There has been much talk and confusion about possible alliances to upset the ruling YSRCP in the upcoming Assembly elections in 2024. Film actor-cum-politician Pawan Kalyan has been vocally advocating for Opposition parties to close ranks and avoid splitting anti-incumbency votes.
This electoral logic seems good in theory but what about practical considerations?
For instance, how will the Opposition parties distribute seats among themselves? Rumour has it that Pawan Kalyan is demanding at least 30 Assembly and five Lok Sabha seats. Is the TDP willing to part with a substantial number of seats to a party that polled just 5.54 percent of votes in 2019 and won only in one constituency, with the Jana Sena chief himself losing from the two seats he contested.
This performance is not unimpressive for a party that was facing elections for the first time. But the performance of Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena’s is hugely underwhelming considering that his elder brother Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) managed to garner roughly 18 percent of the vote and win 18 seats in combined Andhra Pradesh in 2009.
Moreover, in practice, there is another side to the logic of Opposition unity, something Pawan Kalyan will find unpalatable. It stems from the understanding that if the entire Opposition is uniting to defeat the incumbent leader, it is an indication that he or she is doing at least something right. For instance, this was seen when there were similar frantic calls to unite against Narendra Modi for the 2019 general elections.
Related: TDP-Jana Sena alliance all but sealed after Pawan-Naidu meeting
Jana Sena’s borrowed tunes and alliances
But to go back to a fundamental question: Do new political parties need to strike alliances to entrench themselves? What do they gain and lose by this strategy?
The Jana Sena’s journey thus far provides some insight into these matters.
Jana Sena was launched in March 2014, about a month prior to the Assembly elections that year.
Although Pawan Kalyan decided against directly contesting in the elections, he supported both Narendra Modi, for everybody wanted to ride the Modi wave, but also the TDP, because of Chandrababu Naidu’s “experience” over an amateur YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in matters of administration and governance which, he thought, were critical for the development of a newly-divided state.
Thus, Pawan Kalyan, the alleged kingmaker, found himself singing borrowed tunes from the BJP and TDP.
After the elections, Pawan Kalyan gradually distanced himself from Andhra’s ruling party. Although he was busy with the Jana Sena’s organisational matters, the real break occurred in 2016. In the aftermath of the violent Kapunadu-led agitation, the actor-politician was forced to address his Kapu brethren’s concerns.
With deft equivocation, he managed to straddle both sides of this reservation debate. Clearly, he did not want his fledgling political outfit to be branded as merely a caste-based party.
This calculation, along with Jana Sena’s alliance with the parliamentary Left and social justice parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for the 2019 Assembly elections, did not sit well with his emboldened Kapu brethren.
Once again, Pawan Kalyan found himself singing borrowed tunes of social justice and Left rhetoric. The disastrous fallout of this can be seen in the numbers Jana Sena garnered in the elections where even the Kapus, who account for roughly 15 percent of the electorate, did not rally behind the party.
In the aftermath of an ignominious defeat, Pawan Kalyan struck an alliance with the BJP. Given the BJP’s successful strategy of using social engineering for electoral gains and the party’s lack of a political face in Andhra Pradesh, joining hands with Pawan Kalyan to attract an already captive Kapu vote bank seemed a step in the right direction for the BJP.
But for the actor-politician, who had thus far sung borrowed tunes, the Jana Sena was unwittingly forced to carry the Hindutva baggage of the BJP. A case in point is Pawan’s brother Nagababu, a senior office-bearer in the party, professing his love for Nathuram Godse by calling him a true patriot, while the actor himself took up the Hindutva bogey of religious conversions against a Christian chief minister.
Maybe all this is part of the “BJP road map”, including Jana Sena’s dalliance with old partner TDP. Nonetheless, by seeking alliances, the Jana Sena has unnecessarily carried the political albatross of its alliance partners. And by doing this, it has squandered a crucial advantage that all new political outfits have — novelty.
Related: When Modi stonewalled Pawan’s talk of a three-way alliance
Where is the clarity?
It is true that his fans, who are also his party members and supporters, do not see these constant political shifts as a lost opportunity, for they throng to see him — the event or occasion or issue hardly matters.
However, for the rest of the electorate, such fickleness — from a party which began its journey by publishing a book ‘Ism’ (copies of which have miraculously disappeared from the internet) and from a leader whose own brother silently “merged” his the Praja Rajyam Party into the Congress Party — does not inspire much confidence or trust.
Where is the clarity? What does Pawan Kalyan’s party stand for?
In our current times of populist politics, answers to complicated political problems demand not just simplistic solutions, often seen in movies, but novel ones too. It is surprising that a popular film star has missed this logic.
Therefore, let me offer some unsolicited advice, in a similar vein to Pawan Kalyan’s filmy dialogue: Chettha ga unna kottha ga undali (Even if it is bad, let it be novel).
(These are the personal views of the author)