In Cuddapah, YSR is king
Yedugoori Sandinti Venkat Reddy was a Lord Venkateshwara devotee till Father Rolls and Sister Noble descended on his Balpanur village, near Pulivendla, Cuddapah district.
The two British Protestants struck a chord in Venkat Reddy's heart, and he embraced Christianity. The whole village was soon gunning for his blood.
'"My father-in-law had a harrowing time," says Yedugoori Sandinti Jayamma. '"He was about to be ostracised from the village, but sarpanch Achuta Narayana Reddy came to his rescue. And my father-in-law and his family were allowed to stay back in the village. But my father-in-law was too proud to stay back. They moved to Pulivendla in 1933, bought 120 acres of land and settled here… And the whole family embraced Christianity."
Was there any reason for the conversion? "We realised Jesus is the real god," says Jayamma, mother of Andhra Pradesh Congress president Yedugoori Sandinti Rajasekhar Reddy.
"I have been a Christian since I was three, and go to church regularly." She is particular her five sons and one daughter -- YSR being the second son and Cuddapah Lok Sabha candidate Y S Vivekananda Reddy the third -- should not miss the Sunday service, but YSR fails to keep the appointment due to the never-ending stream of visitors at his Pulivendla home.
According to Jayamma, YSR says, "Even these are god's people coming from far-away villages. How can I make them wait endlessly?"
Such is his open-door policy that I walked into his dining room with no security men and secretaries stopping me. I could have walked further into their house, like the others around, but for a sudden twinge of civility. I accosted a couple of men caught in a serious discussion, and told them I would like to meet Jayamma.
I was immediately ushered into the drawing room, and she readily agreed to the interview. As she disappeared into the kitchen to fetch me a cup of coffee, her grandson Yuvaraj, who had been in the US for a while, raved about rediff.com
The Cuddapah Tiger's mother, at 68, has still not come to terms with her husband Yedugoori Sandinti Raja Reddy's brutal murder last year.
Do you think YSR will win? ''I think there is no doubt about it,'' she says.
Is it because people are terrified of contesting against the Tiger and his family?
"Nobody is afraid of me," Jayamma, who has been unanimously elected Pulivendla panchayat president, laughs. She is of small build, rather frail-looking.
"If people are afraid of us, how come my grandfather was murdered?" asks YSR's son Jaganmohan Reddy who is in charge of the Pulivendla campaign. "And the people who have killed him have not been put behind bars for a single day. These people say we are creating terror. They want to run down my father. He is the only charismatic leader in the state after NTR (Telugu Desam Party founder Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao). Though he has been out of power for more than 15 years, he commands much more respect than any state leader."
But why do people call him the Cuddapah Tiger? "I don't know. His father was called a Tiger," says Jayamma. "My son is soft-spoken, unless he is angry. He is frank, and occasionally blurts out," she says. "But he will never harbour a grudge against anyone."
Her face lights up as someone says the chances of her son becoming the chief minister are bright now.
"We were very disappointed in 1994, when he almost became the CM. They told him all the time his name was in a 'sealed cover' and that he would become the CM. Based on this assurance, all of us had even gone to Hyderabad for the swearing-in ceremony… But, ultimately, it was given to Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy. We would not have felt so disappointed if he had been told the post would be given to a senior leader like Kotla, and that he would get his turn later. I don't why then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao had to cheat him like this."
Doesn't he get along well with Rao? ''No, nothing of the sort,'' she says.
Considering such disappointments and her husband's murder last year, does she still want him to be in politics? ''I have never been very keen. Even my mother -- who passed away recently -- used to ask him not to waste money and time. She never liked the idea of him struggling in politics when he could make a decent living as a doctor,'' she says. ''But his father has been very particular. Rajasekhar is like his dad, a replica.''
If she's against politics, why has she agreed to be the panchayat president? ''I was forced by them to take it up,'' she says. They? ''Yes, the people said there won't be any contest if I file my nomination,'' she says even as her grandson butts in, ''The seat is reserved for women, you see.''
Born in July 1949 at the nearby Jammalamadugu town mission hospital, YSR has been a ''good student." After completing his schooling in Bellary (St John's), he went to Loyola College, Vijayawada. He received his MBBS degree from Gulbarga in Karnataka in 1972. He married Vijaya the same year. After his internship at a Tirupati hospital, he was trained at Jammalamadugu by his paternal aunt Dr Ratnamma, elder sister of the former Pulivendla legislator, Dr S Purushottama Reddy. Thereafter, he worked in a hospital built for him by his father in Pulivendla.
Three years later he plunged into politics, contesting the 1978 assembly election from Pulivendla as a Congress-Reddy nominee. The three-MLA-strong Congress-Reddy party merged with the Congress soon after the election. He became minister of state for rural development in T Anjaiah's ministry (1980 to 1982), excise minister in Bhavanam Venkatram's cabinet (1982), education minister in Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy's (1982-83) cabinet.
