Pawan Kalyan realigns with BJP with eye on 2024: Actor-turned-politico playing long game against Jagan Mohan Reddy
In politics, much like popular films, the timing makes all the difference and as a matinee idol, Pawan Kalyan knows a thing or two about making an entry
For all practical purposes, the writing on the wall is quite clear for Pawan Kalyan as well as the BJP
The younger brother of Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi, Kalyan’s public life resembles the script of a typical Andhra potboiler
In politics, much like popular films, the timing makes all the difference and as a matinee idol, Kalyan knows a thing or two about making an entry
If a week is too long in Indian politics, then a few months is perhaps an altogether different lifetime.
With that in mind, actor-politician and the founder of the Jana Sena Party (JSP), Pawan Kalyan’s sometimes-friend-sometimes-foe like stance with the BJP will probably be a thing of the past, at least momentarily
. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kalyan had announced that his party will contest the Lok Sabha polls as well as the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly elections together with the Left parties as and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
This was in stark contrast to what he and his party stood for in the previous general elections where JSP supported the BJP-Telugu Desam Party (TDP) combine. The recent news of JSP and the BJP entering an alliance where the two will jointly fight all future elections in some way completes the circle for Kalyan by bringing him back to where he stood at the start of his independent political career.
The younger brother of Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi, Kalyan’s public life resembles the script of a typical Andhra potboiler. In a short span, Kalyan’s political resume features stints with parties across the political spectrum, and the ease with which he oscillates across boundaries is somewhat unmatched in this day and age.
Even though many might not have heard his name taken in the same breath as his brother Chiranjeevi, or Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth and Vijaykanth, Kalyan enjoys a massive fan following that is as passionate and committed as any of the politically-minded southern superstars. Kalyan started acting in the mid-1990s, and in 2008 forayed into politics as the president of the youth wing of Chiranjeevi’s political party Praja Rajam Party.
When Chiranjeevi merged Prajya Rajyam with the Congress in 2011, Kalyan appeared at sea for a brief period. It might have had to do with the realisation that being second to his brother in their political party was one thing, but being one of the many such people in the Congress was an entirely different ballgame.
Kalyan emerged from the shadows of his brother in 2014 with his own political outfit the Jana Sena Party. He met the then NDA prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, and pitched for the BJP-TDP in the Telugu speaking states of Andhra and Telangana. He drew massive crowds during the course of the campaigning and was committed to opposing the Congress on every issue.
But a few years later, he changed his stance and, by 2018, openly expressed his displeasure at the way things had played with the NDA. Echoing the sentiments of Chandrababu Naidu, Kalyan joined the chorus about the NDA failing to fulfill its poll promises such as not awarding special status to Andhra Pradesh.
Growing anti-TDP sentiment in the state also could have led Kalyan to fancy his chances in the 2019 Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections. He started exerting pressure on the BJP in the months leading up to the general elections. Kalyan took a calculated risk when he chose to side with BSP and the Left-leaning parties in last year’s Lok Sabha elections.
However, the results were far from what he would have liked. Kalyan’s decision to “bring together all like-minded people who feel the pain” to take his fight forward with the then ruling TDP and the challenger in the form of the YSR Congress fell flat. On counting day, 23 May, 2019, JSP, contesting 140 seats in the Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Assembly, won only one seat. The BJP, that won 2 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014, failed to win any and also lost the four state legislative Assembly seats that it won in 2014.
Six months after the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kalyan gave the first indication of scripting a turn around. Touring the Rayalaseema area in December 2019, Kalyan mentioned that although he had differed with the BJP over the issue of the Special Category Status (SCS) of Andhra Pradesh, he had never distanced himself from the party. This was as clear as Kalyan could get to suggest his inclination towards BJP after practically being on the same page with BSP, a party that fought the 2019 elections on an ‘anti-Modi’ and ‘anti-BJP’ plank.
For all practical purposes, the writing on the wall is quite clear for Kalyan as well as the BJP. Kalyan’s alliance with the BJP appears to stem from the fact that by the next state Assembly elections in 2024, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy would be fighting anti-incumbency and some of his sheen would have worn off.
In an atmosphere where voters could be vary of both TDP and YSR Congress, Kalyan automatically becomes the ‘challenger.’ In such a scenario, he would like the backing of the BJP, which would also be traveling in the same boat. From the BJP’s perspective, any alliance with JSP is a win-win because it’s Kalyan who’s making an about-turn, and any embarrassment that could originate would be targeted more towards Kalyan and his party.
People generally tend to overlook and even forget what happened with any political party or its leader yesterday as long as it seems to do what they consider the right thing today. Much like how the voter isn’t bothered about certain events from Kalyan’s chequered public life: for example brandishing a revolver in public ostensibly to express his disapproval of Sreeja, his niece and Chiranjeevi’s daughter, marrying an engineering graduate Shirish Bhardwaj, they might not care about his flip-flops when it comes to the BJP. In politics, much like popular films, the timing makes all the difference and as a matinee idol, Kalyan knows a thing or two about making an entry.
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