Saturday, October 10, 2009


YSR could be totally frank one moment and canny the next. Alternately fierce and tender, a loyal friend to friends and bitter rival to rivals, Dr Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy was truly an ebullient and multifaceted man.He started out as a local politician but grew to be a national figure. Though a known dissident for long, he quelled dissidence swiftly when he became the chief minister. He carried the “Rayalaseema” tag for many years but was later known to be the champion of a united state.Born on July 8, 1949, in Pulivendula, Rayalaseema, Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy started electoral politics in 1978 from Pulivendula. I knew YSR for long and could always discern his big heartedness beneath the rough and tumble of his politics.YSR was an angry young man in those days but was also known for the parties he threw at the Idupulapaya Estates. Young YSR’s fiery temper was legendary.For the first few years he confined himself to Pulivendula where his father Raja Reddy was in the mining business. Gradually he started participating in politics at the state level. During the Anjaiah regime he became a minister of state for rural development and then the health minister.YSR became quite powerful during Bhavanam Venkatram’s regime and was even known as the “de facto chief minister”.In those days, YSR had a thick moustache and was always seen in the company of Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu and Mr K.E. Krishnamurthy. A natural leader, his rivalries ran deep. But when he felt affection for a person, his trust would be complete.This particular trait led to several ups and downs in his three-decade-long career in politics. YSR was disappointed at not getting a berth in the P.V. Narasimha Rao Cabinet and gravitated towards Rajesh Pilot who he accepted as a “guru” in national politics. But YSR was never too keen on national politics.It was Rajiv Gandhi who spotted the leader in YSR. After G. Venkataswamy, then Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief, quit his post following the Telugu Desam’s rise to power, Indira Gandhi chose 34-year-old YSR as the successor on the advice of her son. YSR’s honesty had impressed Rajiv. During the 1985 Assembly polls, YSR candidly told Rajiv that the Congress’ chances were bleak. “Don’t worry”, said Rajiv, “You select youthful and energetic candidates”. YSR dropped senior political leaders such as Madanmohan and Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy from the list of candidates and put up new faces. After 1985, YSR had to quit the post of PCC chief. Many thought that this would be the end of his career.YSR started his political innings as MLA in 1986 and got into trouble with the All-India Congress Committee. Despite this, YSR was trusted by political leaders because of his forthright and pleasant manners. He welcomed both friends and foes with a smiling face, always kept his word and would never lie.
YSR was an inveterate traveller. He loved to be on the road all the time. I travelled with him many times and once we even escaped a major accident while returning to Delhi from Tehri Dam. We were caught between a convoy of army trucks and YSR hit his head on the front seat but suffered no injuries. After filing a police complaint, we drove on to Delhi. Passers by laughed at our car — both the front and rear were damaged and one door was hanging.Though YSR could get angry with his colleagues, he loved people and never lost his cool when he was with them. He used to write thousands of recommendation letters for the people who came to visit him.The tough leader used to relax by listening to songs of Ghantasala but hated television. Whenever he stepped into his house, he would switch off the TV even if his wife, Vijayalaxmi, was watching it. He loved books and would always read something before going to sleep.One quirk of YSR was his possessiveness about his toilet. A story that’s often told is that as chief minister, he transferred a senior IPS official because he had used the sanitised toilet meant for him just before his arrival at the Visakhapatnam guest house.YSR was a smoker in the early 80s and would often borrow cigarettes. He kicked the habit in 1988 but still loved the smell of tobacco. In Parliament’s Central Hall he would sometimes take a cigarette from me, smell it and return it.A fast eater, he would not wait for others to finish their meal before leaving the table. And as is well-known, he was also an early riser.After becoming chief minister in 2004, YSR changed a lot. He became calmer and the customary angry retorts became less and less.I still remember during the Kadapa Lok Sabha polls YSR asking his jeep driver to go full throttle towards the Telugu Desam men assembled there after learning that they had been resorting to bogus voting. But after becoming the chief minister, he used to say, “I have severed the anger nerve”.There are some interesting anecdotes which illustrate YSR’s approach to issues and people. Once his father Raja Reddy came to see him and asked him to help one individual. This was during Mr Janardhana Reddy’s tenure as Chief Minister. YSR replied, “Naayanaa (daddy), I verified the case. This person is corrupt. How can I help him?”In another instance, in the same period, YSR asked the then minister for technical education, Mr Eswar Kumar, to accord sanction in an issue. But when the complainants told YSR that the minister had not done it, YSR picked up the phone and said, “Mr Eswar Kumar, I want the G.O. by today evening”. To everyone’s surprise, Mr Eswar Kumar came to YSR’s residence and handed over the copy of G.O. That was YSR’s style.YSR is often thought of as a person who helped only Reddys. But he was non-sectarian and secular. He advised his brother, Sudheekara Reddy, to allow his daughter to marry a youth belonging to another caste.Though the YSR family got baptised decades ago, it remained a truly secular family where all religions were respected and festivals celebrated. He would often say, “I believe in Christ. So I forgive persons and also give them time to change”.He was an efficient time manager and always found time for people and issues. He had made a habit of meeting his long-time friend KVP over lunch to discuss important issues. He would also listen to officials keenly but would take his own decisions.YSR’s major passion, if one can say so, were people. He could not spend a day without meeting people and helping them. Even after becoming chief minister he would often give money to poor people who would come to his house. That is YSR for you — a man who loved his people.Source deccan chronicle.