Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Keen, veiled, placid

Keen, veiled, placid
Outside his chamber awaits a motley crowd. A minister, two IAS officers, a sub-inspector, an IRTS officer, a far­mer and some Congress party workers. All sit in silent expectation outside the room of K V P Ramachandra Rao. The place is the Secretariat in Hyderabad, and the VIP is a Rajya Sabha member. Technically.
Suddenly, Galla Aruna walks in briskly, but realises she will have to wait for a while before meeting KVP — that’s how Ramachandra Rao is popularly known. The roads and buildings minister, thus, waits quietly beside a senior bureaucrat. The minute she’s called, Aruna flies into KVP’s room; you hear her starting off with that pleasantry — a cheery Namaste Anna. Surprised? But at least the minister is cheerful. For a majority, their meeting with KVP is dictated by an air of anticipation, anxiety or even complete subservience.
So, how does an Upper House elder earn such reverence — across the corridors of power? Well, KVP’s MP status is only incidental, given the kind of clout he wields. The 59-year-old is also chairman of the Advisory Committee on Public Affairs, Public Utilities and Public Welfare Activities, but, most importantly, he’s somebody who, many maintain, is the shadow chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.
Sharing a 43-year-long friendship with Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, KVP is known to have a say in practically every file that moves in both state admi­nistration and party affairs. Be it deve­lopmental policies, IAS/IPS transfers selecting DCC leaders or even a tricky ragging case, it is an open secret that the CM seeks the opinion of KVP — and goes by it most of the time.
“You overestimate my abilities,” he says, cocking an eyebrow. “It is not as if I fell from the sky and parked myself in the Secretariat suddenly. Even way back in 1983 when Mr Rajasekhara Reddy was PCC president, I was in charge of the Gandhi Bhavan,” he recalls. “I was party in-charge of the elections in the ’84 Parliament, ’85 Assembly, ’99 Assembly and Parliament.”
Check his track record, and it isn’t tough to make out that KVP had been the man behind every political activity YSR undertook from the time he was first elected to the Assembly and later to Parliament. Not many would know the kind of spadework he did when YSR embarked on his famous pada­yatra of the state in the scorching summer of 2003. A tour that brought him closer to the hearts of the people and resulted in a massive mandate for Congress (read YSR) a year later.
If YSR is a man of the masses, KVP is everything for him. “Physically, we are two. But, our soul is one,” the CM declared once. Yes, the two are seldom seen together in public; after all being publicity-shy is one trait KVP has deve­loped over the years. To be fair to him, KVP has so far managed to keep himself above controversies, never resorting to anything that could possibly embarrass the CM.
Congress leaders, naturally, are all praise for KVP. “He is the eyes and ears of the CM,” says party leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, MLC. “KVP has extraordinary memory. You know, he knows almost every Congress worker by name across the 294 constituencies and interacts with the cadre at the grassroot level.”
Vikramarka, also the ruling party’s chief whip, says KVP is adept in healing the grief of officials and party workers. “He is a great listener.” KVP, in turn, sums up the various iss­ues and briefs the CM accordingly. Congress sources say KVP’s biggest stren­gth lies in his ability to grasp the capabilities of leaders and assess them quickly. He keeps track of ambitions and growth of party colleagues and protects loyalists the same way YSR does.
YSR and KVP became friends way back in the late ’60s when they were students of the Mahadevappa Rampur Medical College in Gulbarga. KVP was a year junior. Young Rajasekhara once saw seniors ragging Ramachandra as a fresher, and shooed them away. That triggered a lifelong friendship between YSR and KVP. “I was an average student,” recalls KVP. “He was brigh­ter and better organised. At my hostel room, he’d sometimes fold my clothes and arrange my belongings unable to take the untidiness.”
The two friends separated, briefly, when YSR went to pursue house surgeonship in Tirupati and KVP went on to study in Kakinada. In 1978, KVP got married, and they lived under the same roof for three years. The growing families found themselves space-strapped, and moved to separate houses later.
The man, who YSR often refers to as his “conscience keeper”, says a public persona was never his ambition. “Every system needs a support structure. Just like an actress needs a make-up man or a writer needs a steno, a neta needs a backroom person. I’m one.”
Predictably, the status has invited flak from the main Opposition Telugu Desam Party, which claims YSR relies heavily on KVP on all government iss­ues. KVP brushes it aside: “Come on…(late CM) N T Rama Rao had an advisor. Why, even (TDP president) Chandrababu Naidu was a backroom politician till circumstances made him the CM,” he says with a half smile, and then adds — cautiously, “Not that I am comparing myself to him.”
The BJP terms him an “extra-constitutional authority”. “He even deci­des on transfers. I’d call him the de facto CM,” says G Kishan Reddy, an MLA from the saffron party.
