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‘Pan-India fanbase, positive image’ — why BJP’s courting Tollywood stars in poll-bound Telangana

Shah met Junior NTR, Nadda met actor Nithin last month. BJP spokesperson says more meetings lined up, while TRS leader denies 'political vendetta' in ‘Brahmastra’ event cancellation.

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Hyderabad: The last-minute cancellation of a promotional event for Bollywood movie Brahmastra in Hyderabad is being linked to the growing rivalry between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) as the former attempts to make inroads in the southern state.

The event, which was supposed to take place last Friday at Ramoji Film City, was promoted by Tollywood star Junior N. T. Rama Rao, popularly known as Junior NTR, who met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Hyderabad in August.

The pre-release event was cancelled after the police denied permission citing inability to deploy heavy security at short notice amid Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations and law and order issues. A smaller press meet was held instead, attended by Junior NTR and ace director S. S. Rajamouli, whose father and renowned Telugu screenwriter V. Vijayendra Prasad is a member of Rajya Sabha.

Prasad is reportedly being taken on board to pen the story for Razakar Files — a film that the BJP is keen on ahead of next year’s assembly polls in Telangana. The screenwriter was one of the BJP nominees to the Rajya Sabha, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had congratulated him on his nomination.

In August, Shah had met media baron Ramoji Rao, who hails from the influential Kamma community. Rao is considered close to Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu, who is also a Kamma. The same month, BJP president J. P. Nadda met actor Nithin and former Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj in Hyderabad.

According to party sources, this is going to be a “continuous exercise” wherein the party’s top brass is expected to meet more celebrities in the coming weeks.

“This exercise of meeting celebrities or famous people has been there for a long time. Even in districts and mandals, we keep meeting well-recognised people. It’s more about networking. When a party maintains goodwill with different groups — be it fans or followers — it’s beneficial for the party,” BJP’s Telangana spokesperson Kishore Poreddy told ThePrint.

Although Shah’s meeting with Junior NTR was downplayed as a “courtesy meeting” as the Union Minister had appreciated the actor’s performance in the blockbuster movie RRR, political experts say the political aspect of the meeting cannot be ignored.

Junior NTR, the grandson of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and TDP founder N. T. Rama Rao, has always been a supporter of TDP and also campaigned for it in the past.

“Given the circumstances, there will be a suspicion that the event not getting permission could have something to do with the growing rivalry between KCR [Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao] and BJP. Although it is hard to say if that is the exact reason and even if it is not, that’s how BJP will project it,” political analyst Nageshwar Rao told ThePrint.

“The event was planned at a location on the city’s outskirts, not like there has been a history of law and order disturbances at such events. Not everyone can walk into the venue. There has to be an invitation,” he added.

Rao further said that if Shah was so impressed with RRR, he should have met the other team members too. “It is a known fact that behind Shah-Junior NTR meeting is a political message to Nandamuri (NTR’s family) admirers and Telugu Desam’s followers in Telangana. The BJP is trying to create a positive perception.”

According to senior BJP leader Gudur Narayana, “political vendetta” was the cause behind the cancellation of the Hyderabad event.

“At the event was NTR who met Shah and Rajamouli’s father Prasad, who is a BJP-nominated Rajya Sabha member. In the recent past, the BJP’s meetings with Tollywood actors has sent jitters through the TRS government. They understood that Tollywood is unhappy with the government and is looking at an alternative — which is the BJP under Modi’s leadership. Hence, the event was foiled,” he told ThePrint.

A senior TRS leader denied the allegations of political rivalry having to do anything with the event cancellation: “We’re unaffected with who they’re meeting or what they’re doing. It was a law and order issue. We’re confident that we have the support from the people of the state.”

As part of its ‘Mission South’ plan, the BJP has set focus on Telangana where it is looking to gain ground after wins in two assembly bypolls and a remarkable performance in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Polls in the last two years.

From its top leaders frequently visiting the state to nurturing an active cadre base, the BJP is trying every possible way to emerge as a stiff opposition to the ruling TRS in the run-up to the polls in 2023.

Also Read:  Why all BJP big guns, from Modi to Nadda, put weight behind Telangana chief after his arrest

More than just courtesy meetings?

Meanwhile, sources close to Junior NTR told ThePrint that he is not keen on entering any political space amidst a booming film career.

Nadda’s meeting with Tollywood film hero Nithin, who hails from Nizamabad district, has also triggered speculation about him and the BJP, which is trying to gain traction in the poll-bound state.

“Both Nithin and Mithali Raj were very positive about Modi’s governance and they were both in favour of Modi winning again. Nithin also told Nadda that if there is any ‘social activity’ in the state, he would be open to be a part of it,” a senior BJP leader, who attended the meeting, told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

“When these people are positive, their fan base will also align with us. It’s not like we get them to get vote share…Creating a perception is also important. And this will be a boost to the party. And this is not just limited to the state. Nithin’s movies are dubbed in Hindi and are watched on TV. There is a lot of viewership on social media as well,” the leader added.

Former BJP Legislative Council member Ramchander Rao told ThePrint that many more meetings were lined up with “famous personalities” from business industry, movies, sports, and art and culture.

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met ‘Baahubali’ star Prabhas in New Delhi and congratulated the actor for the success of the movie.

Political analyst Rao said the BJP is trying to cash in on the celebrity status of the film industry. “The personal image that cinema heroes have, their fan base — the BJP is trying to use it to its advantage. There have been attempts using films — from Kashmir Files to Razakar Files. History is being presented in a way that it works out well for the BJP.”

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: ‘Challenge accepted’: KTR claps back at Infosys ex-director Pai’s tweet on Telangana malnutrition


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