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'Poor want somebody who cares for them'.

Byline: Telugu filmstar stresses on working for the downtrodden

Hyderabad: Within six months of his entry into politics Konidela Sivasankara Vara Prasad has become a man to be watched carefully. Popularly known as Chiranjeevi aka Mega Star of Telugu films, the man with a charming smile has no airs about himself. Whether he will storm to power and his nascent Praja Rajyam Party will form the next government in Andhra Pradesh is at present a hotly debated question and is attracting millions of rupees in the betting market. But one thing is sure - the film-star-turned-politician is going to make a difference between the next winner and loser and who knows may also hold the key in the post election scenario.

Taking a break from his hectic schedule and series of internal meetings and strategy sessions with his aides, Chiranjeevi spoke to Gulf News sharing his assessment of the politics, politicians and the people.

Gulf News: When a big film star like you enters politics in Andhra Pradesh, comparison with your illustrious predecessor N. T. Rama Rao is a must. He had come to power within nine months of launching his party in 1982. People are wondering whether you are going to break the record.

Chiranjeevi: I don't compare myself with Sri N. T. Rama Rao. He was a pro-poor man and that is how he is remembered even today. They have the same expectations from me. But politicians in general are using the poor as mere vote bank without caring for their problems and sufferings. We are living in a pathetic situation today where hundreds of people in villages and tribal areas are dying because of fever and starvation. Basic amenities are missing.

But do you think that the gap left behind by NTR can be filled by you?

Yes. To that agree. You call this either a leadership gap or a political gap, poor people want some body who cares for them, who is concerned about them. They want a change so their lives could also change and they are hoping that this change will come through me.

So how do you rate your prospects in next month's elections? May opinion polls surveys are showing bleak prospects?

I don't have faith in these surveys. They are the handiwork of our enemies out to demoralise our supporters. I cannot tell you any figure now but we will get a comfortable majority and we are going to form [the] next government.

What gives you such a confidence?

The enormous and unprecedented response from the masses wherever I am going. You see, half a million people were there in our Rajahmundry meeting on social justice. Earlier thousands of people, specially women and youth turned up during my yatra across the state. Why are these people coming if not to show their support?

Your critics say they are coming only to see a filmstar?

How many times they will come just to see me? I have gone to Rajahmundry several times. The turnout shows that the people are standing with us and they want a change.

In case of NTR it was promise of Rs2 per kg. What is your USP?

I am convinced that to put an end to starvation and to ensure two square meals a day to the poor we need to provide food security. That continues to be a problem. We have prepared a scheme to ensure that no family in Andhra Pradesh will go out without food.

Under this scheme we will give every family a pack of food for Rs 100 with 25 kgs of rice, edible oil, pulses, salt and tamarind. Thus in one day's wages of a labourer, food requirements of a poor family will be taken care of. I am not saying this will eradicate poverty. It is just a temporary solution to the problem of starvation.

If you look at the manifestos of different parties, it is obvious that poverty continues to be a major issue in Andhra Pradesh.

Yes. Eradication of poverty will be possible only through development, by providing jobs to the youth by showing them the path of skill development and decentralisation of powers to the gram panchayats (local self-governing bodies) to empower the local bodies, promoting small scale industries and artisans' local skills, vocational courses and education keeping in view of the local needs. This is what we want to do.

You were a very good personal friend of Chandrababu Naidu and Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, but what was it that put you off about their parties that you decided to launch your own party?

Yes. I know them very well but the amount of corruption they are doing is unfair and if you look from the angle of development, there is not much development in the state.

The situation is so pathetic that in schools four to five classes are held in verandas and there are no or few teachers. I want to ensure the students of government schools get education at par with students of corporate schools. Look at the hospitals. Women in Hyderabad have delivered children on the road because of lack of facilities in maternity hospitals.

With such problems how can we call ourselves a developed state? Ours is one of the richest states and we can provide these necessities to the people easily but the will required for it is missing. To fill this gap I decided to take the plunge.

What about the freebies being promised. Free electricity, free TV?

Free television is meaningless when there is no sufficient food to eat, when there is no electricity. It is not to help the people but a desperate cheap trick to fool the people.

Along with the state assembly, you are also talking of bagging quiet a chunk of Lok Sabha seats. What role do you envisage for yourself at the national level?

Some people are talking of a third front. I am saying why not think in terms of a fourth front.

This could comprise different parties who get sufficient parliamentary seats. Some people have already come forward and talked to me.

They could also be from the UPA, NDA and the third front. We will do what is necessary for the interest of the state.

But is there any possibility of you joining hands with the BJP?

No. I have already made it clear that being a secular party, Praja Rajyam will never support BJP. It is out of question. That is the word I have given to the Muslim minority in the state.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 31, 2009
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