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The 'perpetual dissident' finally becomes CM

Syed Amin Jafri | May 13, 2004 00:50 IST

It has taken Yedugoori Sandinti Rajasekhar Reddy, the doctor turned politician who will take over on Friday, May 14, as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh following the Congress party's landslide victory in the assembly election, nearly two decades to realise his ambition.

Dr Reddy, popularly known as YSR, is the party's best-known face in the state. At the moment, he is the one Congress politician who enjoys wide support across all regions of Andhra Pradesh. Though several Congress politicians nurture the ambition of becoming chief minister, they do not enjoy the kind of popularity or credibility that YSR has.

YSR thought he had a chance on three previous occasions — in 1985, 1992, and 1999 — but either numbers or luck did not favour him. He, however, worked hard in the last couple of years to eventually seize power from friend-turned-foe N Chandrababu Naidu.

YSR had vowed to quit politics if the Congress failed to form the government in Hyderabad this time. Luckily, his efforts bore fruit, with Naidu cutting his own tenure short by dissolving the state assembly almost a year ahead of schedule.

Both Naidu and YSR started off as Youth Congress leaders in their respective native districts, Chittoor and Cuddapah. Both were first elected to the assembly on Congress tickets in 1978 and became junior ministers in 1980.

They parted company in 1983 when Naidu joined the Telugu Desam Party led by his father-in-law N T Rama Rao after it wrested power from the Congress.

While in the opposition, YSR consolidated his grip on Cuddapah and earned the sobriquet 'Cuddapah Tiger' for his aggressive role in the assembly.

In 1983, after the Congress party's historic rout in the Andhra Pradesh assembly, Indira Gandhi appointed him state party president. YSR was just 34 at the time.

YSR could not, however, stop the TDP's march in the 1984 Lok Sabha and 1985 assembly election.

His dream of becoming chief minister was shattered in 1985 when the Congress got just 50 seats in the 294 member assembly and he had to quit as the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee chief.

When the Congress eventually wrested power from NTR in 1989, YSR found himself to be in the wrong place at the right time. He had shifted away from state politics and opted to become an MP from Cuddapah.

Reddy tried to succeed N Janardhan Reddy in 1992 when the latter had to quit following strictures against him by the Andhra Pradesh high court for granting permission en masse to 20 medical/dental colleges. But the then Congress president and prime minister, P V Narasimha Rao, did not trust YSR too much and opted for another Reddy, his old friend and former chief minister Kotla Vijayabhaskar Reddy.

After Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress in 1998, YSR was chosen once again to head the party in Andhra Pradesh to prepare for the 1999 assembly election.

But as YSR's bad luck would have it, the mid-term Lok Sabha election coincided with the state assembly election, the TDP entered into an electoral alliance with the BJP, and the impact of the Kargil conflict ruined the Congress party's chances despite his hard work.

YSR did succeed, though, in taking the Congress tally of assembly seats up from an all-time low of 26 in 1994 to 91 in 1999.

In 2000, YSR opted to be the Congress legislature party leader and quit as APCC chief. Gradually, he took up a series of agitations against the 'anti-people' policies of the TDP government, including a popular protest against an increase in power tariff.

He also undertook statewide yatras periodically to mobilise public support. In 2002, he embarked on a 2,200km yatra through eight districts. A year later, he took up a gruelling 'Praja Prasthanam Padyatra', a 1,600km walkathon through the state, to learn about the people's problems.

Before the campaign for the current elections began, YSR, along with other leaders of the party, crisscrossed the state with a 'bus yatra' to project the unity in the Congress and present it as a formidable force to unseat the TDP, a delicious irony because in the 1980s and early 1990s YSR was known as the perpetual dissident. Those were the days when the Congress in Andhra Pradesh was riven by factionalism, as a result of which no Congress chief minister could hope to complete more than two years in office.

Once the election campaign got underway, YSR embarked on a twenty-day 'Jaitra Yatra', covering 5,500km through 168 assembly segments and 38 Lok Sabha constituencies to canvass support for the Congress-led alliance. His yatras evoked enthusiastic public response.

YSR led an aggressive, all-out campaign against the TDP's alleged misrule, highlighting the failures and lopsided priorities of Chandrababu Naidu. He exposed several scams and put the government in the dock over the spate of suicides by farmers, its ineffective steps for tackling the severe drought in Andhra Pradesh, the unfulfilled promises of Naidu, and other issues. In the process, he established his credentials as a Congress leader with state-wide appeal.

Born on July 8, 1949, in a middle-class family of Jammalamadugu village in Cuddapah district, YSR did his MBBS from the M R Medical College at Gulbarga in neighbouring Karnataka. He began his political career as the Cuddapah district Youth Congress secretary in 1975 and has never lost an electoral contest. He has been elected to the state assembly from hometown Pulivendla five times — in 1978, 1983, 1985, 1999, and now in 2004.

He also had a decade-long innings as parliamentarian, having been elected to Lok Sabha from Cuddapah four times — in 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998 — before shifting back to state politics in 1999.

YSR served as a junior minister in the Congress governments in Andhra Pradesh from 1980 to 1983, handling portfolios as varied as health, rural development, excise and education.

Married to Vijayalakshmi in 1972, Reddy has a son and a daughter, both well-established in business. He gets his moral strength from his mother Jayamma. Political rivals killed his father, Y S Raja Reddy, in 1998.

A Christian by faith, YSR is also well-versed in Hindu traditions and visits temples regularly. He hails from the Reddy community that dominates politics in as many as 18 out of Andhra Pradesh's 23 districts.

ALSO SEE: In Cuddapah, YSR is king

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