Why Chiranjeevi is the Most Named Indian Film Personality of 2022

Analysts say the coveted award for Chiranjeevi is part of the BJP’s strategy to pressure his younger brother and Jana Sena party leader Pawan Kalyan to be with the saffron camp.

Chiranjeevi at the ‘Godfather’ trailer launch in Mumbai on October 1; (Photo: AFP | Sujit Jaiswal)

By Amarnath K. Menon: ‘Megastar’, as Konidela Chiranjeevi is known in Tollywood (Telugu film industry), is an accomplished artist with an impressive track record spanning almost four decades during which he starred in over 150 films and gained wide recognition. Then Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur announcing on November 21 Chiranjeevi’s choice for the coveted honor of Indian Film Personality of 2022 at the 53rd International Indian Film Festival ( IFFI) was a welcome surprise for Telugu moviegoers.

Coincidentally, the honor comes a day after Chiranjeevi admitted he was not cut out for politics. On November 20, speaking at an alumni association meeting at YNM College in Hyderabad, he explained why he failed in politics. “I can’t conclude something if it doesn’t come from my heart. If you want to shine in politics, you shouldn’t be sensitive,” Chiranjeevi said. “In politics, you have to verbally attack others and be prepared to tolerate what others say. You have to be cheeky. At some point, I started wondering if I really needed it.

This is after Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) played a spoiler role in Andhra Pradesh Assembly polls in 2009 and subsequently became an ally of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA ), merging with Congress; Chiranjeevi was even a minister in the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh.

Yet, while admitting his limitations in politics, Chiranjeevi certified his youngest brother, “Power Star” and the founding leader of the Jana Sena Party (JSP), Pawan Kalyan, as fit for politics.

Chiranjeevi’s comments and choice for the award came barely a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set up with Pawan Kalyan for about 30 minutes at the INS Chola guesthouse in Visakhapatnam on November 11, during a a visit to the port city. Modi had previously met Chiranjeevi at the July 4 unveiling of a statue of freedom fighter Alluri Sitharama Raju in Bhimavaram.

Modi and Kalyan have known each other since the run-up to the 2014 general elections and the Andhra Pradesh Assembly polls. The JSP leader campaigned with Modi and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chairman N. Chandrababu Naidu against YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s rival YSR Congress. While the alliance won in the 2014 elections, the BJP-JSP alliance faced a near-total rout in the next Assembly polls held in 2019, allowing the YSR Congress to take power with Jagan Reddy as chief minister. Kalyan, who did not personally contest the 2014 assembly elections, lost both of his constituencies in 2019 while his party managed to win one seat.

Still, Pawan Kalyan seems determined to do what Chiranjeevi promised but could not hold in Andhra politics in the next Assembly polls (2024). During their meeting, Modi appears to have advised Kalyan not to rush into an alliance with the TDP this time and instead continue with the BJP or go it alone. The prime minister also reportedly assured that the BJP and the Union government would support him in all his endeavors.

However, after this meeting, the JSP leader was virtually silent on alliances, although he continued his vehement attacks on Jagan Reddy’s government. He may be hesitant about whether he should follow Modi’s advice or his own conscience. Analysts say the BJP is keen to make the most of it and that choosing Chiranjeevi for the coveted film award was part of the strategy to pressure the younger brother.

While admitting his limitations in handling the turmoil of politics, Chiranjeevi also maintained that his brother was adept at taking on political rivals and that Kalyan would one day achieve his goal of becoming big in politics. “You are all with him. With all of your blessings, he will one day reach a top position,” he said. Last month, Chiranjeevi said his support would definitely be with Kalyan and hoped people would give him an opportunity in the future. “Since childhood I have known him for his honesty and commitment. It has not been polluted anywhere. We need such a leader,” the ‘Megastar’ said of the ‘Power Star’.

The BJP also sees Kalyan as a potential alternative given the likelihood that the TDP’s electoral prospects are dwindling. Internally, however, the chair of the JSP’s Political Affairs Committee, Nadendla Manohar, is skeptical about the impact of her party’s move away from the TDP. Manohar and other JSP leaders have suggested that their party leader make his own decision instead of relying on the BJP, which has only a token presence in the state. Some of them claim that the BJP is trying to make its presence felt at the expense of the JSP.

Tollywood’s “Power Star” has star power, but that alone is insufficient to counter the YSR legacy enjoyed by Jagan Reddy or the political cunning and organizational skills of Chandrababu Naidu. Pawan Kalyan intends to tour all 175 Assembly constituencies to take stock of people’s grievances and target the YSR Congress government. But Kalyan’s Jana Vani program is suspended. Whether to go with the BJP, as in 2019, or team up with the TDP and the two communist parties, or go it alone is a dilemma he is unlikely to resolve anytime soon.

For now, the JSP, like Chiranjeevi’s PRP which had the support of the Kapu caste cohort of the family in addition to the disillusioned youth, can count on similar support. But that’s only enough to be a spoiler in the polls. Kalyan’s political ambitions and aggressiveness are far greater than those of Chiranjeevi. After staying away from the electoral race in 2014 and tasting its challenges in 2019, he will run again, hoping to create a surprise – 2024 is likely to be a make-or-break election for him.

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