Pawan Kalyan would have made Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa proud. Ahead of his second public meeting in Kakinada in East Godavari district on 9 September, playing out are different versions on why the actor-turned-sometimes activist-sometimes politician is doing what he is doing. Pretty much like Kurosawa's award-winning film Rashomon.
"I am breaking my head over what's on Pawan Kalyan's mind,'' was a senior Congress leader's candid reaction when I popped the question to him. The ruling Telugu Desam dismisses Pawan Kalyan as preparing for his Kakinada "film release" after his Tirupati "film release" last month. On 27 August, Pawan had addressed a public meeting in the temple town where he took the BJP and the TDP to the cleaners for not granting special status, as promised, to Andhra Pradesh.
To make the screenplay of his Kakinada venture attractive, Pawan Kalyan has borrowed a leaf from the late NT Rama Rao's book and has branded the meeting as 'Seemandhra Aatma Gaurava sabha' (Seemandhra self-respect meeting). Telugu self-pride was the plank on which NTR rode to power in 1982-83. Pawan wants to convey that self-respect has been mortgaged in the Delhi durbar by the politicians he helped come to power in 2014.
Two years back, Narendra Modi, Chandrababu Naidu and Pawan Kalyan had come together to defeat the Congress and the YSR Congress. But since Pawan's Jana Sena was for all practical purposes, a letterhead party, he went back to the sets of Sardaar Gabbar Singh, a film that failed to create waves, while Modi and Naidu ruled. A couple of special appearances that did not amount to anything, is all Pawan made in the last two years.
Now the failure of Lutyen's Delhi to grant special status to Andhra, is Pawan's angst. On the floor of Parliament, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh had promised special category status (SCS) to the residuary state for five years. In the heat of the elections, Venkaiah Naidu said the BJP would give it for 10 years. Now because of objections raised by the Finance Commission and neighbouring states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the SCS has been denied. The SCS would mean Andhra can give better tax incentives to industries and the Centre would bear 90 percent expenditure on many projects.
No one knows what's on Pawan Kalyan's mind. Not even the organisers of the Friday meeting. He has chosen Kakinada because it was here in 1998, the BJP had announced that for one vote, it will give two states — Andhra and Telangana. Pawan's attempt is clearly to embarrass the BJP because in Andhra Pradesh, the scars of losing Hyderabad haven't completely healed.
But the more important question is why has Pawan Kalyan, once considered close to Modi, turned a bitter critic. The TDP believes it is because Modi adopted a policy of use-and-throw and did not consult the actor even once on anything regarding Andhra. The TDP believes this is Pawan's twist in the script just before the intermission, the half-way mark before the 2019 election.
But the BJP suspects the script and direction is by Chandrababu Naidu, which is why the Andhra CM was not criticised by Pawan in Tirupati. The timing of the Kakinada meeting, it points out, is suspect as it comes just two days before Kapu leader Mudragada Padmanabham's meeting in Rajahmundry, also in East Godavari district. Padmanabham has been leading an agitation asking for reservation for the Kapus. With Pawan also belonging to the same community, the gameplan, many would think, is to pit Kapu vs Kapu.
Padmanabham's agitation riding on Kapu unrest in January 2016 had turned violent, with a train set on fire in Tuni in East Godavari district. Kapus constitute 27 percent of Andhra's population and that vote coming into the TDP's kitty in 2014, mostly thanks to Pawan, was one reason why Naidu returned as chief minister. TDP insiders term Padmanabham's reservation demands as "impossible to meet".
Pawan's supporters say he is not talking for a community but the entire state. The TDP dismisses Pawan as a non-factor and say if he was serious about a political innings, he would have organised village, district and town committees to build a political structure.
The YSR Congress is in wait and watch mode. Jaganmohan Reddy is wary of Naidu using Pawan to further split the Opposition vote or to build up Pawan so that he too can fish in the catchment area of the youth vote.
The TDP is happy to let Pawan fire at the BJP. "We think he is playing to the gallery but it is also advantage TDP because he is also putting pressure on the central government,'' says a TDP leader. It is the BJP's Andhra leadership which is in a quandary not knowing how much rope they can give Pawan. There is talk of a special package for Andhra in the next few days which would mean granting more concessions minus the nomenclature of SCS.
From Pawan's point of view, this is also an attempt to retrieve lost ground. Seen as an aloof and temperamental person, there is a bit of trust deficit as well. After all, the Kapu community invested in his elder brother, Chiranjeevi when he launched his Praja Rajyam party in 2008. But Chiranjeevi did not have the stomach to stay in the Opposition and merged the PRP with the Congress, in return for a Rajya Sabha seat and a ministry in UPA 2.
The late YS Rajasekhara Reddy had his theory about film stars entering politics. The TDP had unleashed actor Junior NTR as a star campaigner during the 2009 elections. When I asked YSR during the campaign if he was not worried that the crowds would convert into votes for Naidu, YSR with his typical chuckle, replied, "People like to see film stars in flesh and blood. It is free entertainment. They will enjoy it and go home. But when they come to vote, they will do so based on who is the best candidate.''
It is for Pawan Kalyan to prove that it is not popcorn time for the people of Andhra Pradesh.