His mother bled to death after a bull gored her. Unable to handle the tragedy, his father deserted the family for several years. This is the essence of BJP leader Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu’s formative years, which he describes as “a tough childhood”.
Naidu’s journey from ‘abbaiah’ (the young one) to ‘babu’ or ‘peddayana’ (the respected one) has been eventful. When his father reappeared with partial paralysis, it was expected of Naidu to take care of him. But he refused, since he had vowed to fulfil his mother’s dream. “My son,” Venkaiah often recalled her saying, “will be an advocate.” He felt he owed it to his mother to pursue law. “Why would I sacrifice her last wish to take care of a father who left us to fend for ourselves?” he said. Finally, he struck a ‘deal’ and agreed to break his vow of celibacy on the condition that his wife would nurse his father while leaving him alone to pursue his career outside the village. Ask Naidu why his wife, Usha, settled for a husband in absentia and he says: “Maybe because of my personality and family background.” She, of course, was richer than Naidu, who was left with less than eight acres of land after his father sold all the property.
As for giving up law to become a politician, Naidu feels no pangs of guilt since he took his law exam before landing up in an RSS shakha during his days as a kabaddi player. His feats as a wrestler were on display when he took on a local muscleman for beating up students with hockey sticks.
For someone who had joined the anti-Hindi agitation and painted Hindi signboards with coal tar back home, Naidu soon learnt that “Hindi bina Hindustan nahin” (It is not possible to progress in India without Hindi.) Instead of hiring a teacher, he took a shorter route: he learnt a few phrases and used them liberally. For instance, he loved the word ‘mahamantri’ that was prefixed to his name after he became BJP general secretary 13 years ago. After he was inducted into the Union Cabinet, he rued his ‘demotion’ on the ground that from ‘mahamantri’, he had been reduced to a ‘mantri’ (minister). That apart, he uses interesting terminology in conversation. Sample this: “I play shuttle (badminton) with my PA every morning; I am fascinated by greenfields and garden; when I meet people I get oxygen; any depression I share with Advaniji or simply go to the village and get re-oxygen (rejuvenated).”
With more time on his hands now, he makes it a point to spend “one day every fortnight” with his wife who, in 31 years of their marriage, has never made any demands. “She was interested in two things: my well being and my constituency, where she served buttermilk and water to hordes of people who visited me,” says Naidu. But it is in his daughter, Deepa, that he finds his mother’s image. “She looks like her and I call her amma,” he says.