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February 10, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Lakshmi Parvathi

'I will continue my fight against Chandrababu Naidu'

Ch Sushil Kumar

Lakshmi Parvathi NTR-TDP leader Lakshmi Parvathi continues her lonely battle against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu who dethroned her husband N T Rama Rao in a midnight coup a couple of years ago.

As long as NTR was chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Lakshmi Parvathi remained the most powerful lady in the state. Today, the widow of the Telugu Desam Party's founder has little clout to boast of. Holding onto her seat in the state assembly, she is making a desperate bid to stay politically relevant.

NTR's son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu assumed power after dethroning the patriarch, and successfully dealt with Lakshmi Parvathi. After NTR's death, he reduced Parvathi to an inconsequential player in state politics.

In a bid to wreck vengeance on Naidu, Lakshmi Parvathi's party, the NTR-TDP, comprising of NTR loyalists, contested all 42 seats in the last Lok Sabha election -- but drew a blank.

This time, after many false starts, she finally concluded a last minute alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party to contest the Lok Sabha election. Not that the BJP treated her any better than Chandrababu Naidu, but for Lakshmi Parvathi the election is yet another opportunity to take revenge against Naidu.

Lakshmi Parvathi asked for 20 seats, but the BJP gave her just four, in spite of the fact that her party polled more votes than the BJP in the 1996 election. The NTR-TDP polled 10.6 per cent of the vote while the BJP could muster only 5.6 per cent. The BJP, like the NTR-TDP, did not even win a single seat in the 1996 election. Worse still, it lost its Secunderabad seat.

Unable to get her way, a sulking Lakshmi Parvathi has decided to contest only three seats."Though I have more support than the BJP amongst the people, I agreed to their conditions for an alliance because I want to concentrate on the next assembly election. It is then that I will get more seats," she told Rediff On The NeT.

How far the alliance will help Lakshmi Parvathi remains to be seen. For the present, the NTR-TDP's rank and file, whatever remains of it, is divided on the issue of an alliance with the BJP.

An NTR-TDP leader, who was initially nominated to contest the poll, is reported to have slashed his hand when the seat went to the BJP. Another candidate poured kerosene on himself.

"This shows how much regard partymen have for the late N T Rama Rao," Lakshmi Parvathi says in her interpretation of the incidents. Trusted lieutenants, who were close to NTR, have deserted her one by one. P Indra Reddy deserted her to form the Jai Telengana Party. Her lieutenant Muddu Krishnanama Naidu also parted ways with her like several other MLAs.

With no real issues, she talks of the injustice meted out to her late husband in her attempt to gather votes.

Since NTR's death, she has been involved in a losing battle against Naidu. Crippled by a dwindling army of faithfuls, she is left with hardly anyone to carry on the fight against the chief minister.

Time was when Lakshmi Parvathi's word was law. After she entered NTR's life, his sons, sons-in-law and a powerful newspaper baron were pushed in the background. Angered by the turn of events, they joined hands against her. Even if it meant pulling the rug from under his feet.

With Daggubati Venkateshwar Rao, NTR's eldest son-in-law, and Nandamuri Harikrishna, NTR's eldest son, having joined hands with Chandrababu Naidu, there was little either Lakshmi Parvathi or NTR could do to put down the 1995 uprising.

"All those who swore they would stand by me because of their unflinching loyalty to my late husband have left me. Chandrababu Naidu has used money power to woo them away. But I am not disheartened. I will continue to fight," she says.

But did the last Lok Sabha election not convey to her that the people cared little for her?

"The people were, of course, with me. The problem was with the election symbol. People voted for the cycle symbol, the TDP symbol for the last 14 years. I was denied the symbol and allotted the lion, a symbol which people were not familiar with. They all voted for the cycle thinking that it continued to be my symbol," she explains.

Lakshmi Parvathi does not hide her anger on the subsequent desertions from her party. "Some of them were concerned about their future. They fell to Chandrababu's machinations."

If the cycle was the TDP's biggest asset, Naidu continues to use NTR's name and photographs in the party's campaign.

"He is trying to destroy me. The traitor stabbed my husband in the back and is using his photographs," she says, clearly angry.

But was it not because of her that the TDP split? "Chandrababu Naidu used my name only as an excuse to dethrone my husband. The fact is he was preparing to stage the coup for a long time. He would have unseated N T Rama Rao anyway," she says.

Defending her alliance with the BJP, she says, "Vajpayee is a great leader. He is know for his secularism. I was attracted to the BJP because of him."

Would the situation have been different if NTR was alive? Would he have aligned with the BJP? "If he was alive, he would certainly have become prime minister after the last Lok Sabha election, and the question of a mid-term poll would not have arisen today,"she smiles at last.

She will not campaign for the BJP candidates. "I will continue my fight against Chandrababu Naidu," she says even though the chief minister may have long ceased to worry about her as a political rival.

For Lakshmi Parvathi, the election is no litmus test. If her party wins even one seat, it would be a gain for her. If she draws a blank like she did last time, that would be no loss either.

Elections '98