By T S Sudhir
(first published on ndtv.com on 5 September, 2009)
“No chance the CM would have survived if his chopper hit Rudrakonda”, said a villager who was trekking along with me deep inside the Nallamalla forest to the Rudrakonda hillock, where the CM’s chopper was reported to have crashlanded. Another forest official echoed his sentiment. “I hope you both don’t have a black tongue,” I remarked as we navigated through difficult, inhospitable terrain.
Another half hour and everyone’s worst fears had come true. “The Home ministry has confirmed YSR is dead,” informed my colleague from the newsdesk in Delhi. My mind went through a flurry of emotions all at once. Muddled yet clearly remembering my first, my last and several, several meetings with Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.
It was sometime in 1996 that I first met YSR at his home. I did not know much about him then but I was impressed with his smart attire. An orange striped shirt and black trousers. Very unlike a regular politician, I remarked then. He smiled.
And that is what will always remain with me about YSR. His handsome smile. And his ability to laugh. In fact, just last week, he took a potshot at his favourite political rival Chandrababu Naidu in the state legislative assembly. “Why are you against people laughing? Is it just because you never laugh?”
Much before he came to power, irked by senior Congressmen from Andhra Pradesh staying put in positions of power, YSR had said politicians should retire by 60. This 8th July, when he turned 60, YSR said people wanted him for a longer innings. Which is why once he realised he had put on weight, every evening, he made it a point to sweat it out at the gym.
I have travelled with YSR on several of his election campaigns. By road through Telangana in 1999, when he was very optimistic that the people of Andhra Pradesh would elect the Congress. The TDP-BJP arithematic did him in and post-1999, YSR was a wiser politician. He had realised the virtue of winning alliances, something he did correctly in 2004 by wooing the Left parties.
Sometime in early 2003, YSR and his trusted friend from his medical college days, KVP Ramachandra Rao, invited me and Uma for lunch one Sunday afternoon. The duo wanted to discuss YSR’s plan to do a padyatra that summer and sought our views on how they could maximise the impact. It had been a bad few summers the previous years and a politician walking his way to meet people and displaying empathy was a winner of an idea. The timing had to be right, not too early, not too late. So that it would stay in the people’s mind when they vote, I remember saying. “And the people of Andhra could do with a doctor’s touch,” I joked.
I met him during the padyatra in Nizamabad district and he insisted I too walk with him a few kilometres. He fell sick during the padyatra and needed medical help in Rajahmundry. But doctors seldom listen to other doctors. So against medical advice, Dr Rajasekhara Reddy decided he will walk the whole hog. Srikakulam, the easternmost tip of Andhra was his destination and he will reach there, he said.
The effort to reach out to the people paid dividends. Hi-tech, laptop-toting Chandrababu Naidu was seen as disconnected from the people and so he was logged out of power and YSR, at one time one of Naidu’s best friends, replaced him as CM.
What helped him win a second time round in 2009 was that people perceived him as having walked the talk. He had fulfilled at least some of the promises he made, like free power to farmers, compensation for families of suicide victims, increased farm loans and loan-waiver schemes.
He knew how to connect to his people. At his meetings, he would talk of what a success the `108′ emergency ambulance service has been in Andhra Pradesh. And then go on to imitate the siren. `Kwuin, kwuin, kwuin’ much to the amusement of the audience. Tragic, it was the same ambulance’s siren that was heard the loudest at the Kurnool parade ground when his body arrived from inside the forest.
YSR loved listening to what others thought of Jagan, his son. I had spent half a day in Pulivendula to see the cub of Kadapa campaigning. “His style of delivering speeches and voice modulation is just like you,” I said to YSR over breakfast in Eluru a few days later. I could see the proud father beam.
And his repartees would always be laced with humour, a ready smile and even a happy guffaw. During the election campaign, when I asked him if he will be CM after 16th May 2009, he stopped near his chopper and mockingly asked me, “Any doubt, Sudhir?”
Always known as the Tiger of Kadapa, it was ironic that he met his end in the Nallamalla forest reserve which is also home to the Srisailam Tiger Reserve. And perhaps only apt that Kadapa should change its own name after its most famous son.
You can also find T S Sudhir’s blogs at http://www.thesouthreports.com
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