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February 21, 1998


Campaign Trail/ J S Sai

NRI ahead in the Nizamabad fray

Is Nizamabad a sick person's paradise? Has it become Andhra Pradesh's medical capital? Does it have a very high illness rate?

The flood of questions refuse to recede as one walks around the town's Khaleelwadi. It has nothing but clinics, nursing homes, druggists, opticians, diagnostic centres and scanning units. Hundreds and hundreds of them. No other town with just over 250,000 people would perhaps have so many medical units. And all making a killing!

What is more incredible is that more and more doctors cram into the claustrophobic corner, deifying the myth that budding medicos prefer bustling metros.

"There were just two doctors when I cam here from Guntur district in 1948, " says STD booth owner Venkateshwar Rao. "Now there are hundreds of them, and some of them have their own drug shops and diagnostic centres as if the money they are making on their practice is not enough." Confirming this, a leading physician says greed has forced the doctors to start nursing homes. "But the quality of service is poor."

However, says Dr J Raghunath Rao, past president of the local wing of the Indian Medical Association, "They are doing okay, and their incomes have shown phenomenal growth because the number of patients has gone up -- countless people now see a doctor for silly things like a cold!"

So the most-sought-after profession in the town seems to be medicine. Considered the shortest route to the first million, the desire has already sparked a major election issue -- a medical college for the town which was sanctioned 30 years ago.

"Politics have delayed the project," says sitting MP and non resident Indian Gaddam Atma Charan Reddy who defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party after the Congress denied him a ticket. Two of his major election promises in the last election were a Rs 1.3 billion drinking water scheme for the district and the medical college. Reddy says he did not have enough time -- as the 11th Lok Sabha was dissolved in 18 months -- to fulfill either promise. "Such frequent polls are a waste of time," he adds.

Claiming that he has improved the telephone service in this area besides getting approval for the conversion of the Mudkhed-Nizamabad-Bolarum metre gauge railway line into broad gauge. His Telugu Desam Party rival Gaddam Ganga Reddy also claims credit for the same.

A liquor baron, Ganga Reddy has been distributing cricket kits among the youth -- even in rural areas -- to wean them away from the BJP.

Both candidates indulge in largesse, leaving the Congress's K Kesava Rao to bank on the Sonia Gandhi miracle. She addressed a meeting in Nizamabad on Thursday. The crowd was good, but not so the people's response to her speech in this prosperous area ,which was lucky to have the first irrigation project in Telangana, the Nizam Sagar project built in the 1940s by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Known for its paddy and sugarcane cultivation, the district has two sugar factories while its rural areas thrive on beedi rolling.

Asked who among the trio has the best chance of winning, rickshaw-puller Wazim says, "The town elects only those who have the potential to do something -- they should have the right connections." By that yardstick, all three candidates are strong in this area. If Kesava Rao is considered close to Sonia, Ganga Reddy is known for his wealth.

Known from his business in pacemakers in the US, Atma Charan Reddy shot to fame when he donated a pacemaker to Mother Teresa. He became president of the American Telugu Association in 1994. Considered close to former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, he was part of the group of MPs to President K R Narayanan, demanding that the Lok Sabha should not be dissolved after Congress chief Sitaram Kesri pulled the rug from under the Gujral government.

He was denied a Congress ticket due to his proximity to the BJP which has now fielded him from his home district. The party is depending heavily on him to reopen its account in the state -- no BJP member was elected from Andhra Pradesh in 1996.

"At one time I had reservation about the BJP's policies," says the NRI. "Now I am convinced it is the only party which can provide stability. And Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the best prime ministerial candidate."

Asked if his constituents appreciate his logic, he says, "They have welcomed my decision. The Congress has become a pseudo-secular party after Kesri took over."

Does the 38-year-old saffron leader agree with his party's policies, especially those pertaining to the Babri mosque? "If the party has decided to build a temple there, it would have thought of all aspects. I will abide its decision."

But several Muslims, who voted for him in the 1996 election, find themselves isolated. "We voted for him as he promised to turn Nizamabad into America," says a Muslim leader. "What has achieved, except switching sides in just two years?" But the NRI is sure of their support, despite the BJP's 'communal policies. He also proposes to purses the private bill on dual citizenship for NRIs which he had introduced in Parliament.

Though Atma Charan Reddy seems confident of regaining the seat, he will face a fierce fight from his two formidable opponents as voter loyalties are divided in the constituency, whose rural belt has to brave the Naxal poll boycott threat.

In fact, in the last election, Atma Charan's ancestral house in Padhkal village was blasted by People's War Group Naxalites. Asked if any such threat looms now, the NRI laughs, "there is no house left now. Come with me to any village, and you will that they will do no harm to me."

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