Ending months of suspense, Telugu cinema star Chiranjeevi announced the launch of his yet-to-be-named political party on Sunday in Hyderabad, dramatically altering political equations in the key electoral battle state of Andhra Pradesh.
With his much dithered-about political entry, Chiranjeevi has followed the tradition established by yesteryear superstars such as Tamil Nadu’s M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) and Andhra Pradesh’s N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) who, near the end of their long film careers as heroes, launched successful regional parties in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Since then, many movie stars in the South have been constantly called upon by their fans to make a transition into politics. In his mid-50s, Chiranjeevi, who goes by just one name, remains a raging phenomenon in Telugu cinema with a fan following, particularly among the youth and the urban voters, that transcends two generations.
From his public pronouncements, it is clear that Chiranjeevi wants to go to people with a positive and pro-poor agenda. All initial indications are that he is likely to steer clear of mud-slinging and is hoping he can appeal to voters fed up of the ever falling standards in public life and political discourse.
Especially in Andhra Pradesh, there is a palpable sense of disgust over the allegations and counter-allegations by the ruling Congress and the main opposition, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), and the extent of corruption that has pervaded the political classes. Chiranjeevi, by taking the moral highground and harping on clean politics, is clearly hoping to appeal to this section of society.
But will Chiranjeevi repeat the success story of NTR who easily rode to power in the state within nine months of founding the TDP? With assembly elections in the state some nine months away, it is unlikely Chiranjeevi can pull off that feat in the state’s political context.
So, what prompted him to take the plunge after months of dragging his feet?
From all indications, Chiranjeevi is not a man in a hurry and seems to be patient enough to wait for his moment of glory. Further, he perhaps calculates that his party would still be relevant and may have a stake in a future state government if the next assembly elections, due for 2009, throw up a hung House and his party has the crucial numbers to prop up a government. With his party likely to make strong inroads into the coastal regions of the state, the possibility of the assembly elections throwing up a hung verdict has sharply increased.
In addition, as the United Progressive Alliance government’s trust vote win showed, even small parties are likely to matter greatly in government formation at the Centre. Therefore, for Chiranjeevi, winning and losing elections is not a zero-sum game. He perhaps calculates that even in defeat, he can emerge a winner.
Besides his movie appeal, Chiranjeevi has a strong following in his Kapu caste, a major caste in the coastal region of the state. Kapus, and many of their sub-castes, have had no major political power so far in a state often dominated by either Reddys or Kammas and, so, are widely expected to throw their weight behind the film star in a bid to secure power.
Chiranjeevi will still find it isn’t going to be a cakewalk. The Congress government, led by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, is popular for its implementation of several populist measures. Meanwhile, even though it is considered to be one of the most corrupt governments ever in the state—corruption hasn’t yet emerged as an electoral issue.
If Chiranjeevi won’t cast stones, it is unlikely the voters will make this an issue on their own when it’s time to vote.
Meanwhile, TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu appears well prepared to take on Chiranjeevi’s challenge. Naidu had undertaken a 110-day-long mee kosam yatra (for you journey) that has just ended during which he relentlessly tried to woo farmers, youth and the backward castes by making a host of promises that leave little else for anyone to try and give away.
In addition, Naidu has lined up the star-studded family of NTR to counter the glamour quotient of Chiranjeevi. Some of these clan members are popular film stars themselves with huge appeal among the rural voters.
The Telengana region is likely to be a bug bear for Chiranjeevi with the emotive separate Telengana issue taking precedence over his movie appeal. Naidu has nearly firmed up a pre-poll alliance with the former Congress party ally, the Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which in turn has faced some reverses in recent byelections in Telengana region.
The TDP-TRS alliance is a formidable alliance and is likely to prove successful in the Telengana region.
True to his superhero films, Chiranjeevi will have to overcome a lot of hurdles to emerge victorious. This is one climax that Chiranjeevi’s fans are waiting to see with bated breath.
To read all of G.V.L. Narasimha Rao’s earlier columns go to www.livemint.com/thebottomline
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org