Hyderabad: Many of his movies portrayed him as a larger-than-life hero who was always on the side of the small people or the so-called common man but Telugu actor Chiranjeevi, who recently announced the formation of a regional political party, Praja Rajyam, isn’t in favour of long-term populist schemes because these could prove disastrous for the economy.
Chiranjeevi is trying to emulate the late N.T. Rama Rao, founder of the Telugu Desam Party and a former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, and the late M.G. Ramachandran, founder of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Rao and Ramachandran, who too went on to become chief minister of his state, were, like Chiranjeevi, iconic movie stars with a huge fan following.
While actors have traditionally found the going good in politics in south India, their ability to transform celluloid popularity into votes would appear to be waning a bit. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, actor Vijayakanth, a peer of Chiranjeevi, hasn’t had much of an impact with his party, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam.
Chiranjeevi, however, is adept at speaking the new political language. In an interview, he says his party will strive to achieve a balance between the industrial and agricultural economies; support the formation of small states within existing states if people want this; and be part of a coalition at the federal level to protect and foster the interests of Andhra Pradesh.
Why did you decide to enter politics?
For the past several years, I have been toying with the idea of giving back to society that has offered me so much and made me what I am today. Accordingly, I started contributing to society in a limited way through blood and eye banks, which, however, did not satisfy me much. Meanwhile, the expectations of people from me have grown significantly and they went on mounting pressure on me to take up a larger role towards social service. After years of elaborate deliberations on their appeal, I have finally arrived at a conclusion that serving the public is a life time opportunity and denying it may be a major blunder on my part.
Do you think there is political vacuum in Andhra Pradesh?
People from all walks of life have been looking for a major change and they found in me the sincerity, commitment and ability to bring about that change in their lives. There has been tremendous voluntary response from the public offering support to the idea of my political entry. I hope to live up to their expectations.
Politically correct: Film star and Praja Rajyam president Chiranjeevi. He is impressed by parties in Tamil Nadu that support governments at the Centre and win major industrial projects for their state. Bharath Sai / Mint
Tell us what you will and can do even if you are not elected to power, and what you will do if elected?
Irrespective of whether elected to power or not, our party will continue efforts towards solving the problems of people. Coming into power will anyhow enable us to strive at addressing all the problems of public in an effective way. If not elected to power, we will build up pressure on the rulers and make them solve the issues. It is a matter of either us solving the issues on our own by coming into power or making the rulers do that through pressure building initiatives and public movements if not elected to power.
How are you going to achieve the objective of social justice, which is your party’s central idea?
To begin with, it will be done through political empowerment, through offering political opportunities to all those who were deprived (of it) for ages. Also, we will look into the economic empowerment of all the needy sections of the society through upliftment programmes.
How exactly does all this fit in with what you have done so far? You have admitted tainted politicians and people who have been charged with graft.
Thousands of people have been showing interest in joining our party and have been declaring on their own joining the party, day in and day out. A good number of them include leaders and the cadre of existing political parties, both regional and national, who are not happy with the policies of their respective parties. Among them, there could be some with a tainted track record. We will not stop them from joining us and serving the party and public.
However, we will definitely adopt highly effective screening methodologies when it comes to offering them party tickets to contest in the elections. We will ensure that no criminal or persons with tainted track record will be given party ticket to contest the elections.
What is your take on populist schemes and subsidies, which appear very popular with the current political dispensation?
I am of the view that populist schemes offer only short term benefits to the public. Prolonged implementation of populist schemes may become a burden on the economy and people may turn over-dependent on such schemes. Instead, we prefer empowering the public and enabling them to become self-reliant through effective implementation of livelihood programmes. While we are not against populist schemes per se, and favour their implementation only for shorter periods to address the immediate problems of the public, we are against using populist schemes in the electoral battle. At the same time, we will not abolish populist schemes immediately after coming to power. We will take a call on continuing them only after a thorough study and after empowering the public and making them come out of their dependence on such schemes.
You have opposed the use of agricultural land for special economic zones in the past. What are your economic policies?
We are not against industrialization or special economic zones per se. We are only opposing industrialization that comes at the cost of agricultural economy. We are against indiscriminate allocation of fertile agricultural lands to SEZs and industrial estates. We will support allocation of adequate barren lands for industrial purposes.
On (being) elected to power, we will review the land allocation policies to industry accordingly. We are against the government acting as a broker and acquiring agricultural land for the industry. We will however, not oppose (it) if the farmers sell their land in favour of industry voluntarily without any kind of coercive action.
Coalitions seem to have become a must, both at the national and the state levels in India. What’s your position on them?
Our party is not averse to forging alliances with either regional or national parties at an appropriate time either before or after the elections. We will support the coalition government at the Centre keeping in mind the interests of Andhra Pradesh.
Here, I should say that I am broadly inspired and impressed by the political parties in Tamil Nadu that keep supporting the coalition governments at the Centre and successfully keep bagging major industrial and infrastructure projects for their state.
What do you think of smaller and new states?
I have observed that none of the newly formed smaller states has achieved the targeted or projected economic growth so far. However, our party will support the formation of small states if people strongly desire so.
You and your party have steered clear of taking a stand on sensitive issues such as statehood for Telangana, the definition of scheduled castes, and Maoists. When can we expect some clarity on these?
We plan to take a call on such sensitive issues only after thorough deliberations with people at large and intellectuals in particular. We plan to begin our roadshows sometime by the end of this month that will last for around three months or so to cover the entire state. We should be in a position to arrive at some kind of clarity over these sensitive issues, sometime by early next year, well before the state elections.
What proportion of your party’s tickets will go to freshers and fans, especially in the backdrop of migrations from existing political parties?
We will have a well-balanced mix of experienced people and freshers when it comes to offering party tickets for elections. The broad idea so far is to have around 20% of experienced candidates and around 80% of freshers with a variation of plus or minus 5% or so.