Hyderabad: Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is looking to rope in popular actor Prakash Raj in Karnataka to expand his party’s footprint beyond his home turf, ThePrint has learnt.
After renaming his party the ‘Bharat Rashtra Samithi’ (BRS), Rao, well known as KCR, is drawing up plans to make its presence felt in poll-bound Karnataka. KCR is likely to play a supporting role to the Janata Dal (Secular), especially in around three dozen constituencies in the Hyderabad Karnataka region, where Telugus have a sizeable presence.
Former Karnataka chief minister and JD (S) leader H D Kumaraswamy was one of the few leaders from outside Telangana who had attended the BRS’s launch ceremony in Hyderabad last month.
Raj, a staunch critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is set to play an “important role” in KCR’s national expansion plan, BRS functionaries have told ThePrint.
The actor is said to be in regular touch with KCR. “In the coming months, we will see Prakash Raj play an important role for BRS and KCR’s national party plans. But what kind of role and where and how it will be implemented — it is for both of them to decide. They have been holding discussions in this regard,” a senior leader and close aide of the Telangana CM told ThePrint.
“His role will hold prominence at the national level. It could perhaps be in Karnataka or Maharashtra. His services will definitely be put to use — be it as a public speaker or a coordinator between leaders. It is yet to be decided,” he added.
The actor’s Twitter account cover picture is a photo of himself with the caption — ‘India is ready for an alternative’. Last week, Raj put out a tweet with a video to show that Telangana saw development under KCR’s governance. It read: “A Leader with a Vision …with an Intent for a better tomorrow… thank you #KCR garu.”
A Leader with a Vision .. with an Intent for a better tomorrow.. thank you #KCR garu pic.twitter.com/Jtlz6zOfxo
— Prakash Raj (@prakashraaj) December 24, 2022
He has also been retweeting posts by BRS’s social media cell, including one carrying screenshots from a purported video of BJP ‘agents’ trying to poach BRS (then TRS) MLAs.
While BRS leaders ThePrint spoke to feel Raj could play a key role in the party, others were of the opinion that though his presence would be of little political significance in Karnataka, his popularity as a versatile actor might give KCR some mileage there.
From comparing the BJP to “cancer” to giving the party “zero marks” for governance in the state and at the Centre, Raj has been a vocal critic of the ruling party.
The multilingual actor has also criticised the Congress. He lashed out at the party in 2019 for allegedly spreading fake news that he was backing it.
Raj did not respond to ThePrint’s calls and text messages until the time this report was published.
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Poor political fortunes
In 2019, Prakash Raj had contested as an Independent from Bengaluru central Lok Sabha seat. He lost to BJP’s P C Mohan. He also unsuccessfully contested the Tollywood (Telugu) Industry’s Movie Artists Association election in 2021.
His original name is Prakash Rai. Those with the surname ‘Rai’ usually belong to the Bunt community in Karnataka, who have a significant presence in the coastal parts of the state.
Political analyst Sandeep Shastri, who is also national coordinator for Lokniti network, said there was no vacuum for regional parties in the state amidst the strong presence of the BJP and Congress.
“If you look at elections historically in Karnataka, there has been very rarely space for state-based parties amidst the presence of national parties which take away most of the vote share. Even Janata Dal has been pushed to a distant 3rd position,” he told ThePrint.
Association with KCR
Raj’s association with KCR is nothing new. He was, on and off, seen with KCR ever since the latter first spoke about forming an alternative ‘third front’ to the BJP and Congress. One of the actor’s first meetings with KCR was in March 2018 in Hyderabad. A month later, he had accompanied KCR to meet former prime minister H D Deve Gowda at his residence to discuss his federal front plans.
Raj was also present when KCR met former Maharashtra chief minister and Shiv Sena (UST) leader Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai earlier this year to discuss plans to form an alternate front. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar was also present at the meeting.
Raj’s appearance at such meetings raised curiosity about his political ambitions and what kind of role he could play in KCR’s then plans of forming a front. But just like how the chief minister’s idea of stitching together a front did not materialise, there was no concrete progress in Raj’s political ambitions, if any. After years of talking about establishing a third front, KCR, in April, said that he would form a national party to fight against BJP and Congress.
“If Raj intends to play an important role, then BRS will be the right platform. And in fact, we want him to take up a key role. He is very progressive with his thoughts and that will be a great addition to us too. He very often speaks to the chief minister on national politics,” another senior BRS leader said.
“There will be discussions on this in the coming days, the chief minister will also talk to him. But it entirely depends on Raj on what kind of role he wishes to take up. It will be his decision. We have still not finalised on the exact role or post he will be holding,” he added.
Top BRS leaders, who did not want to be named, pointed out that Raj’s proximity with leaders in Karnataka, Maharashtra and even Tamil Nadu could be an advantage, and this is also why he is being considered for the role of a coordinator.
‘Raj’s fame can give KCR visibility’
Ruling out any political prominence, Narender Pani, professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, said that Raj is politically insignificant in Karnataka’s state politics, but his popularity as a versatile actor might give KCR some mileage in some states, especially Karnataka.
“He is not politically significant, but if KCR is planning a national role and wants to penetrate into other states, then Raj will be able to give him the visibility here given that the multilingual actor shares fame across the South and even in Delhi and Maharashtra. That’s the maximum he can do,” he told ThePrint.
Pani further said that Karnataka has never been friendly to actor-turned politicians, so Raj could probably just be the face for KCR’s expansion plans in the state.
“Prakash Raj has taken a very strong ideological line and that may find support from certain sectors, then there might be some support from other sectors considering his fame as an actor. So, it is hard to put it in a single box as to which sector alone might support him,” he explained.
“Even in veteran Kannada actor late Rajkumar’s case there was talks about him joining a political party, but he never did,” Pani recalled.
(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)
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