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February 26, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Krishnam Raju

'Sonia will stimulate the Congress cadre, not the voter'

Kakinada. The mid-1960s.

A rich farmer's son had just flunked his B Com examination.

Before he overcame the shock, a Herculean task landed at his doorstep.

Family friend and then state minister Ch Varaprasad Raju was about to launch a Telugu newspaper Andhra Ratna. And had asked Uppalapati Krishnam Raju to be its publisher. Krishnam Raju took the plunge.

As he struggled to keep the show going, advertisements came in a trickle, forcing the youngster to pump more energy into his revenue generation drive.

He knocked at several advertiser's doors. One such knock changed his life.

"Why are you wasting your time in publishing?" the film-maker said, running his eyes over the youth's six-foot-plus tall frame. "You could be a star. You have the looks. The voice..."

And cameChilaka Gorinka, in the late 1960s, featuring him as the hero. The film bombed, beginning the budding star's struggle for existence.

Several negative roles later, the tide began to turn as he had launched Gopalkrishna Movies in the early 1970s. And came films with a touch of class like Krishnaveni and Bhaktakannapa, the story of a hunter who pierces his eyes to please Lord Siva. The Lord was convinced. So were the Telugu film-goers, giving him another roaring hit.

The spectacular success kept pace with several of his films -- including Manavuri Pandavulu, Katakatarudrayya -- till the mid-1980s.

The turn of the next century saw Krishnam Raju eyeing the political arena. And came the Congress's major onslaught against the ruling Telugu Desam Party. The 'rebel hero' was among the stars -- Jamuna from Rajahmundry and Krishna from Eluru - who were roped in to shore up the Congress's sagging fortunes.

But it was an uphill task, considering the anti-Congress sentiments. And came the Rajiv Gandhi assassination wave. Krishnam Raju's two colleagues from Tollywood romped home while he himself lost, forcing the star to virtually desert politics.

As his indifference to politics peaked, destiny wreaked another sensational turn, landing him in the lotus lap. But, another electoral fray was the last thing on his mind, when the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership began cajoling the 57-year-old star.

"We will get one moe seat if you jump into the fray," they seem to have told him. And he gave in reluctantly.

However, when J S Sai hopped on to his jeep during whistle-stop tours of the villages around Kakinada, the star was bubbling with confidence.

What are your party's prospects in Kakinada?

A quiet revolution is brewing! The response is mind-blowing! There is a saffron wave. Rather, a tidal wave! It is coming from the bottom of people's hearts. No one can stop it.

Some say it is as strong as the pro-Telugu Desam wave in 1983, when Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao inspired a landslide against the Congress. Several people say it is much stronger than that. I don't know.

What about the state?

Initially, the party said we would win four to six seats. Now they say 10 to 15 seats. I will not be surprised if we polevault to the no 1 slot from rock bottom (the BJP has no state representation from the state in the 11th Lok Sabha).

How can you that when there are reports that Congress star campaigner Sonia Gandhi has turned the tables on the BJP even in north India, where the saffron brigade is relatively stronger?

Because of her, the dead party will begin showing a little bit of movement. Her presence will stimulate the Congress's demoralised cadres. Not the voters.

What is the guarantee that the wave will not disappear before polling day?

Such fears would have haunted us if the change was brought about by our talk or some such external factor. The change is driven by the people's realisation that the BJP should be given a chance.

What brought about this change?

People are convinced that the BJP's prime ministerial nominee Atal Bihari Vajpyee can provide able leadership.

Are you convinced that he will make a good prime minister?


When did the realisation hit you?

His speech at the end of his 13-day rule, replying to the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha, inspired me. It showed his calibre. Instantly, I knew we should have more such leaders.

Then why did you not join the party right away? Why did you wait for nearly one and a half years to take the plunge?

I was not in politics. I didn't want a political career. I was still a Congress member, but not active. I did not want to contest.

Then, why did you change your mind?

I have just joined the party. Being a mass hero, I thought I would be able to contribute to its growth at the grassroots level. Instead of contesting, I thought I would be able to build the party by working for two-three years.

To what extent will Kapu leader Mudragada Padmanabham's entry help you?

He is supporting me wholeheartedly. He has countless fans.

Why did you lose the Narsapur Lok Sabha election in 1991, when the Rajiv assassination wave was sweeping the state?

I lost because my opponent was a smooth operator! At that time, I did not know anything about polling day politics (rigging, booth capturing). I was a novice. Actually, the people were with me, but he won.

Will the same situation crop up again now?

We have burnt our fingers once (laughs). That is why Mudragada Padmanabham is helping us.

You mean, he will rig the poll?

No. Leaders like him will ensure that no such things would happen. He can tackle such problem. Moreover, we have a strong cadre now. So, there is no dearth of manpower.

You are a native of Narsapur. Why did you opt for Kakinada, having contested the 1991 Lok Sabha election from Narsapur?

Basically I am popular as a film hero. So, in all the 42 constituencies in the state, people feel I am their man. I am above all other considerations like caste, religion.

If that is so, why are you contesting the Lok Sabha election? You should be contesting the assembly election, becoming the chief minister.

I am not after posts and positions. I did not leave the Congress because I wanted some post. If I am able to develop the party, it will give me great satisfaction.

What about the people?

If the party develops, so will the people.

Coming back to Narsapur, it is said that you were afraid of contesting against local giant Kanumuri Bapiraju who has been renominated by the Congress?

Fear ( laughs)! It is not part of my makeup. I pity those who live in the shadow of fear. Theses days, you cannot survive if fear haunts you. Whether it is men or women, they must be taught to be aggressive.

What do you think of the BJP's policies?

You mean manifesto? ( points his finger towards his head, turns angry). It is not working. Not now. I cannot answer such serious issues now (points towards the jeep door, virtually asking me to get off. Calms down when I say that I will ask him another question)

What caused the rift between film star and Rajya Sabha member Mohan Babu and Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu?

They were good friends. Mohan Babu knows all the loopholes, all the scams. That is why he was thrown out of the party.

So Chandrabbau Naidu has made a killing?

I don't know. Everybody knows. Why should I talk about it.

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