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YSR (1949-2009) - The 'born again' politician - 2

Part -1 of this post.

While it is true that Chenna Reddy was the PCC president when Congress defeated NTR in 1989, a good number of people gave YSR a decent chance of becoming CM. However, that was not to be. This marked the beginning of a new phase in YSR's career - that of a dissident Congressman, trying to undermine the incumbent Congress CM.

Hyderabad was always prone to Hindu-Muslim clashes around the Ganesh Chaturthi, Bonalu and Ramadan time. The Police were unable to prevent the riots, and their effectiveness during the riots was hampered by political interference. But during NTR's first term (1983-89), there were hardly any riots in Hyderabad. NTR gave free hand to the state police to do preventive detentions and increase the patrols. Even though there were some protests about the annual arrests, for about 7 years, Hyderabad was riot free.

But during the Congress tenure (1989-1994), communal riots became an annual feature once again. And every time the riots occurred, the High Command replaced the CM because he 'has failed to ensure law and order.' Both Chenna Reddy and Janardhan Reddy were dethroned this way. And whether or not his supporters agree, YSR had a major role to play in these events.

As degree college students in Kadapa those days, we were blissfully ideology free. During election season, YSR's people used to offer willing groups of students with jeeps, and money, provided we take part in the campaign in the villages. I remember going on a couple of those trips. We used to visit a village or two till lunch time, and then some one would organize food in one of the villages.Biriyani and stuff. And in the evenings, liquor would be available. In most of the election booths, there would be hardly any voting. The student volunteers and others used to simply rig the votes. In one of the booths, I suggested that not all votes should be polled for YSR as that could disqualify the voting from that booth.And I polled around 25 votes for the BJP candidate. It was a token gesture towards the center right from my side, I suppose.

But in these interactions, we used to hear war stories being swapped by some of the muscle men. A large number of these goons-for-hire were dalits, with their ring leaders being Reddys. There was this time when in a road side tea stall, two men claimed to have killed three people each during the communal riots in Hyderabad. Apparently, people were shipped in lorries from Kadapa and few other places to the Old City, and were given a few hours to wreak havoc.

This is one of the accusations against YSR that has never been probed properly. To wilfully create riots and then demand the dismissal of a CM from your own party - is it possible that this could rank as one of the worst political crimes committed in Independent India? May be. But where is the proof, his supporters ask. It still amazes me that the likes of PV, Kotla Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, Rosaiah and others did not think it necessary to conduct a full investigation into these allegations. That this happened twice in two years suggests that the senior Congress leaders by then had already become spineless and morally blind, and were content to just pool all their influence in New Delhi together and keep YSR away from power.

With this backdrop, when the events of Dec 6, 1992 in Ayodhya caused full scale riots in Hyderabad, Raja Reddy took advantage of the tense situation and used some hired goons to settle a few business scores too. One of my relatives, an old man in his 60s, was beaten up mercilessly in the lawns of Taj Mahal Hotel in Abids, Hyderabad. His crime: He had dared to file a case against YSR family's mining business and won the case.

In any case, Janardhan Reddy was removed by the high command for his inability to handle the law and order situation. YSR rushed to Delhi now expecting to be crowned as the CM. However, PV Narasimha Rao had other plans. He could not entertain the thought of some one like YSR given a free rein in AP. Result: Once again, a senior Congress leader, Kotla Vijay Bhaskar Reddy became the CM. YSR's desperation could be seen in his press confrences those days.

YSR's followers went a step further though. When the PM and CM visited Kadapa, a section of the crowd threw footwear at the CM amid slogans that called for him to step down and give YSR the kursi. A shocked PV and a humiliated Kotla beat a hasty retreat from the scene. Several of us felt ashamed of our town people that day, and we knew who may have egged them on. But this was nothing compared to the daily dose of violence in the Rayalaseema districts throughout the Congress term. One, the police were too scared to act against any one claiming to be YSR's follower, and two, the followers resorted to violence to scare people into parting with their properties. A case of an old business family that had to part with their petrol bunk comes to mind.

YSR did little of any note during those years, except trying to consolidate his hold in Krishna and Guntur districts. During the TDP term, a popular Kapu Congress leader Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga was killed in what was alleged to be a police-sponsored murder. YSR agitated against this killing quite effectively and won the hearts of Ranga's followers in those districts. People all over the State started glorifying and romanticising the faction culture of Rayalaseema, especially Kadapa district and YSR was seen as the numero uno among them all. His 'mass appeal' among the dalit Christians of coastal AP seems to have started around this time.

While NTR was going through his own transformation, marrying his biographer Lakshmi Parvati, and playing the role of agitational opposition leader to the hilt, YSR and other Congress leaders were busy making the most of opportunities thrown open by a newly liberalized economy. One would have expected YSR to side with the Nellore women during the campaign for prohibition in AP. He was simply not interested in the issue. NTR returned to power with a massive majorityin 1994, and to those of us tracking YSR's career, it looked as if he would remain a second rung leader for ever.

