Controversy was Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s constant companion in politics — as one who represented violence-prone Cuddapah in Parliament, and the legislative Assembly since the late 1970s. But electoral triumphs buttressed by populist schemes transformed it all for the Andhra CM. In his death, the Congress has lost its strongest regional face in recent memory.
Mr Reddy’s 2004 triumph over old friend and formidable rival Chandrababu Naidu helped the Congress wrest power from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the state and the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. A slew of sops and schemes helped him extinguish two challenges in one go: Mr Naidu and the Naxals who exploited the TDP’s urban-centric approach in the countryside. His people-oriented programmes even demolished the demand for Telangana as a poll plank.
In a state where successive droughts during the TDP rule led to farmer suicides, Mr Reddy, born into the family of a mason, provided rice for Rs 2 a kg for below poverty line families. He put revenues accruing from beneficiaries of first-generation reforms on the welfare route to arrange food, healthcare, insurance and rural employment for the marginalised.
He implemented schemes to help women and children and was known to encourage NGOs that wanted to work for the disadvantaged. That the Congress’s success in Andhra was fathered solely by Mr Reddy became evident with the party returning a larger chunk of MPs from the state in 2009 than it did in 2004. He defeated anti-incumbency despite a broken alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (on the Telangana issue) and the Left (on the Indo-US nuclear deal).
Not only did he keep the promise made to Congress president Sonia Gandhi of adding to the party’s 2004 tally of 29, he raised the score by four to win 33 seats. Formidable reputations routed in the process included that of matinee idol and Kappu chieftain — popular film star Chiranjeevi, whose Praja Rajyam Party proved to be just a flash in the pan.
But that’s history now and so is Mr Reddy, whose death has left a void no Andhra Congress politician, young or old, can fill in the short run. If there was one person who genuinely carried out the UPA’s promise of delivering on its promises to the aam admi, it would have been Mr Reddy. But sadly, like so many others who held out great promise in politics, he is gone.