Pawan Kalyan's Inconsistent Political Agenda Might Make Janasena Party Come Undone

Pawan Kalyan’s political party, the Janasena Party has no clear agenda and has been inconsistent in taking concrete steps. It looks unlikely that the political outfit can succeed solely based on Pawan Kalyan’s on-screen prowess. 

Film actors in the South Indian cinema industry tend to enjoy a larger-than-life image. Right from the emergence of MG Ramachandran (MGR) in Tamil Nadu and Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) in Andhra Pradesh, and the entry of screenplay writer and poet M Karunanidhi, there has been a periodical entry of one celebrated actor or the other into politics. Recently, Rajianikanth and Kamal Haasan, also made announcements about their political futures. As artistes, they enjoy an exclusive place in the minds and hearts of millions of fans. Rajinikanth's moves and statements, in particular, are being closely monitored, especially by seasoned political stalwarts, as they see a threat (or a potential ally) in the superstar, who can make or break existing parties and governments. In addition to the Tamil and Telugu film industries, this trend has also captured the imagination of those from Kannada and Malayalam industries as well.

This is not to say that actors from the Hindi film industry or other languages like Bengali, Marathi and Bhojpuri have not nurtured political aspirations. Quite a few have forayed into the rough and tumble of politics. However, there is a fundamental difference from the actors of those regions and those hailing from the south. It has been only stars from the south who have actually floated political parties. From the Hindi film industry, it was only Dev Anand and IS Johar who floated parties, ostensibly to exploit their individual popularity and capitalise on the anti-Congress wave in the post-Emergency period.

The successes of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) have propelled many a celluloid personality to contemplate emulating the trailblazing trends of pioneers like MGR and NTR and establish their own political parties. For them, a vision for the masses or policies were not important; the roles they essayed were their ticket to getting an identity that was acceptable to the movie-goers. The likes of Vijayakanth, SarathKumar, Upendra and Chiranjeevi, each of whom ranked at the very top with spectacular hits and fan-following, belong to this genre. It is an indication of the mature mindset of the electorate that none of them could rise to the dizzy heights of MGR, NTR, Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa, all of whom established themselves as effective chief ministers and regional satraps that no national party could ignore, particularly in the era of coalitions.

Telugu film industry’s “Power Star” Pawan Kalyan (and Chiranjeevi’s younger brother), with an extraordinarily high fan following has always managed to bring an audience to the theatres like no other. Wanting to use this sway to his advantage and driven by political ambitions, he established the Janasena Party in 2014. Contrary to Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party, Pawan Kalyan did not contest the elections. 

Let us consider the political ideologies of Pawan Kalyan, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Rajinikanth hinted at right-wing leanings, while Kamal Haasan is likely to lean towards the left. While announcing his political innings Rajinikanth indicated his trust and belief in right-wing politics. He said: “There is a need for a political change. The system needs a change. We need a politics that is truthful, straightforward and clean. We need a kind of politics that is devoid of the influence of caste and religion. We need ‘spiritual politics’. That is my goal and wish.” (Hindu 2017) Rajinikanth’s rapport with Narendra Modi is quite well known, especially considering the praise he heaped on Modi in the wake of demonetisation. Perhaps the “spiritual politics” in his speech is indicative of a possible future alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

As for Kamal Haasan, it is rather clear from his meetings with the chief ministers of Kerala and Delhi, that he is not going to toe the line of the ruling party at the centre and any state. Kamal Haasan has declared: “My colour is definitely not saffron”(Economic Times 2017). 

However, Pawan Kalyan's political ideology is inconsistent. 


Janasena’s Blurred Vision

Kalyan’s Janasena Party has neither subscribed to the BJP's politics nor has he come up with an alternative agenda that has been able to garner attention from people. The Janasena had no hesitation in supporting the BJP–TDP alliance in Andhra Pradesh, although at times they made soft criticisms against the TDP. However, the Modi government at the centre was never criticised, not even on a single count.

