A fortnight into the year 2020, the JanaSena (JSP) announced a formal alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state of Andhra Pradesh. BJP lacked a visible leadership in the state whereas JSP had a popular face in Pawan Kalyan, the JSP’s founder president.
The alliance seemed natural because around the 2014 elections, Telugu Desam Party, JSP and BJP had entered into an alliance; it had yielded commendable results as well. However, after differences with the central government led by the BJP over the special category status, TDP left the alliance. With a national face in Modi and government in the centre, the JSP found a decent ally in BJP and an alliance was charted between the two.
JanaSena’s voter base largely focuses on two demographics. First, the Kapu community to which Pawan Kalyan himself belongs. Second, a significant chunk of youth voters. These demographic groups are often divided and are rarely able to yield electoral victory all by themselves, therefore, it seems more than obvious that the BJP will have to find another partner to complete its equation of successful caste arithmetic. The BJP has tried to further cement its hold over the Kapu vote bank through its appointment of Kapu faces at the state-level.
Everything seemed normal at first. And even now, the alliance seems natural as both – Pawan Kalyan and the BJP leadership give ideological preference to nationalism. However, recent events have compelled voters to take a second look at what is going on in the state.
In the neighbouring state of Telangana, the capital city of Hyderabad is set to go for civic polls for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. JanaSena announced its candidates for 60 wards of the 150 wards and an alliance could not have been forged with the BJP. Further, mixed signals from the BJP camp and statements from Pawan Kalyan indicated that the alliance in Telangana was not on cards. Few days later, on 20 November there was much pomp and show declaring Pawan Kalyan as the star campaigner for the BJP as JSP had decided not to contest.
Pawan Kalyan met with Union Minister G. Kishan Reddy. Subsequently, it was announced that JSP would be in an alliance with the BJP even when the assembly polls are conducted. News channels reported that Pawan Kalyan wanted the development of not just Hyderabad but also of Telangana under the aegis of Prime Minister Modi. He recalled that in 2014 he had campaigned for the BJP without any conditions. Time and again, Pawan Kalyan has repeatedly stressed the importance of PM Modi’s leadership. Thus, indicating a slight bit of resentment towards the state leadership.
The fact that the BJP lacks a popular face both, in Andhra Pradesh as well as Telangana goes on to show its clever use of Kalyan. As for Pawan Kalyan, he has the potential to get BJP+JSP alliance at least in the opposition benches, which would be no mean feat in itself. In return, he would at least become a face more prominent than ever before with some lucrative position whether in opposition or the government.
Interestingly, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has decided to ignore the Indian National Congress in the upcoming election and launch its campaign to suppress the BJP in Telangana. Thus, further corroborating the BJP’s ambition to emerge as a champion in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. To add to this, Somu Veerraju has stated that BJP will repeat its Dubbaki by-poll performance in Tirupati by-election as well. BJP co-in-charge of Andhra Pradesh Sunil Deodhar has already termed the ensuing election as a litmus test for the BJP’s expansion in the AP.
That’s not all. Closer home in Andhra Pradesh, the BJP’s ever-changing stance on the three-capitals issue and murmurs about the YSRCP joining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) shows that the BJP is ambitious. Perhaps, it wants not only Pawan Kalyan but wants to tie-up with the YSRCP to get into the corridors of power. One thing is clear, the BJP will ally with YSRCP if need be. Critical statements from Pawan Kalyan in the recent past about the YSRCP’s three-capital plans further complicate matters. Some statements include its strong message for the YSRCP to respect its commitment to Amaravati since Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had supported it when he was part of the opposition and its recent objection to closure of the civil enclave of Visakhapatnam airport. Pawan Kalyan even met farmers and women in the Amaravati capital region a few days back to understand their grievances. As for the YSRCP, it has no plans to shelve the three-capitals plan. To appease both, YSRCP and JSP, the BJP will not object to the YSRCP’s plans but at the same time stand with the farmers of Amaravati.
If the YSRCP ends up joining the NDA, it will be really hard to keep the JSP and YSRCP together under one umbrella. For now the friction between BJP’s state-level leaders and JSP’s Pawan Kalyan might be thwarted by PM Modi’s overarching presence but the YSRCP’s admission into the NDA will eventually lead to an undeniable dent. JSP will have to decide whether what started off in 2020 as a close-knit alliance will continue in 2021 and beyond. As for the voters, they still haven’t forgotten Pawan Kalyan’s critique of BJP from 2018 wherein he stated, “the image of the BJP in the state is completely negative. Nobody in his right frame of mind will partner with the BJP at this time.” Will the JSP also merge with some national player like Pawan Kalyan’s brother Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP)? Only time will tell.