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Pioneer of rath yatras - NTR's political odyssey

In the frenzied campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, road shows have emerged as the most effective campaign tool, with several leaders choosing this mass contact programme to win over the electorate.
PTI | By Press Trust of India
PUBLISHED ON APR 12, 2004 07:00 PM IST

In the frenzied campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, road shows have emerged as the most effective campaign tool, with several leaders including senior BJP leader L K Advani and Congress President Sonia Gandhi choosing this mass contact programme to win over the electorate.

However, ver few outside Andhra Pradesh know about the pioneering 'Rath Yatra' undertaken by the founder of Telugu Desam party and the late N T Rama Rao in 1982, which besides catapulting him to power, also entered the Guinness Book of Records.

In all fairness to other leaders, it is no exaggeration to say that their road shows were no match to NTR's yatra in trms of sheer drama, curiosity, and people's response, it generated.

For the actor-turned-politician travelled nearly 40,000 kilometres, touring the entire state four times in nine months, ate at the wayside hotels, slept in his Rath (or under trees sometimes), took bath on the roadside and did not even return to Hyderabad till elections were announced in January, 1983.

No wonder that he missed the marriage of two of his sons in the process!

Christened 'Chaitanya Ratham,' NTR turned his old Chevrolet van into a rath, fitted with the required paraphernalia like a revolving chair and table to work and facilities for him to rest, says his biographer and senior journalist I Venkata Rao in the biography 'Oke Okkadu.'

He would climb on to the top through a hatch, Rao notes in the book.

Opposition leaders of the day ridiculed NTR and his Rath Yatra as an extension of his celluloid histrionics and dubbed him as "Drama Rao."

Unfazed by the criticism, NTR went ahead. He would address even a small gathering of twenty people, which would soon swell in to a huge crowd, Rao says.

NTR gave a new life to the forgotten Telugu songs 'Maa Telugu Talliki Mallepoodanda' (a garland of jasmine floweres for mother Telugu) and 'Cheyyetti Jai kottu Telugoda' (praise Telugu by rasing your hands), he says.

These songs stirred the listeners. By hearing these songs farm labourers would leave everything to hear NTR, Rao elaborates.

"People used to wait for days by camping on the roadside bringing along stoves, utensils and mats just to hear NTR."

Villagers would post one person on the main road and ask him to signal them at the sight of NTR's rath, he says.

Women would offer him arathi, ask him to name their new born kids.

NTR too mingled freely with the public, he would stop at road side hotel to have tiffin, chat with people around, take his bath on the road and also take a doze for a while, Rao says.

Driven by his son and former minister Hari Krishna, 'Chaitanya Ratham' symbolised NTR's political campaigning even when he set out to campaign against the incumbent Chief Minister and his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu after the latter took over as chief minister.

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