YSR focused on his Delhi connections during the next few years. He was also probably immersed in sorting out some problems related to his children. Though they are irrelevant to this narrative (and therefore being omitted by me), I feel that the first sprouts of change were visible during 1994-98. In his mid-40s, with his children grown up and facing issues of their own, YSR probably started looking at his career, what he stands for, and how his actions or words would impact his family and extended family.

People throughout AP were bitten by the IT bug, and YSR's many factionist followers started seeing their kids move to the US for IT jobs or to setup IT body shopping firms. I recall a few weddings I attended those days in Kadapa (I myself moved to Hyderabad in 1993), where the star attractions were NRI Reddy boys and not the local factionist politicians. YSR's son Jagan spent some time in the US and started dreaming of building a business empire. Raja Reddy was as aggressive as ever, but he began facing challenges from some young factionists who matched him bomb for country bomb.

Meanwhile, Chandra Babu Naidu took his chances against NTR and succeeded in the family coup to become CM. YSR, a fan of NTR as an actor, spared no words in attacking his one time friend and now opponent Naidu, for this backstabbing. Naidu's rise was covered in the media extensively, but YSR's slow change of heart, and the distancing from factionsim went largely unnoticed. As per locals, the IT revolution was one of the main reasons for faction violence coming down.The other reason, they say, is the role played by successive district Superintendents of Police (SPs) in Rayalaseema districts, the most effective and famous among these being Umesh Chandra, IPS.

The systematic raids and attacks by the police, backed by the CM Naidu, made it difficult for the factionists to maintain their inventories of country bombs, rifles and other weapons. Umesh Chandra especially focused on country gambling rackets (called Matka), and dried up one of the revenue sources. The dapper police officer became quite popular in the villages, especially among the women folk, for his seizure of weapons from all MLAs and their followers. He also crushed the budding Naxal movement in the district, and ensured free and fair elections for the first time in history. YSR contested as an MP in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, and managed to win by just 5400 votes, that too after a contentious recounting issue. Observers said there were occassions during the tense counting phase when YSR lost his cool against the Dist Collector, but the SP stayed firm and refused to budge to YSR's dictats.

And in 1998, in a chilling demonstration that the young generation factionists would no longer cower in fear of Raja Reddy, a fierce local private war commenced between multiple factions. Eventually, Raja Reddy perished in one such gun fight. YSR, who ensured that so far his hands were not bloody, had a difficult choice to make. Till now, he always condemned faction violence and appealed for peace, while enjoying the deference people paid to him because of his 'super faction hero' image. The poor farmers among Reddys, and the dalits and BCs in the district too looked up to him for his 'benevolent' image. Generous towards friends and ruthless towards enemies - that was the projection YSR seems to have carefully cultivated. And it had served him well but did not enable the next leap up the political ladder.

In the mores of factionsim, the expected response to the murder of one's father is an all out attack on the perpetrators, and killing them within one year. Faction rivalries often went on for 2-3 decades until one faction runs out of steam and male descendants willing to fight.

YSR was the most powerful arbiter of faction feuds, and the politician with the best network.Plus, Raja Reddy had created a lucrative business and protection empire.Most people expected YSR's side to retaliate strongly against the suspected killers of Raja Reddy.

That did not happen. The case went to the police who did a decent job and arrested those responsible. Several of them got life terms after a relatively quick judicial process. In a few years, some of the convicted would even complete their sentences and walk out free.

This then is the first transformation of YSR, in my view. He could have remained mired in criminal cases and ended up as a provincial politician had he chosen the violent route. Instead, some thing changed in his heart, I think. He was able to see the future better now, and by some accounts, decided to end his association or support to any kind of factionism. I am pretty sure there would have been old men advising him not to sit quiet. And several young men who would have just waited for a nod from him to go and wreak havoc.

By deciding for peace instead of violence, YSR ran the risk of losing his tough image in the district. It could have been the dawning of political and emotional maturity in him, or the sight of grand children, or the urgings of Christian priests close to him in a spiritual sense. Whatever be the reasons, the district heaved a sigh of relief, and Naidu claimed victory over faction violence. YSR was now ready to lead the AP Congress in his own right.

The 1999 assembly and Lok Sabha elections were remarkable for many reasons.Not least the fact that Naidu joined hands with BJP and won a massive mandate for TDP in the State and the alliance won 36 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats.YSR did his best in bringing together various groups within the State Congress, but people trusted Naidu more than him.Congress won a mere 91, and YSR had to survive a further 5 years out of power.Already, it was 17 years since he tasted power as a State minister.

Instead of reverting into boorish factionsit behavior, YSR tried to now play the mature opposition leader.

Next post: The final decade (1999-2009), and an analysis of his approach to developmental politics, and his poliutical legacy.