During this period, YSR was at the centre of several controversies including the barytes mining lease to his father and the acquisition of AP Carbides Limited by his family.
In the 1983 assembly election, despite the NTR-led TDP wave, he was re-elected from Pulivendla with a good margin. He became the youngest AP Congress chief in 1983.
In the 1985 election -- which saw a stronger wave favouring NTR (after Nandendla Bhaskar Rao usurped his mandate) than the 1984 Congress wave -- YSR did a hat-trick in Pulivendla, polling 65 per cent of the votes. In 1989, he won the Cuddapah Lok Sabha seat while his brother Y S Vivekananda Reddy was elected from Pulivendla.
In 1992, the latter quit the seat as YSR wanted to make a bid for the CM's post. But, as YSR had opted out of the CM race, his uncle Dr Purushottama Reddy was fielded in the by-election. He won the seat effortlessly. Pulivedla elected Vivekananda Reddy in 1994 despite another NTR wave.
YSR won the Cuddapah Lok Sabha seat first in 1989, then in 1991, 1996 and 1998.
Flitting from one controversy to the other, YSR is known to have made as many friends as enemies during his political career. Several Congress and Opposition leaders allege he was among those who instigated the 1990 Hyderabad communal riots.
How does he feel when he hears such allegations? ''He has never been involved,'' says his mother. ''That is why we are worried. Even he is shocked. He fails to understand why they spread canards like this.''
Is he not into faction wars? ''People spread such rumours. We are surprised as we are not involved in such things,'' she says. ''No member of the family has been associated with any of the factions. My husband used to hold panchayats to settle people's problems -- he had done it for 30 years till his murder last year.''
However, Y Konda Reddy, a leading Pulivendla advocate, confirms that YSR's father was an accused in the murder of barytes mine owner Narasaiah in Rajampet. Following this, Narasaiah's nephew made an attempt on YSR's life at the AP secretariat in Hyderabad in the early 1980s. YSR suffered a minor injury on his hand. The cases were later settled out of court.
''If he is a goonda as the Opposition put it, why is there no criminal case against him?'' asks Jaganmohan Reddy. ''Not a single criminal case has been filed against him to date.''
Advocate Konda Reddy confirms this. ''YSR has steered clear of the bomb culture,'' says P Sambasivaiah, an advocate in Cuddapah.
As for YSR's achievements in Pulivendla, Jayamma says, ''Though the town is still under a panchayat, we have cement roads and drinking water taps. He wants to do this and that. But he has not succeeded because he has not been in power."
The family used to run several colleges in Pulivendla. The institutions have been handed over to Loyola College as no one in the family has time. ''The quality of education offered by these colleges has since improved,'' says a distant relative of the family.
''My son will do what he has promised,'' says Jayamma. ''He is not like Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu, who says one thing and does another… Naidu is taking the people for a ride with his hi-tech talk. ''
What will he do in case he becomes CM? ''What do I know? He will do all good things. He will keep all his promises including the free power scheme for farmers. He knows how farmers struggle…''
If the proud moment arrives, the family will definitely miss YSR's father. Already, as the campaign reaches a crescendo, the family is handicapped by his absence. ''Abba's absence will definitely be felt by us and the party workers,'' says Jaganmohan Reddy. ''Each of us is putting in extra effort to fill the gap. But the gap is still felt in Kodur and Rajampet (where YSR confidant Dr Sai Pratap is seeking his fifth consecutive win). We are not able to do much there due to lack of time.''
Will the Congress lose the seat? ''No. Maybe the majority will come down,'' he says.
Asked if his father had allowed him to join politics, Jaganmohan says, ''I am trying to rise to the occasion, and do my bit. I have been in touch with the people ever since I completed my intermediate seven years ago.''
Talking about YSR, his uncle Purshottama Reddy says, ''He can easily manage people, whether it is a rowdy or a saint. He is respected by everyone in Pulivendla.''
Ramesh of Panjanapalli village, near Pulivendla, confirms this. ''No matter what the allegations are, we will support YSR as he is the only leader who helps us. People love him.''
''He has vote-catching abilities,'' says advocate Sambasivaiah. ''He has long-term plans, is very ambitious. No one can maintain PR like him.''
''He helps even an enemy if approached,'' says farmer Yaduguri Venkata Krishna Reddy, a farmer in YSR's native Balpanur village. ''He does not have a feudal mentality. He allows people to sit and chat with him.''
''The fact that a huge crowd came when he had filed his nomination indicates his popularity,'' says Anjaneyulu of Pulivendla. ''He has cinema star-like glamour. As far as Cuddapah is considered, he is the king.''