Debating India


Chalo Hyderabad


Monday 24 May 2004, by CHOUDHARY *Savitri

While Naidu was flying high in choppers, YSR walked from home to home in rural Andhra. It has paid off.

When he kicked off the Congress campaign last summer, much before elections were even announced, many saw it as a hopeless cause. What match was Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy or YSR-the rough-hewn ’street fighter’ from Rayalaseema-for Chandrababu Naidu, the champion of laptop federalism and ace manager? Most pundits predicted that the TDP chief would overcome anti-incumbency and romp home for a third term in office. ’Remember 1999?’ was the constant refrain from the Naidu camp. That time the pollsters had said the TDP was on its way out. But the party had returned to power with a handsome margin.

Election 2004 offered a radical inversion to that last edition. Rajasekhara Reddy, 54, the new chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, finally showed why his followers call him the Cuddapah Tiger. The strongman from the outback had his claws out for friend-turned-foe Chandrababu Naidu for several years now but was often dismissed as a dissident leader even by his own partymen. He has however proved to be the man of the moment, turning around the beleaguered Congress single-handedly. Right now, he dons the winner’s air of textbook humility, crediting the voters for his success. "This is a victory for the common man. People have showed tremendous faith in the Congress party and the leadership of Sonia Gandhi," he told Outlook.

When Reddy launched a back-breaking 1,500-kilometre padayatra last summer, the Congress was riddled with factionalism and teetering on the brink. But YSR did not lose hope. It was one of the hottest summers in Andhra Pradesh. Despite searing temperatures, Reddy pounded the road, walking some 30 kilometres a day for almost two months. From drought-hit farmers to industrial workers, he met thousands of people, gave a patient hearing to their woes and beseeched them to vote the Congress back to power.

As the days went by, the padayatra gained momentum and the crowds swelled from a handful of curious onlookers to a massive sea of people. Along the way Reddy collapsed due to exhaustion but was back on the road in less than a week to complete the last 500 kilometres of his gruelling walk. When the yatra finally ended at Ichapuram on the Andhra-Orissa border, Reddy had resurrected the Congress image and consolidated his own position within the party.

As the election campaign itself kicked off this year, Reddy hit the road again while Naidu moved about in a helicopter. Reddy once again made himself accessible to people by criss-crossing the state on his ’jaitra’ or victory yatra. The yatra cleverly jogged people’s memories of his padayatra the previous summer and photographs of him bathing by the side of the road captured the people’s imagination.

Reddy claims Naidu paid the price for ignoring the core issues and became a victim of his own hyped image. "People were fed up with Naidu’s misrule. Of the 4,000 farmers who committed suicide, 3,000 have been from Andhra Pradesh. Naidu behaved like the proverbial Nero fiddling while Rome burnt," he says.

Contrary to Naidu’s tech-savvy image, Reddy, a medical graduate, projects himself as a man oriented towards rural India and the urban poor. He promises to focus on developing the rural economy and providing agriculture a boost. But he says he is not against reforms: "I am all for reforms as long as they are pro-people. Providing free power to farmers will cost Rs 250 crore annually. This amount can be compensated merely by what the previous government spent on its publicity campaigns." The new CM also says he is "not against borrowing from lending agencies like the World Bank as long as there are no conditionalities that are anti-people."

There’s a touch of irony in the fact that Naidu and his nemesis man started out as friends in the early ’70s.

Naidu was in Tirupati attending university and Reddy was studying medicine at the S.V. Medical College. The two began their political careers together in the nsui and the bonhomie continued when they became ministerial colleagues in the T. Anjaiah-led Congress government in 1980. They fell apart after Naidu joined the TDP.

On the electoral front, Reddy is relieved that he has secured a mandate large enough to govern without the support of the temperamental Telangana Rashtra Samiti. All along Reddy was sceptical about a tie-up with the trs. The Congress always had an ambivalence about the Telangana issue, despite the alliance, and things came to a head a fortnight ago when YSR pussyfooted on the status of Hyderabad city in the event of a division of assets. That, of course, will only be one of his worries after the euphoria of victory evaporates. Expectations are high and the former doctor is aware that it won’t be easy to provide any quickfix cure in a state where a sizeable population still lives below the poverty line.


in Outlook India, Monday, May 24, 2004.

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