Anonymous said…
This and the last post are as chilling as a God father-ish thriller movie.
Really liked it. Somehow make these posts popular.

harsha said…
Apparently you are voicing opinion without verifying the facts. Why? The reason N Janardhan Reddy lost his job was related to the corruption charges leveled against him for sanctioning few medical colleges. That's a folly, and you show colors to paint the story to your whims.
Krantiveer said…
Excellent post. @ Harsha - true N. Janardhan Reddy had to resign due to High Court corruption case and he has to be master of converting public funds to private funds.
However, can you refute any of the allegations leveled against YSR? Was he not a factionist? Didn't riots end abruptly as CM was replaced. IMO it was very balanced post of a personal nature (i.e, if you were not there to hear something - does not mean it is hearsay)
Kumar Narasimha said…

Thanks.How do I make these posts popular ? :)


Thanks for pointing out the 'official' reason for NJR's resignation.I am writing about events that happened 15-17 years back, and going with my perceptions of those days.As Krantiveer points out, the moment high command indicated that the CM would be changed, riots stopped automatically.There was an enquiry commission about the riots that have YSR a clean chit.But this doesn't mean people observing the events in those days were blind to the root causes.

Krantiveer - Yes, this is a personal recounting of the events and it could differ a bit from official version. Thanks for the understanding.

I welcome the discussion, and I hope we can keep it civil here. I know people can get emotional about certain events/people.
harsha said…
The fact surrounding NJR resignation was solely corruption charges, I vividly remember newspapers branding him Dhanarjuna Reddy those days.

Being what he was, YSR, like countless politicians, would certainly have treaden the path of blood. Most would remain allegations and courts could never charge them. As somebody wrote in a newspaper (don't remember which one), the path to CM chair would be on a heap of dead bodies, whoever it would be, so true.

For allegations would never be proven, courts would not proceed without concrete evidence. Do you think YSR is any different to Modi, where several hundreds died of communal riots post Godhra, I'm pretty sure no court would prove Modi guilty, that's a modern fact of Indian politics, only people could do justice by voting them out of power.
Kumar Narasimha said…

Modi and YSR indeed are different.Read about Modi's rise in politics and count the crimes.Do the same for YSR.

The other difference is in terms of economic policies.Modi is closer to CBN, though far superior in implementation of programs compared to both YSR and CBN.

Another difference between YSR and Modi is in terms of 'manufactured image'.Modi, inspite of Gujarat riots, succeeded in selling his personal image as a development magician. YSR followed a policy of appeasement of narrow interests, and it required his unfortunate death for the media to create a secular progressive developmental poster boy image.

Thanks for raising an interesting point.
Human Being said…
Kumar, Your article is awesome.

When I see CBN and YSR as CM of Andhra, I find main difference is development and executing. During CBN's rule he made executive body to work, which back fired. Also there was a healthy competition with neighbouring states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. During YSR's rule I see naxalism came down drastically. But corruption went up well, there was no productive development. This may ruin our Andhra in future.
harsha said…
I'm not comparing YSR vis-a-vis Modi, the point of comparision is only regarding blood alluded to them.

Since YSR background lies in faction politics, he has no benefit of doubt, even if his associates in far away constitunecies carry atrocities, perception attaches blood to YSR hands.

While on similar lines, the blood of Paritala Ravi was never attributed to CBN, for Naidu background does not lie in faction politics, that's benefit of doubt, a blurred line of distinction.

Modi/Naidu/YSR, al they could atmost do is streamline state policies, like speeding up clearances, attracting investment, diverting money for infrastructure projects, reducing delays, land acquisition (hold on, they can't provide tax holidays for industry).

All those people who praise Modi, ignore neighbouring Maharastra for their spectacular performance, far exceeding Gujarat year on year. Now, don't say, the growth of Gujarat is because of Modi, and that of Maharastra is despite Maharastra CM, that's a double tongue, for BJP far exceeds in marketing skills.

One reason why Mah & Guj always stood among high growth trajectories is because during early decades lot of projects and invetment flowed in, and they kept the face.

After Naidu lost, GSDP of AP has been steading growing, if you attribute some credit to Naidu or Modi, plainly looking at numbers, please bear in mind YSR too deserves it, bear in mind, SM Krisha, Yeddy both deserve their due, unless you think economy could be person centric, and population of entire state has nothing to do with.

What I want to tell, there are no sane people ruling us, they all have blood on their hands, our perception depends on how well each CM markets themselves, for we are never bothered at criticial analysis of each of their policies and outcomes.

Some of you who are right leaning policies, must acknowledge about free economic policies, where government intervention is low, I don't see the same in Gujarat, and a hand of government is prone to distorting market forces, which is directly non-aligning with right politics, which says small goverment is better.
Anonymous said…
Hi, whom so ever you are. Nice i mean xcellant penning. You showed me shades of black and white. he helped the people with the money of government not his own. he sold his useless lands only to gain a worthy one, just like refreshing the system.