The Rediff Election Interview/Mudragada Padmanabham
'They tried to bury me alive. How can I tolerate that?'
Former state minister Mudragada Padmanabham, the uncrowned king of the dominant Kapu caste, is known for his rebellious outbursts.
He rebelled against late chief minister Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, quit his ministry, and hogged the national limelight for some time. Soon he was spearheading the Kapu Nadu movement, demanding a fair share of political power for his community.
He joined the Congress and became a minister in the 1990 cabinet. And recently, Padmanabham caused Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu much discomfiture when he went on a hunger strike near Kakinada, demanding reservations for other backward castes. The state government had no option but to reserve 7.5 per cent seats for the OBCs.
But now he's turned on the Congress because, after giving him the green signal and after he filed his nomination from the Kakinada Lok Sabha seat, handed the ticket to former Congress member of Parliament Mangapati Pallamraju.
An angry Padmanabham joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, vowing to teach the Congress a lesson for insulting him.
Flakes of fury flew around when J S Sai met Padmanabham at his friend's place in Kakinada, a little before he was about to hop onto the campaign vehicle of film star Uppalapati Krishnam Raju, who is also a BJP candidate.
You have quit the Congress because you have been denied a ticket. Do the people appreciate such politics?
You must tell me what the people are saying. How can I talk about such things?
A farmer living near Pitampuram told me that the people are shocked. Just the other day you had asked them to vote for the Congress. Now, after a clever somersault, you are asking them to vote for the BJP.
I had no intention of entering the political fray. They pulled me out of political hibernation with their promises, and then cheated me. You know what they did. They tried to finish my political career, and bury me alive. The intention was to make me unpopular. How can I tolerate this?
But, is it not shocking that someone asks the people to vote for the Congress today...
I have never asked the people to vote for the Congress. I said I am contesting, and so I needed their co-operation.
What is the guarantee that another rebellious outburst would not find you in some other political party? How can the people be sure that you won't desert the BJP?
It is a disciplined party. I have already made things clear to the party. 'I should not be pulled up if I launch an agitation without the party's permission,' I told them. I will do such things in the people's interest.
Now that you have already aspired for the seat, would you be able to canvas wholeheartedly for Krishnam Raju?
Ask the people whether I am supporting him wholeheartedly or not. I never brag about myself. Nor do I indulge in doubletalk. Whatever I do, I do not mince words.
How do you compare Chandrababu Naidu's rule with that of the late NTR?
NTR's administration was superb. Naidu just indulges in gimmicks -- Janmabhoomi, Prajulavaddaku palana, Sramadhanam and the like. Such schemes are being launched to divert the people's attention from harsh measures like the hike in prices of subsidised rice and lifting of prohibition. NTR never resorted to such gimmicks. He kept his promises to the people, come what may. For Naidu, nothing is sacrosanct. He has abandoned those promises and is spreading lies.
So what do people think of him?
They are vexed with him.
Cotton growers have been committing suicide. What is he doing?
Why isn't he doing anything? He, too, needs the votes, doesn't he?
You please ask him.
Why don't you raise the issue? You are a big opposition leader whose voice carries a lot of weight...
If you must ask, so many people have died. He is offering only Rs 100,000 (to the next of kin).
People are vexed with him. A wave, like the one in 1983 which catapulted NTR to power, is coming in favour of the BJP.
What are the reasons?
Thirteen or 20 parties have come together at the Centre and have created a mess. The United Front prime minister hardly has any time for the people. His day is frittered away in saying 'good morning' to all the constituents. So who will fulfil the people's aspirations?
Then are various scams. People have begun to feel: 'They have taken our votes and are selling them.' It is an insult to the nation.
So they feel they should give the BJP a chance as it can provide them a clean government. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee's leadership. His speech at the end of his 13-day rule, replying to the trust vote in Parliament, inspired them. Even I was inspired.
Then why did you not join the BJP right away?
I was not in power at that time. I am just telling you about the people's reaction to his speech, and why they have decided to give the BJP a chance.
Last month, before you filed the nomination, you were aware of all this. Why did you not join the BJP?
There are good leaders in all parties. Honest, sincere stalwarts deserve to be worshipped, no matter where they are. But, merely because of that, one should not go on a defection spree.
I was insulted. And my people said I should quit the Congress. So I came out. I am not the kind who flits from one party to the other, saying this one is good, that one is bad. I do not run away from reality.
So a wounded tiger has joined the BJP to avenge an insult heaped on him. But not because you have some good, noble intentions for the people's welfare?
They tried to bury me alive. How can I tolerate that? And the BJP invited me. Even the national leaders did...
So you have rebelled again. Won't people think, 'Krishnam Raju is the rebel star, Padmanabham is the rebel politician?'
(Laughs) I have been doing such things in the people's interest. Not out of some ulterior motive, not to make billions of rupees. Spot an injustice, and Mudragada will be there, regardless of caste and religious considerations.
But you are basically a Kapu leader? It is said that you do not bother about the other castes.
In 1987, when a Velama and a Yadav were denied tickets in the mandal elections, I told NTR that I was quitting his ministry. He asked me not to resign, and rectified the situation immediately. I would not have done that if I go by caste considerations.
Maybe it was a public relations exercise?
You should ask the people whether it was a PR exercise.
Then where did you get that image of being a Kapu leader?
It is true that I have attended a couple of Kapu meetings. But I never instigated the Kapus to kill others, ruin others, beat others... It is a conspiracy by my enemies. They wanted to give me a bad name and hang me.
What about the caste factor in Andhra Pradesh politics? Are people against any particular caste now?
Do you agree with the BJP's policies?
Yes, I will abide by all the decision taken by the party.
If they decide to raze another mosque, you will have no objections?
Yes, I will abide by all its decisions.
Won't communal violence flare up because of such decisions? Are you contradicting yourself? You have just said that you are against violence...?
I said I won't instigate the people to fight each other.
But that is what the BJP has allegedly been doing.
How can you say that? There is no violence in the states where they rule.
It is said that they are the trouble-makers.
Others indulge in such things.
What do you think of the Ayodhya temple issue?
I will stick by the party's stand.
As an individual, what do you think of the Babri masjid issue?
I have no individual views on the issue.
You will back the party stand even if people kill each other?
Maybe you are creating such conditions with your reporting.
Yes! Maybe you will investigate people, creating conditions where they will go at each other. Otherwise why are you raking up an old issue that is dead and gone?
I am not raking up anything. The BJP's manifesto has promised a Ram temple at Ayodhya...
If the party has taken such a stand, I will support it. Whatever reservations I have on the issue would be raised at the party fora.
You are saying that the people will vote the BJP to power because of Vajpayee. But, there is a talk that he is a mere mask which will be peeled off after the elections. And then party president Lal Kishinchand Advani will take over...
Whoever it is, he should abide by the party's decisions.
How many seats will the BJP get in the state?
Wait for the counting.
The Rediff Election Interviews