A torch extinguished - YSR Reddy (1949-2009)
Ritesh K Srivastava
The tragic death of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Congress leader YSR Reddy, who devoted his entire life to the people of his state and the country, has come as a major shock to the entire nation.
The nation has for sure lost a great leader who was known for his administrative skills, his ability to feel the nerves of the masse and his strong conviction to transform Andhra Pradesh into a developed and progressive state.
The untimely death of YSR has also dealt a major blow to the ruling Congress party, which managed to bring down the TDP’s rein in 2004 polls under his able leadership.
Hailed as peoples’ popular leader, YSR took over as Chief Minister of the state for the first time on May 14, 2004. Since then, there was no looking back for the mass leader who hailed from the most backward region of Rayalaseema.
YSR’s belief in the grass-root politics and his peoples` welfare agenda helped him clinch power when he was sworn-in as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister for the second successive term in the 2008 Assembly Elections.
Congress’ biggest regional face
With his death, the Congress party has surely lost one of its biggest regional faces. YSR’s remarkable electoral victories in the 2004 elections - against the government of Telgu Desam Party (TDP) chief and his friend-turned-foe N Chandrababu Naidu - played a vital role in resurgence of the Congress party both in the state and at the Centre. With a slew of sops and public welfare schemes, YSR silenced both TDP and the Naxals, who were trying to take advantage of N Chandrababu’s urban-centric approach in the poverty-ridden regions of the state.
He was one of the top favourites of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, as he rightfully delivered what he promised elections after elections. The able governance and huge popularity of YSR helped Congress increase its 2004 tally from 29 to 33 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. With his electoral success YSR also proved wrong his contemporary Congress leaders like Sharad Pawar, who once said “There was no place for genuine mass leaders. There is only the party high command and a brigade of loyalists.”
YSR proved that it was still possible for any one with a mass appeal to carve a niche for himself and rise high in the party’s hierarchy defying an undercurrent of hostility.
Poster boy of Congress’s Aam Admi campaign
The magical persona of the “Lion of Kadapa” also had a Midas touch. He was a leader of the common masses in real terms since he succeeded in overcoming the caste factor and regional divides through his highly praised welfare schemes. His popularity among masses can be gauged from the fact that he clinched power even without promising free TV sets, cash doles and without banking on big filmstars.
Though the aam admi campaign helped Congress retain power in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, no other leader than YSR actually promoted its core philosophy that it was a pro-poor party, which was dedicated to the empowerment of the most backward sections. The success of YSR’s health insurance scheme, irrigation projects, expansion of NREGS, Rs 2/kg rice scheme, etc convinced the Andhra voters that only Congress can bring a remarkable change in their lives.
A great organiser
YSR was widely regarded for his great organising skill, which came to the fore in 2004 and 2009 polls when Congress’ victory in Andhra Pradesh eventually helped it to wrest power from the ruling BJP at the centre. Thus Congress high command rewarded YSR by giving him the full authority in shaping the party’s future in his own distinct style and crushing all discordant voices with a firm hand. He single-handedly ran the Congress party’s Lok Sabha campaign beating the hectic electioneering by top stars of the tinsel world in favour of TDP and megastar Chiranjeev’s Praja Rajyam.
YSR tasted success despite lacking the larger-than-life persona of his predecessor NTR. He brought to dust the hostile poll campaign from both the TDP-led four-party Grand Alliance and Praja Rajyam, and proved his detractors wrong.
His bottom-to-top approach helped Congress garner huge support of the aam admi and he thus managed to beat the anti-incumbency factor. YSR succeeded in highlighting the achievements of his government in his first five year term versus the `poor credibility record` of his main rival TDP’s N Chandrababu Naidu.
A real winner
As a true winner in his political career spanning three decades, YSR was elected to the State Assembly five times. YSR was also a four-time Lok Sabha member and never lost an election.
The 60-year-old leader also broke a 53-year-old jinx for the Congress party by becoming its first Chief Minister to retain power - a feat achieved before only by legendary NT Rama Rao of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the 1980s.
He also had the credit of becoming the first Chief Minister in the state’s history to complete a full five-year term.
Born in a middle-class family at Pulivendula, a small town in Kadapa district, on July 8, 1949, YSR had a modest beginning. He was the eldest of the five sons of YS Raja Reddy, a dynamic local leader in his heydays.
His inclination towards politics started while he was pursuing his MBBS course at MR Medical College, Gulbarga in Karnataka.
He entered active politics in 1978 and was elected to the State Assembly from Pulivendula. He served as a state minister from 1980 to 1983 and retained the Assembly seat in 1983 even when NTR swept to power with a historic victory.
YSR was appointed as president of the state unit of Congress at the age of 34 by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, who saw in him the potential of a great leader.
In 1989, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kadapa and held the seat till 1999 when he shifted again to state politics. From 1998 to 2000, he again served as president of the state Congress.
Though the party lost the 1999 state elections, YSR emerged as the strongest leader of the party and became the Leader of Opposition.
The year 2003 was a turning point in his political career as he rose to national fame following his 64-day padyatra across the state. Covering 1,500 km under the scorching sun, he received petitions from people about their problems, mainly relating to agriculture and unemployment.
His experiences during the padyatra helped him shape his future policies after assuming office as he gave free electricity to farmers, waived their loans, introduced several welfare schemes like pension for the aged, widows and handicapped, housing for poor, Rs 2/kg rice scheme, Rajiv Arogyasri or community health insurance scheme and a massive programme to build irrigation projects.
His sincere efforts bore the fruits as the Congress party managed to win as many as 156 of Andhra Pradesh`s 294 seats and bagged 33 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats this time.
YSR’s untimely death is an irreparable loss to the entire nation and has created a void, which only time can fill. It is yet to be seen how the Congress party manages to find a suitable replacement for YSR and whether the new leader be able to carry forward his legacy? Nonetheless, YSR will be remembered as a dynamic leader, a great visionary and a humble man forever.