Only once did KVP try his luck with elections. In 1979, from an MLC Graduates Constituency. He lost badly, and never accepted poll offers that came off and on since then. In 1989, he memorably told CM Marri Chenna Reddy who offered him a party ticket that a legislator’s post didn’t suit his nature of work, as “I can’t concentrate on one constituency alone”.
Rajya Sabha membership, however, has been a long cherished dream. It took three attempts by YSR to finally prevail upon Congress president Sonia Gandhi to grant his friend his MP dream. In March 2008.
Even so, KVP is simultaneously involved in day-to-day party affairs. “He inspires mandal- and district-level workers,” notes Indrakaran Reddy, a former Congress MP. “He is a medhavi (man of intelligence) who gives shape to many developmental schemes.”
In fact, out of the 156 of the Congress MLAs, 74 are first-timers — a result of KVP’s idea to infuse fresh blood into the party. Of the 74, about 50 are in age group of 30-40. “I believe they’ll have a desire to prove themselves.” So, did he handpick them? “Oh, no! I was only instrumental in shortlisting candidates based on district evaluations and popularity surveys.”
KVP retains the smile on his face when he dismisses allegations of nepotism. “I just let people say what they want to and laugh off the Opposition’s barbs. My aim is to serve the CM and the Congress party. Supposing the CM wants me to gather the background on an IPS officer, I inquire with friends like you in the media, gather details at the district level and submit the same to the CM. Ultimately, it is he who takes the decision.”
But senior journalists who have seen KVP from close quarters say even ministers are sometimes unaware about certain decisions. “It is all between KVP and YSR,” remarks V Radha­krishna, managing director of Telugu newspaper Andhra Jyothi. “KVP decides upon government schemes as well as schemes to finish off the opponents politically. YSR’s interests are his only interest. KVP has a cool mentality.”
But even the coolest of men can get ruffled. In 2005, when TDP leader Kod­ela Siva Prasad called KVP a “vasool raja” and AP’s “very own Sasikala (AIA­DMK leader J Jayalalithaa’s aide)”, he slapped him with a defamation suit. Such outbursts, though, are rare. KVP is soft-spoken and reserved — a perfect foil for YSR’s outspokenness. “He is a cushion between the party’s leaders and its workers,” says Congress MLC G Rudraraju. “He has motivated a lot of people.”
When it comes to compliments too, KVP shrugs them off with his smile. Meanwhile, more visitors queue up for a darshan outside his chamber.
capstan now calls
raju, 'sir'
Born on June 21, 1950, K V P Ramachandra Rao hails from an agricultural family in East Godavari district. Today, he is often referred to as the
Timmarusu (prime minister to King Krishnadeva­raya) of the Rajasekhara Reddy regime because of his loyalty, strategising abilities and political acumen.
Such is KVP’s dedication to the CM that party
persons say he “eats, breathes and sleeps YSR”. KVP was nicknamed Capstan by YSR because he used to smoke that brand of cigarettes during their student days in Gulbarga. KVP, in turn, used to call his friend Raju. That stopped in 2004, on the day YSR became CM. From then, KVP began calling him ‘sir’.
Lately, YSR’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy
entered politics and was elected Kadapa MP
this time. Both of KVP’s sons have stayed
away from politics so far. One lives
in Delhi, the other in Dubai. Whenever YSR is in town, KVP and the CM will have lunch
together. That’s when they go through
party and administrative affairs with a fine toothcomb. There’s “only one thing” about his friend that makes KVP jealous: YSR’s ability to fall asleep instantly and enjoy a nap
whenever he gets the chance. At 59,
KVP says age has been catching up
with him. To cope better with his
workload, he takes an hour off
his busy schedule “for myself” every morning. “I practise yoga,” he says.
quid pro quo
He only conceived its minutest details. KVP was the one who designed the famous 2003 padayatra that propelled YSR into the CM’s gaddi. Starting from 9.30 am to midnight, YSR’s road map, the duration of his walks, his breaks, his interaction with voters, his chats with the media — effectively, KVP worked out everything. A year later, it took no time for YSR as the CM to appoint KVP as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Public Affairs, Public Utilities and Public Welfare. That ensured his trusted friend a Cabinet rank post and a chamber in the Secretariat. The Rajya Sabha post materialised later — in 2008.
one person,
many facets
Name: K V P Ramachandra Rao
Age: 59
Post: Rajya Sabha MP
Power: A time-tested friend of CM Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.
An able backroom coordinator
Strengths: Sharp, self-effacing, — a perfect foil for YSR’s out­spokenness. Liked by partymen
Drawbacks: Has invited the
ire of Opposition parties,
who charge him with
furtive nepotism