It was his second public meeting in less than three weeks. And Pawan Kalyan, Telugu hero and chief of the Jana Sena was clear in naming the villain – the BJP, who, he accused of “giving two stale laddoos” to the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Pawan or Power Star, as he is popularly known, supported the BJP’s alliance with Chandrababu Naidu in 2014 – a winning combination.
But of late, he has publicly derided them for failing to confer “special status” on Andhra Pradesh after the region of Telangana was carved out as its own state a little over two years ago.
His first public meeting on the issue was held in the temple town of Tirupati late last month. “It is upto Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu if he wants to accept stale laddoos. But he cannot put our self-respect and honour at stake,” he thundered in Kakinada in the East Godavari district. It was here in 1998, he dramatically reminded his huge audience, that the BJP, announced that it was in favour of splitting Andhra Pradesh, but in 2014 promised special status to the state to compensate for the loss of Telangana and the prosperous software precinct of Hyderabad.
Special status entitles a state to vast financial assistance and tax rebates from the centre. Earlier this week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that Andhra would get a “special package” that parallels all the benefits that come with “special category state” status – but the tag won’t apply. That’s partly because the centre is following new stricter guidelines about financial assistance to states; also, it has to guard against handouts to special states at the cost of others that are not in this category.
Pawan, star of hits like Gabbar Singh, Jalsa, Badri and Khushi, is also younger brother of mega-actor Chiranjeevi, who set up his own political party in August 2008 but later joined the Congress. The 45-year-old reminded the people that he had taken on his family to support the BJP and Mr Naidu in the last election.
A decision he has said he regrets. The actor said that Andhra Pradesh has been “stabbed twice” – in the stomach, by the Congress, which announced its bifurcation; and in the back by the BJP and Mr Naidu, who vowed it would get special status.
There was drama in spades. Fans threw red towels at him that he sportingly donned with a flourish around his neck .
As much as he professes to his movement being for the people, his motives remain unclear. Critics say he is struggling to recapture political legitimacy and relevance. Some in the BJP say he’s being churlish because he hasn’t been given much importance by the government. Tomorrow, a bandh or strike has been called by the Left and other opposition parties like Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress to protest against what they describe as the betrayal of Andhra.
“It is upto you to participate or not. I feel it is the MPs who you voted for who should protest and stall parliament. Not ordinary people who need to work and earn a livelihood,” he said.