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September 23, 1999


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The Rediff Election Profile/ N Chandrababu Naidu

'No CM has worked as hard as Naidu'

J S Sai in Chandragiri, Cuddapah, Naravaripalli, Tirupati

Chandra Babu Naidu An hour's drive on the Tirupati-Madanapalli (where Jiddu Krishnamurti's well-known Rishi Valley school is located) road, and you are in Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu's native village Naravaripalli.

''His mother still lives there,'' says a local.

The gates of Naidu's palatial building in the village are locked. As I survey the building, a suspicious security man emerges from his tent. ''Where can we find Naidu's mother Nara Amanamma.''

''Check her niece's place,'' he says.

Chandrababu Naidu's native village Naravaripalli. Even the niece's place is locked. ''Try Amanamma's sister's place,'' someone suggests. We pass Naidu's small ancestral house, a dilapidated structure sandwiched between two equally unimpressive buildings. The outer walls had no plaster, no paint, reflecting his humble background.

Naidu's aunt meets us at her gate. ''She has not come here,'' she says. But his grandmother, who ''turned 100 long back'', gets up from the cot and mumbles.

Her pink cotton saree is as pale as her skin, but she shows ample determination. ''She still stitches the holes on her sarees with coarse thread, and pounds betel nuts for small supari helpings.''

That pleasant morning, the betel nut crasher was still on her bed. Maybe she needs supari often. Maybe she does not trust others when it came to the delicate task of protecting her fragile teeth.

''No, no, she won't be able to talk,'' Naidu's aunt says as I try to introduce myself.

The hunt for Amannama begins again. ''Try their poultry farm...'' No, she is not there.

''Try her husband's granite samadhi in the village?...'' No luck... Finally we give up, and take a break under a tree.

Hardly had we settled when someone said she was at her niece Krishnamma's place. ''I came to the village because of the election. I want to be at my place during the election,'' says Amannama. ''Otherwise I live in Tirupati, with my daughter.''

Doesn't she want to give moral support to her son who is perhaps facing the toughest battle of his life? ''I keep visiting him and my younger son. But I hate staying with anyone. I hate being a showpiece at their places. I love staying here.

Chandrababu Naidu's mother ''My son is very soft-spoken, and always takes the right decisions.

''When he was a child he used to be a good student, and always used to move in the company of at least 10 friends. He loves people.''

Did she think he would be chief minister one day? ''No. How can we dream of such a thing?'' she says.

Then did she want him to be a doctor, engineer? ''No, nothing of the sort.''

Then who inspired him to take to politics? ''He took the decision on his own,'' she says. ''His father was always worried about his future. But Naidu was adamant.''

Was he scared of his father? ''No, he was scared of his mother,'' says Krishnamma, slicing vegetables for lunch. Amanamma laughs. ''Yes, I used to shout,'' she agrees. Then why didn't you dissuade him from entering politics? ''Why would he heed my advice?'' she asks. ''What do I know about politics?''

Till he reached class five, Naidu used to walk one kilometre every day to reach his school in Seshapuram. Then he went to the Chandragiri government high school, till class 10. He used to carry a lunch box, with either curry or chutney. ''Rarely did he have a choice,'' she says.

Naidu's family has 10 acres of land in the village. ''Each acre costs around Rs 120,000,'' according to the CM's brother-in-law K Rajaratnam Naidu. ''We used to grow sugarcane, then make jaggery. Our annual income in those days was at least Rs 30,000,'' says Amanamma.

M Narayana Sastry, Naidu's Telugu teacher at the Chandragiri school, says, ''He always had leadership qualities. Being active, intelligent and hard working, he always used to attract the attention of fellow students.'' Sastry has settled in Chandragiri, near Tirupati, after his retirement

''As for temperament, Naidu never used to lose his cool. He always used to work to a plan to achieve his goals,'' says Sastry.

''He was a very good organiser, and helped me in holding several conferences,'' says Professor J Sai Baba who taught Naidu economics at S V University, Tirupati.

''But who thought he will become so great?'' asks Sastry. ''He was an average student who was very hard working. Only his hard work is responsible for his success. It is great that a common man has risen to such a high office. It is no easy task controlling such a big party.''

''Without any political background, it is remarkable that he has achieved so much,'' says P Sambasivaiah, a senior Cuddapah advocate who is now in the Congress party. ''He has great vision, abundance spirit to work hard.''

''We never though he was so intelligent,'' says Y Jayarama Naidu, a classmate of Naidu's brother Nara Ramamurthy Naidu.

