Hyderabad, Oct. 16: Pilgrim traffic came to a standstill and telephone communication was temporarily jammed to ward off assassination attempts when . Chandrababu Naidu and his family touched down at Renigunta airport on their way to Tirupati.
Andhra Pradesh police were not leaving anything to chance after their security lapses almost cost the chief minister his life on October 1.
Naidu’s mother Ammannamma, who had been in the state capital since the day of the attack, and state minister B. Gopalakrishna Reddy, who was also injured that day, were among those who accompanied the chief minister on the special flight, which landed at Renigunta this evening.
Entry to the airport was regulated, ensuring there was no crush of visitors and Telugu Desam Party supporters. Naidu’s brother Nara Ramamurthy, local MLA C. Krishnamurthy and some select Desam leaders, besides the media, were present at the airport.
The flight plans were kept secret till evening. The chief minister himself was busy into the evening as he addressed a video conference for sports reporters in Delhi over the coming Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad.
But the outpouring of sympathy for Naidu, who claimed he had a “rebirth” when he survived the People’s War assassination attempt, was evident all along the 12 km route from the airport to the foot of the Tirumala hills. Thousands of school children lined the entire route with flags and flowers, some also holding up “Get well soon” placards.
Shouts of “Long live Naidu”, “You alone can lead us to swarna Andhra Pradesh” and “Down with PWG” rent the air as the convoy sped along the route in just 10 minutes.
The chief minister and his family, who travelled in identical bullet-proof cars, must have experienced mixed emotions as they revisited the site of the blast. Naidu’s wife and mother were in tears and said Balaji, the presiding deity at Tirupati, had been kind to them. The chief minister could barely keep his emotions in check as he saw the wrecked white bullet-proof Ambassador still lying on the right side of the road and the remnants of the flower bed in which the Naxalites had planted six claymore (a type of anti-personnel) mines. Police had stopped pilgrims from moving on the Ghat road and had sanitised the entire route three hours before Naidu arrived.
Almost 1,000 policemen took up positions at railway terminals, bus stations, the Ghat road and along Naidu’s entire route. “His programme in Tirupati has been kept confidential,” Naidu’s security officer said.
A close watch was kept on Padmavati guest house in Tirumala where the chief minister usually stays, with all staff being screened. The media was not allowed into the guest house or the Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences, where the Puttur MLA R. Rajasekhar Reddy, is recovering; instead they were kept some distance from Naidu and his entourage.
“We have put in place a VVIP protocol befitting the Prime Minister for Naidu’s visit,” said Ramachandra Raju, who replaced Naveen Chand as the Tirupati superintendent of police after the blast.
Naidu called on Rajasekhar Reddy, who was also injured in the October 1 attack, soon after his arrival in Tirupati. He is expected to offer prayers and a special abhisekham at the Balaji temple tomorrow morning.
The Desam’s Chittoor unit wanted to organise a public meeting and gather crowds from four districts during his visit, but the chief minister would have none of that.
The Desam chief’s Tirupati visit is seen as an indication that he will call snap polls to capitalise on the sympathy wave created by the blast. His detractors say there is no sympathy wave, but his party supporters point out that Naidu has received thousands of calls, letters, faxes, e-mails and cards from all over India and abroad. “We have a few thousand (responses) from the US, Southeast Asia and even the UK,” an official of the chief minister’s office said.
Naidu is scheduled to return to Hyderabad tomorrow morning to meet up with South African president Thabo Mbeki, who will be in the state capital tomorrow on a day-long visit.