What is common between LK Advani and Chiranjeevi? One is a PM-in-waiting and the other is a Cabinet minister-in-waiting.
Uncharitable as it may sound, that is pretty much the political status of the actor-turned-politician. Or in Facebook parlance : It’s complicated. Holding a waitlisted ticket since February 2011, when he decided to merge his political outfit Praja Rajyam with the Congress, Chiranjeevi is waiting for the Congress to release the Emergency quota for him to board Rajdhani Express. In his heyday as the Megastar of the Telugu screen, filmmakers would wait for months to secure Chiranjeevi’s nod. In real life, Chiru is grappling with a role reversal. This despite staying true to his name – Chiranjeevi is another name for Lord Hanuman. Chiru prevented the collapse of the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in December 2011 with his flock of 17 Praja Rajyam MLAs when Congress MLAs loyal to Y S Jaganmohan Reddy raised the banner of revolt.
The political quid pro quo agreed upon at the time of merger was that two of Chiranjeevi’s men would get state cabinet positions while he would be made a minister at the Centre. The first part of the promise was kept but Chiru has been on “aap qatar me hain, kripya prateeksha kijiye” mode for long.
When the Congress wanted to woo him, they went the whole hog. The story goes that when Chiranjeevi met Dr Manmohan Singh in 2010 to discuss the Polavaram project, the PM asked him for an autograph. It seems highly unlikely that Dr Singh would have ever seen any of Chiranjeevi’s 149 films, but having once signed when a Congressman asked him to, Chiranjeevi could not resist a second take. So when Sonia Gandhi offered him the application form to join the Congress in February 2011, Chiranjeevi signed on the dotted line.
But once he stepped into the Congress joint family, attitudes towards the new family member changed. Chiru was now just another Congress leader, often subjected to barbs by rivals in the party. Like when Chiranjeevi cautioned that the Congress would not do well if remedial steps weren’t taken, party chief Botsa Satyanarayana hit back with a below-the-belt remark : “Pillars of Congress are so strong and they cannot be shaken by anyone. People who have spoken against Congress (read Chiranjeevi) and challenged to dismantle it by the roots have now joined us.”
The Delhi view of Chiranjeevi was that he would be a crowd-puller for the state Congress, that in the post-YSR phase lacks a charismatic leader. It also expected him to pool in the BC Kapu vote at a time when the Reddys seemed to be veering towards Jagan. Neither happened, if the results in the June byelections were anything to go by. The Congress lost 16 of the 18 assembly seats, including the Tirupati assembly seat that Chiranjeevi vacated. Prompting Congressmen to dub him an NPA.
An important point is that when Chiranjeevi became a neta, the Kapus looked to him as an alternative to the Congress and the TDP and voted for his party in 2009. The PRP got 16 per cent of the vote in the elections. His joining hands with the Congress was seen as a betrayal by those who had voted for him.
Which is why senior Congressmen in Andhra Pradesh are now openly asking if anything is to be gained by making Chiranjeevi a minister. But what they do not realise is that not keeping its word would only confirm what most believe about the party. That use-and-throw is in its DNA. And while Chiranjeevi may not command the loyalty of the entire Kapu community, if he is not made a minister, it could be interpreted as the Congress ditching the section.
What goes in Chiranjeevi’s favour is his track record. He came into the Telugu film industry in the late 70s, when it was dominated by thespians like NTR, ANR, Krishna, Shobhan Babu and Krishnam Raju. Despite coming from a non-filmy background, he made it to the top. Two, he is not seen as the archetypal cunning politician, who cannot be trusted.
Ironically the same virtue is also his minus point. What goes against Chiranjeevi is his inability to reinvent himself as a fulltime politician. Having been used to numero uno status in tinsel town, once he could not be NTR part 2, having a party did not seem such fun. He started speaking more about his urge to do his 150th film, even planning how he will devote 20 days in a month to politics and 10 days to films, forgetting politics isn’t a 9 to 5 job.
Chiranjeevi’s name was also considered for the post of the state Congress president a couple of months back but he wasn’t deemed politically savvy to handle the job. His supporters say a ministry for ‘Boss’ is guaranteed in the cabinet reshuffle this week, to give him that added aura to galvanise his political persona. And like his breezy number ‘Kodithe Kottalira Six Kottali‘ from his superhit Tagore, they hope Chiru hits his rivals, both within and outside the Congress for a sixer.
Meanwhile, like a good actor who does his homework, Chiranjeevi could practise saying, “I, Konidala Chiranjeevi, do swear in the name of …”