Film personalities have always played a big role in southern politics, writes V J M  Divakar

In southern states, films and film personalities have always cast their magic spell on the majority of people. That is the reason why Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MGR, Jayalalitha and NTR, after their successful innings in mainstream cinema, also made it big in politics. Circumstances prevailing then also played an important role in their success at the hustings. Similarly, unfavourable conditions made stars like Sivaji Ganesan, Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan fail in their attempts to make it big on the political scene.

Telugu matinee idol Chiranjeevi floated the Praja Rajyam Party in 2008 and contested the assembly elections in united Andhra Pradesh in 2009. He got only 18 of the total 294 assembly seats. He later merged his party with the Congress, became a Rajya Sabha member and a minister at the Centre.

Sibling act

Chiranjeevi’s brother and popular star Pawan Kalyan launched his party Jana Sena in the 2014 general elections in truncated Andhra Pradesh. He supported the BJP and TDP, which went on to form their governments at the Centre and state. In 2019, however, Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena contested on its own in AP and secured only one seat out of the 140 constituencies his party contested. He himself had contested from two seats and lost from both.

Now, the popular actor is supporting the BJP in the ongoing Tirupati Lok Sabha bypoll and campaigning for BJP candidate and ex-Karnataka Chief Secretary Ratna Prabha. Since the BJP and its leaders in AP are unable to counter Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP or N Chandrababu Naidu’s opposition Telugu Desam on special category status and privatisation of the Visakha Steel Plant issues, they are heavily banking on Pawan Kalyan to bring them victory in the byelection. The BJP’s in-charge for AP affairs Sunil Deodhar is hoping the recent success of the popular actor’s film Vakeel Saab, a remake of the Amitabh starrer Pink, will bring the saffron party success. Only the BJP can answer how the success of a film can help a candidate win elections.

Injured but protesting

If actor Pawan Kalyan is the talk of the town in AP, Jagan’s sister YS Sharmila is creating ripples in the media in neighbouring Telangana. She has announced that she will launch her political party in Hyderabad on July 8. On April 15, she sat on a two-day hunger strike, demanding government jobs for unemployed youth in Telangana. Police put an end to her hunger strike, arrested and later released her. In the melee, Sharmila suffered a wrist injury and is continuing her fast at her residence with a bandaged wrist.

An injured politician trying to earn sympathy is not something new in Telugu states or elsewhere. In 1984, on the first anniversary of N T Rama Rao’s Telugu Desam party, he was allegedly attacked by a youngster, Mallela Babji, in front of huge crowds at the Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad. During the hearing of the case, NTR himself attended the court and sought pardon for Babji. Babji was set free but he later committed suicide at a hotel room in Vijayawada.

Several opposition leaders, including NTR’s bête noire N Bhaskar Rao, had then termed the entire event as being stage-managed. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the then leader of the opposition in AP Assembly, was attacked with a button-knife at Vizag airport in the run-up to the 2019 assembly elections by one Srinivas Rao. One would thus wonder whether injuries have anything to do with success in politics.

Parties galore

Coming to Sharmila’s proposed political party, there have been similar attempts in the past to float political outfits. In united AP, leaders like N Bhaskar Rao floated the Prajasamya TDP; K E Krishnamurthy, the Jana Reddy and Mudragada Padmanabham, the Telugu Nadu Party; Vijayashanti's Telangana Talli, A Narendra's Telangana Sadhana Samithi, and P Indra Reddy's Jai Telangana Party, as will be recalled. There were a host of others who launched political outfits, only to wind them up. Leaders like Professor M Kodandaram launched the Telangana Jana Samithi and he has failed to make any impact.

At the national level too, several attempts have been made to launch political parties but not all succeeded. Regional parties achieved success only if they were based on mass issue or sentiment. The DMK and later, the AIADMK came to power and continue to draw their strength from the Dravidian movement.

Parties like the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party came into being on the issue of SCs, STs, minorities and BCs. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi was born out of the people’s movement for the formation of a separate Telangana. The TDP came to power appealing to the Telugu pride and sentiment. Parties like the CPI and CPM were born out of Communist ideology, while the AIMIM and Akali Dal are religion-based. The AAP rode to power on the issue of statehood for Delhi. The Shiv Sena consolidated its position on Marathi pride.

YS Sharmila’s party definitely does not fit into any of these categories. Yet she is bent upon launching her party.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Hyderabad.

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