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Of The Masses
Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi's political baptism was meant to be a Makar Sankranti (January 14) special. But with the dark clouds of a possible mid-term poll clearing up, the star has decided to go easy. The much-awaited debut, it now appears, will be during the Ugadi festival in April. While the exact date is still a secret, one thing is clear—Chiranjeevi is taking the neta role very seriously.
A fortnight ago, the actor held a press briefing to which sundry editors were invited. He was still playing coy, only going so far as to say that he needed 2-3 months before making any announcement. It was left to brother-in-law Allu Aravind to drum up the drama. "We are on the platform, but that does not mean we will board any train. We will board a train that takes us to our destination," he ominously announced.
The actor's supporters have been bandying about 'Mana Desam' (Our Land) as a possible name for their party with the rising sun as its symbol. While Chiranjeevi is no stranger to politics—he's been wooed by almost every party in the state, the TDP, Congress, CPI, CPI(M)—it is the recent "clarion call" of his own Kapu community that has set the ball rolling. A veteran film-maker who's directed Chiranjeevi in some early hits says the megastar is not keen on the caste tag since Kapus along with associate castes constitute a meagre 10 per cent of the state population. Besides, Kapus are predominant only in five districts—East and West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur and Prakasam. When N.T. Rama Rao made his stunning political entry in 1982, it was Telugu pride that was his slogan. It was much later that the Kamma caste tag attached itself to his TDP.
Chiranjeevi too realises that his success lies in his appeal to all castes and communities. Efforts have been made, TDP sources say, to woo away some of their Kamma leaders like Yerran Naidu, E. Dayakar Rao, Tummala Nageswara Rao and Manda Venkateswara Rao. The Telangana issue would also be top-most in the mind. The Chiranjeevi Warangal Fans Association has made it clear that it would support him on a political platform only if statehood is on the agenda.
While the Congress has been downplaying Chiranjeevi's entry, its MP from Narsapur, Chegondi Hariram Jogaiah, caused ripples recently when he said the people were eager to see the actor as the next CM. "All parties have lost their morals. People are looking for a person with a clean image, and Chiranjeevi fills the role perfectly," he said. The state Congress was quick to censure the MP.
Former Telugu Desam minister Kodela Sivaprasad is one of those who thinks that Chiranjeevi would find it difficult to do an ntr. "The mythological figures he played onscreen greatly added to ntr's charisma...people saw him as a god. Chiranjeevi does not have that kind of presence. Besides, the political vacuum of '82 does not exist now," says Sivaprasad. The TDP leader also says that Kapus—now with the Congress—may desert the party after Chiru's entry. However, Allu Aravind says, "Political space is no issue. There's space in the hearts of the people for Chiranjeevi...that's what matters."
The machinery to create that space is already rolling. Last month, Chiranjeevi's actor brothers Pavan Kalyan and Nagendra Babu invited Kapu leaders to the family farmhouse on the city's outskirts to discuss the actor's political future. cwc member and MP Gade Venkataswamy had once remarked that Chiranjeevi's political entry ought to be like a storm and not a gentle breeze. A storm is what Chiru is also hoping for.