Man of the masses

Published : Sep 25, 2009 00:00 IST

RAJASEKHARA REDDY ADDRESSING an election rally in the Ramayampet Assembly constituency in Medak district.-MOHD. ARIF

RAJASEKHARA REDDY ADDRESSING an election rally in the Ramayampet Assembly constituency in Medak district.-MOHD. ARIF

A STAUNCH believer in establishing direct contact with the people, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy always looked forward to his interactions with the masses. He would never take the word of bureaucrats or Congress functionaries at face value; he believed in forming his own impressions.

On September 2, he set out to launch a mass contact programme at Annepalle in Chittoor district, a day after the Legislative Assembly and Council were adjourned sine die. That contact could not be established, but the spontaneous outpouring of grief witnessed across Andhra Pradesh over his unfortunate death reflected the enduring affection he had won for himself through his pro-poor and pro-farmer policies.

Rajasekhara Reddy was the only Congress Chief Minister in the State to have not only completed a full five-year term but established himself firmly in the saddle for a second consecutive term. He proved himself to be the undisputed leader of the party who gave no room for dissidence and a person of remarkable political and administrative acumen. Such was his determination to realise his vision of making the State self-sufficient in every sector agriculture, industry, information technology and infrastructure that he began working out strategies for winning the 2014 elections within three months after being re-elected. And people believed that with him at the helm this vision would materialise. Rajasekhara Reddy was a rare politician who combined in himself confidence, assertiveness, clarity of thought, compassion, commitment and dedication to serve the poor, in the right proportion. His style was typical of the politics of Rayalaseema, the region he hailed from.

His impressive first term was marked by the launching of ambitious initiatives such as Jalayagnam, a scheme to irrigate four million hectares of land through 81 irrigation projects by 2014; Arogyasri, a health insurance scheme for the economically backward sections, which earned him the tag of messiah of the poor; Indiramma, a housing scheme to provide pucca houses to every family living below the poverty line; free power to farmers to give a fillip to the agricultural sector which was neglected during the nine-year rule of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP); revival of the Rs.2-a-kg-rice scheme for white ration card holders; and Pavala Vaddi (loans at 3 per cent interest) to womens self-help groups. Passionate about the Pavala Vaddi scheme meant to empower women, he took time to explain to the beneficiaries how the concept would change their lives, without leaving the job to government officials.

These initiatives were showcased to buttress the partys claim to good governance in the run-up to the elections this May. It was his record of keeping the promises made before the 2004 elections that saw the Congress win a second consecutive term. He proved that people would not be swayed by the glamour of film stars (actor Chiranjeevis Praja Rajyam fielded candidates in all the Assembly constituencies) or inducements such as the cash transfer scheme promised by the TDP.

He had the uncanny ability to read the pulse of the people. He did not make any fresh promises in 2009; he rather assured the voters that he would continue all the development and welfare schemes that were under implementation, and improve their delivery. The people trusted his word and elected 33 Congress representatives to the Lok Sabha, the partys largest contingent from any Congress-ruled State in the country, thereby strengthening the United Progressive Alliances (UPA) position at the Centre. This feat further enhanced his position vis-a-vis the party high command. In her message of condolence, Congress president Sonia Gandhi described Rajasekhara Reddy as one of the partys best Chief Ministers.

When the Congress won a simple majority with 156 seats in the 294-member State Assembly, a much smaller number than the 200-plus seats it had expected, Rajasekhara Reddy realised the need to fine-tune the delivery mechanism of the welfare schemes so that they reached every eligible beneficiary irrespective of caste, creed or political affiliation.

It was this determination that led him to formulate yet another innovative scheme, Rachchabanda (village square), a mass contact programme to enable him to meet residents of villages and get directly from them their feedback on the implementation of welfare schemes and also to learn about their problems.

As several districts in the State were facing a drought-like situation in view of an unfavourable monsoon, he was doubly keen to see the implementation of the Centrally sponsored National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (a scheme close to his heart) meant to arrest the labour migration.

Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy was born on July 8, 1949, at Pulivendula of Kadapa district in the Rayalaseema region, characterised by blood feuds. He hailed from a family that had for generations, daring the wrath of the feudal lords, championed the cause of the downtrodden. He inherited his dare-devil temperament from his father Y.S. Raja Reddy, a leader who was feared by his adversaries and loved by his loyalists. Rajasekhara Reddy considered him his role model. His fathers brutal killing in a bomb attack in 1998 pained him deeply, his close associates say.

Rajasekhara Reddy took his MBBS from M.R. Medical College, Gulbarga, Karnataka. After serving briefly as medical officer at the Jammalamadugu Mission Hospital, and establishing many charitable institutions, he plunged into active politics in 1978. He earned a reputation for displaying an independent spirit, sometimes even in defiance of the State leadership. He courted several controversies during his 31-year-long political career.

He led various agitations to highlight the problems of the Rayalaseema region. It was the 1,500-kilometre padayatra he launched in 2003 in the scorching summer, when the State was reeling under successive years of drought, that changed the tide in favour of the Congress and ended the TDP rule in 2004. It was also this extensive campaign by foot, his interaction with people in the rural areas, and his understanding of the ground realities that helped him gain valuable insights and later chalk out his priorities and programmes to give a boost to the rural economy, initiate irrigation projects and strengthen the farming community.

Rajasekhara Reddy never lost an election. He was elected to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha four times each. He headed the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee twice. He was Minister between 1980 and 1983. It was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who spotted the leadership qualities in him and made him APCC president.

It was his role as the Leader of the Opposition in the 11th Legislative Assembly, when N. Chandrababu Naidu was heading the TDP government, that brought out the political strategist in him and his ability to lead from the front. His trenchant criticism of his political opponents, biting sarcasm, ready wit, ability to drive home his point convincingly in the Assembly and at public meetings, and oratorical skills contributed to his rise in the State Congress.

Although Rajasekhara Reddy successfully implemented his promise of free power supply to farmers, revived the Rs.2-a-kilo-rice scheme, which had been scrapped by his predecessor, and liberally sanctioned loans, pensions and scholarships and reimbursement of fee to all poor students irrespective of their caste and community, he did not neglect industry, infrastructure and the IT sector. He consolidated the foundation for wealth creation programmes pioneered by Chandrababu Naidu.

Rajasekhara Reddy who was often clad in white dhoti and shirt, the traditional attire of Telugus, was equally at home in formal suit during his visits abroad or when the occasion demanded it. He was known for his genial smile, brevity of speech, physical fitness and discipline. He sent out a clear message to his Cabinet colleagues and party cadre that he would only reward efficiency.

The sea of humanity that thronged to pay homage to him at Hyderabad and Idupulapaya in Kadapa was a testimony to the enormous goodwill of the public Rajasekhara Reddy had earned. For a political leader who started as a rebel without a cause, his transformation as a mature politician determined to improve the lot of the poor and the underprivileged was tremendous. He has left a high stamp of credibility on the office of Chief Minister, making the going difficult for his successors.

I am planning surprise visits to villages to check on the implementation of drought relief measures, were the last words he uttered to mediapersons before he embarked on his last journey. Although all the welfare measures may run as he planned, the personal touch that Rajasekhara Reddy gave them will be missing.

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