Founded on 14 March 2014, the Janasena is yet to come up with a comprehensive agenda, policy or vision. Even on the official party website, only three issues are listed: Special Status to Andhra Pradesh State; the Uddanam Kidney Issue and Aqua Food Park.[1]

With just a launch announcement and no constructive moves from the party, it has not truly made its presence felt.

Even on issues such as reservations, Kalyan has made flaky statements. While on the one hand he spoke of seeing a day when there are no reservations, he also supported the inclusion of Kapu castes into the other Backward Classes category. Kalyan’s reaction to the “Justice for Rohith Movement” was made one whole year after the tragic incident took place and sparked a nationwide debate on higher education institutions and the prevelance of caste discrimination. Kalyan’s stand on reservations andthe  emancipation of Dalits is not very different from the stated opinions of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or other right-wing parties.

Janasena Party ideology, gathered from Kalyan’s Twitter presence, is fairly oblivious to the question of caste. In the case of Vemula, Kalyan criticised the BJP’s role and blamed the suicide only on pressure from the state, invisibilising the role of caste equations and vulnerability that drove him to suicide (Hindu 2016).


2019 and the Road Ahead

With the 2019 assembly and general elections around the corner, all political parties in Andhra Pradesh, along with the Janasena Party have started on their campaigns aiming to get into power. Key contenders for the prime position, the TDP and the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) are using their full strength to attract voters. The state has been neglected for the past four prime years of the initial rule. The revamped promise of special status to the Andhra Pradesh state according to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act and promises made by the BJP have come to the forefront again and the YSRCP is strongly banking on this issue to put up a strong fight against the TDP.

This has put the TDP in an awkward position, as they have had to give ultimatums to their ally in the centre, the BJP. The BJP’s reluctance in granting special status for the state of Andhra Pradesh caused the TDP to withdraw from the National Democratic Party alliance. While this political upheaval was churning in the state, Kalyan’s Janasena, along with the support of political parties and retired IAS officers formed a Joint Fact-Finding Committee (JFFC) to investigate the fund allocations from the centre. The report found many discrepancies and that there are partialities in allocating funds to the state (New Indian Express 2018). The Janasena should have led the movement with all the political parties in the form of Joint Action Committee as planned before the formation of the JFFC. Jaya Prakash Narayan of the Lok Satta Party, who was part of the JFFC mentioned that Kalyan lacked the spirit to continue the movement further for the special status issue. Jayaprakash Narayan quit this committee and formed his own committee (New Indian Express 2018).

The Janasena’s march (Padayatra) for the special state status for Andhra Pradesh (After the meetings in Tirupati, Kakinada and Ananthapur, which were the first politically active moves of the Janasena) along with the communist parties on 6 April 2018 attracted many youngsters to take to the streets in support of them. If one observes his post-march press conference or any of his speeches, Kalyan takes a soft approach against the centre and highlights the failures of the state government. His passive or soft approach towards the BJP may be an indication that the Janasena might be looking to join the NDA alliance for the 2019 elections to form a government in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The Janasena along with the BJP and YSRCP’s support could easily form an alliance in the state showing the failures of the TDP. This whole plot might be part of the “Operation Dravida”[2] where the BJP is aiming at forming its coalition governments in this states acting in the capacity of a kingmaker.

Will Kalyan’s on-screen persona have any impact on his political future? With the rise of social media, and its profound impact, it will be difficult for “reel-stars” to elevate themselves as real-life heroes for whom social justice means more than anything else in life. Social media followers are mature enough to read between the lines. And it is becoming more apparent that the mass appeal of film celebrities no longer works as a vote magnet, irrespective of whether it is Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan or Pawan Kalyan. Perhaps, MGR and NTR were the first and the last in this unique league.

We are indebted to an anonymous reviewer of this paper for providing insightful and sharp comments and providing directions for additional work which has resulted in this paper. Without the reviewer’s supportive insights, this paper would not have been possible.

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