party into a major force.

“His achievement is phenomenal. Perhaps there is no other party which achieved a 100 per cent success rate while contesting more than 20 seats,” said analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

He believes that going forward, Pawan Kalyan’s role will be significant. He may use his good offices with the BJP leadership to take up state-specific pending issues with the Centre. He, however, said it would be too early to predict if he would expand the party beyond the limited pockets where Kapus (the community to which Pawan Kalyan belongs) are in sizable numbers.

“Any serious attempt to expand the Jana Sena in other parts of the state may put him in direct conflict with Chandrababu Naidu’s son Lokesh whom the TDP considers as the future Chief Minister,” he said.

Lokesh is the TDP General Secretary and a key minister in Naidu’s Cabinet. Naidu, who is already 74, will be looking to groom his son as his successor.

Unlike elder brother Chiranjeevi who wound up his Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) within a couple of years of its launch, Pawan Kalyan never feared defeat. Though he began his political career as the leader of the PRP’s youth wing in 2008, he was not happy with the party’s merger with Congress in 2011. After launching the Jana Sena Party in March 2014, he supported the NDA in the elections held the same year as he was angry with Congress for bifurcating Andhra Pradesh, and shared the dais with then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu.

Pawan Kalyan later distanced himself from both the BJP and the TDP for going back on the promise to accord special category status. In 2019, he had an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Left parties. However, the Jana Sena could win just one Assembly seat and drew a blank in Lok Sabha polls. After the disaster of 2019, he re-joined hands with the BJP and in September last year, announced an alliance with the TDP. Aware of his strengths and weaknesses, the 52-year-old was cautious not to repeat past mistakes and this was the reason he did not bargain hard for seats. Seen as a youth icon, he crafted the image of a fighter. In tune with his screen image of an angry young man, Pawan Kalyan displayed aggression during the showdown with the Jagan government on a few occasions while taking up people’s issues. (Agency)

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