''His memory is extraordinary,'' says Professor Chandra Mouli, head, political science department, S V University, Tirupati.

Chandrababu Naidu Naidu completed his BA in 1972, after which he enrolled in the MA (economics) course. In 1974, he started work on his Ph D under the guidance of Professor D L Narayana, who is now Andhra Pradesh State Finance Commission chairman. The topic was Economic ideas of Professor N G Ranga. He did not complete his Ph D, according to Professor J Sai Baba. Chandrababu Naidu's last visit to the university campus was in 1978.

''He was not very academic,'' says Professor D Narayana Rao of the physics department. ''At the same time we cannot say he was not interested in academics. Nor can we say he always had an eye on politics.''

P Ramachandra Reddy, a senior Congress leader who contested the assembly election from Pileru in Chittoor district, and Chandrababu Naidu used to have 'frequent fights' because of caste differences at the university.

''The fights reflected the caste divide,'' says Professor Narayana Rao. ''However, some instances show Naidu was not caste-conscious. Like, for instance, in the selection of a vice-chancellor, he ignored the candidature of a certain candidate, fearing he would aggravate caste tensions.''

''He had no caste feelings, but was initially bracketed as casteist because of jealousy,'' says Jayarama Naidu. ''He always got along well with the Reddys.''

During the Emergency, he became the Pulicherla Youth Congress president. He became close to then prime minister Indira Gandhi's son Sanjay.

''In the late 1970s, when there was a cyclone in the area, Chandrababu Naidu and I organised 40 buses to take students to a Sanjay Gandhi meeting,'' says V Subramaniam Naidu, a former Srikalahasti MLA who is considered close to the chief minister. ''Both of us personally pasted all the Sanjay posters from Renigunta airport to Srikalashasti.''

''He had got a Congress ticket in 1978 under the 20 per cent quota for youth,'' says Professor Sai Baba. ''Professor N G Ranga and G Ramgopal Naidu (whose daughter G Aruna Kumari contested the Chandragiri assembly election as a Congress candidate) played a key role in this regard.''

How did he manage to get the funds? ''By then our annual income from jaggery had gone up to Rs 100,000, and his father was willing to forego two years income. Luckily, that year, we had a good crop,'' says Amanamma. ''He spent Rs 300,000 on the election campaign.''

''The family did not mind the expenditure as an astrologer had told Naidu he would soon become the CM,'' says Krihnamma.

In 1979, Chandrababu and then irrigation minister C Das were instrumental in ensuring G Kuthuhalamma's election as the Chittoor zilla parishad chief against the official Congress nominee. ''Following this he was suspended for two months from the Congress,'' says Professor Chandra Mouli.

Considered a 'Young Turk' in the AP Congress, he soon became a minister in T Anjaiah's jumbo ministry. Again Professor Ranga helped him.

Being the minister of state for cinematography, he came into contact with superstar Nandamuri Taraka Ramo Rao. The Nadamuri family was impressed with Chandrababu Naidu, and they soon proposed that NTR's daughter Bhuvaneswari be married to him. ''He thought for a while, pondering whether a poor man like him could cope with the lifestyle of the Nandamuris,'' says Subramaniam Naidu.

Asked if it was true that Chandrababu Naidu's father was not allowed to enter the marriage venue at Madras, Subramaniam Naidu says, ''There were so many people at the wedding that the security guards goofed. He was let in when someone identified him.''

Though married life was smooth, some vested interests tried to poison NTR's mind by writing anonymous letters against Chandrababu Naidu. ''One day NTR came up to his son-in-law and said he would pay no attention to such letters, and that he should do the same. 'We like you, and so we had agreed to the match.' ''

Did he give his father-in-law the idea of floating a regional party? ''He was impressed by the growth of regional parties in Tamil Nadu. But I do not think he gave the idea to NTR,'' says Professor Sai Baba. ''The legendary star thought of it after attending Bhavanam Venkatram's swearing in ceremony in the early 1980s as chief minister.''

Three years later, NTR stormed to power with a landslide majority. But Naidu could not retain his Chandragiri seat. As political hibernation threatened him, NTR summoned him and asked Naidu to join the Telugu Desam Party.

''Chandrababu reluctantly joined it,'' says Subramaniam Naidu. ''He was well aware of the caste factors in the Congress, and the Kammas felt suffocated in the party,'' says Professor Chandra Mouli. ''He felt he would have a better future in the TDP.''

