By Uma Sudhir
I went to see Chandrababu Naidu inside his room in Hyderabad’s NIMS hospital on Thursday afternoon. He was lying on his side on the bed, covered till the neck, no pillow to rest his head, his eyes on the door from where there were an unending flow of visitors.
Naidu nodded to me to walk in when I stopped at the doorway. Seven days into his fast, Naidu looked as expected, extremely exhausted, drained. But his eyes to me looked as usual, sharp, taking in all that was happening around him.
“Doctors say your health is getting affected. There are high expectations from you. You should give up your fast, Mr Naidu” I whispered, involuntarily, pulling down the mask that all visitors were being given before entering Naidu’s room. Naidu was barely audible, may be he had a hint of a smile, when he whispered back, “Let us see. Let us see what they do.”
Naidu’s wife Bhuvaneswari was also in the room. A small-built, gentle looking lady who has always come across as cool and composed, very much preferring to be a behind-the-scenes person, smiled courteously when I asked her “Didn’t you try to convince him?’. She replied, “He doesn’t listen.”
That perhaps is the way Chandrababu Naidu has always been. And that perhaps is why he rose to the heights and managed to stay as chief minister for close to nine years. And that perhaps is also one reason why he lost power.
One thing I have never doubted about Naidu is his determination and the ability to work hard towards what he sees as the end. And that’s why I am not surprised that he has not agreed to give up his fast. Doctors had expressed apprehension that though his yoga and discipline keep him quite fit, the sodium-potassium imbalance could cause the likelihood of a problem in his heart valves and he could suffer a cardiac event. He may even go into a coma, his party colleagues said.
By evening, even as I write this, Naidu was forcibly shifted into the ICU with police help.
“They are not allowing any of us near him. He has refused intravenous fluids. Only the police is with him, so we don’t know what’s happening,” a close confidante of Naidu told me over the phone.
I don’t know what it is about the Gandhian weapon of fasts that has caught political fancy in Andhra Pradesh. May be because it has been found to reap political dividends. K Chandrasekhar Rao’s fast last December that resulted in the hastily worded statement announcing formation of Telangana by P Chidambaram being the latest success story. Of course, the Centre also regretted the statement almost immediately but by then the damage had been done. Vijayawada MP L Rajagopal, followed suit, though making a mockery of his fast, by sprinting into NIMS hospital. Jaganmohan Reddy, did a T-20 like abridged version, going hungry for 48 hours this week.
Why a fast by a leader is expected to move and affect the way a country where a vast majority is perennially hungry is quite unfathomable. Presumably, it is because political battles and elections are rarely fought on real issues. It is only emotive issues that are whipped up with the help of a willing or unsuspecting media.
Given Naidu’s image in the past of not being the Andhra farmer’s best friend, most people are cynical of his fast for the farmers cause. TDP leaders admit they expect the state to go to polls in 2011 and this fast, they will hope, will help Naidu get a teflon coating, a brand new image and the halo of a martyr. Naidu knows that as well. The next elections, whenever it is held, will be make or break for Naidu and this fast is an attempt to hack into the Congress rule in the state.
“All of them fast one after the other claiming it is for us, the people. They promised Swarna Andhra Pradesh but have converted Andhra Pradesh into Andolana Pradesh (perennially worrisome state),” commented my driver as we drove back from the hospital.
I suspect many in the state may agree.