''He began playing a crucial role in the TDP after Nandendla Bhaskara Rao overthrew NTR in a coup in August 1984. NTR started relying heavily on him, realising that the others around could not match his drive and hard work. Chandrababu was fully in control of the party, and it was because of his efforts that NTR had regained his chair,'' says Subramaniam Naidu.

NTR opted for a mid-term poll after regaining the chief ministership, but Chandrababu Naidu did not contest the poll. The Nandendla factor gave NTR another landslide, and Chandrababu Naidu started building up the party.

In the 1989 assembly election, Chandrababu Naidu contested from Kuppam and won with a slender majority of 5,000-odd votes. But, as the Congress had regained power in the election, Naidu had to sit in the Opposition.

Why did he decide to go to Kuppam? ''He was very unhappy with Chandragiri,'' says his mother. '' 'How can they defeat me in 1983 when I did so much for them?' '' Naidu's mother recalls him as saying.

In 1994, after the TDP regained power following an anti-Congress wave triggered by an anti-liquor agitation and a strong anti-incumbency factor, Naidu became the finance and revenue minister in the NTR cabinet.

A year later, he led a palace coup against NTR. ''So deep was the resentment against Lakshmi Parvathi (NTR's second wife) that if he had not done it, some other MLA would have become the CM,'' says Subramaniam Naidu. ''The whole Nandamuri family supported him in this regard. But NTR was a dejected man, and he died soon after.''

''What else could he do if NTR continued to pamper his second wife?'' asks Amannama. ''The whole family was against her.''

''He is a very shrewd politician,'' says Professor Chandra Mouli. ''If he were to be a Reddy, he would have become the chief minister long back.''

Why did NTR's son N Harikrishna rebel against him last year and launch his Anna Telugu Desam Party? ''Chandrababu made a mistake. When Harikrishna said the TDP should support the BJP after the fall of H D Deve Gowda government, Chandrababu thought it was time to clip his wings.''

As for his first brush with computers, it dates back to 1986, when the TDP's offices were computerised. ''The credit for this goes to NTR,'' says Professor Sai Baba.

''He has not given any push to his family members,'' says Professor Chandra Mouli. Then how come his brother Ramamurthy Naidu got a ticket? ''That was because of NTR and Lakshmi Parvathi,'' says Professor Mouli. ''He avoids his relations like the plague lest they became an extra-constitutional authority. In fact he has gone on record saying that any effort on the part of his relations to influence the government should be spurned.''

So who is the de facto CM, if there is one? Professor Sai Baba points to a tree outside the window of his room. ''He is a banyan tree,'' he says.

Does it mean he does not delegate? ''No, he does delegate,'' says Professor Mouli. ''There are several committees in the TDP. It is not like the Congress, where Gandhi Bhavan (the state Congress headquarters) comes alive only before an election.''

Comparing NTR with his son-in-law, Professor Mouli says, ''NTR had charisma. Anything he did -- wearing ear studs, saffron dress, doing Kali puja -- became the talk of the town. He mixed religion with regionalism (by playing roles like Lord Krishna) with telling effect. Naidu thought he would have no future if these continued. So he has been spreading the concept of a working CM.''

''The CM's problem is that he cannot carry people with him. If you don't smile, even your wife, kids will hesitate to come to you,'' says P Sambasivaiah, the senior Cuddapah advocate who is now in the Congress. ''He kills his smile. If he can learn to smile, he will be like Chandra. He is eclipsing himself now. As long as he is the chief minister, they will tolerate him. Smile is the ventilator of love... Silence and love -- they go to unfathomable depths in human beings, where words falter after a while.''

As for his ideology, Professor Mouli says, ''He does not have any ideology. He is very pragmatic, has no dogmas.''

''He has always been a capitalist,'' says Professor Sai Baba.

Asked if hi-tech and such ideas were his own, Professor Mouli says he has given wide publicity to the people associated with the projects. ''There is a great deal of transparency, and he has been consulting a wide spectrum of intellectuals including Governor C Rangarajan.''

''Knowing him, I don't think he can claim that the policies are his own,'' says Professor D Narayana Rao. ''I can say he has the ability to hire the best brains.''

Naidu's greatest achievement is that, while intellectuals avoid politicians like plague, they adore the chief minister and praise him lavishly. ''I have seen people like A P J Kalam going out of their way to praise him,'' says Professor Narayana Rao.

''Since the 1960s, no CM has worked as hard as Naidu,'' says P Sambasivaiah of the Congress.

Naidu has been hoping that his hard work will pay him rich dividends at the hustings. The middle class and countless AP intellectuals will be sorely disappointed if it does not, at least in his case.

The Rediff Election Specials

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