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America & Narafans wake up to loss of an icon
- Terror list comes too late to save Naidu, supporters’ website orphaned a day after defeat

Washington, May 12: Chandrababu Naidu’s fall from power came precisely 12 days after a singular recognition abroad for any chief minister in India’s history — which also went largely unnoticed because it happened in the thick of the election campaign in Andhra Pradesh.

On April 29, the US state department, citing an October 1, 2003, attempt on the life of Naidu, put the People’s War Group (PWG) of Andhra Pradesh on its list of “terrorist groups”.

The listing did not surprise anyone here: Naidu has been an icon of sorts for Americans dealing with South Asia and they believed his safety and continuation in power was vital for the kind of relationship the US was seeking with India in the 21st century.

Neither the Indian embassy here nor its lobbyists had campaigned for putting PWG on the list. Historically, they have concentrated on organisations which have cross-border links with Pakistan, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizb-ul Mujahideen.

Since the days of terrorist rampages in Punjab, New Delhi has been drawing Washington’s attention to terrorist groups in the state, aided by Pakistan. Even though it was accepted that Indira Gandhi’s murder was a fallout of Khalistani terrorism, no Khalistani organisation was on any US terror list until last week. How that came about is another story!

Those in the state department and intelligence agencies here who track terrorist groups abroad had never bothered much about Maoists in India in the last two decades. But the attempt on Naidu’s life changed everything.

Election results from an overseas province seldom get even a passing mention in the US media. But the TDP leader’s defeat was widely reported in the mainstream media here today.

The New York Times wistfully recalled that “it was at Mr. Naidu’s invitation that Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, visited Hyderabad and the company set up a research and development center there. Microsoft now has 325 employees in Hyderabad, and other multinationals, like Oracle, Computer Associates and IBM, have opened there.”

Two academics at the University of Chicago, Susanne Hoeber and Lloyd Rudolph, wrote a paper not long ago under the title, ‘The Iconisation of Chandrababu — Sharing Sovereignty in India’s Federal Market Economy’.

They wrote that President Bill Clinton’s visit to Hyderabad capped Naidu’s “relentless efforts to be known as India’s most successful chief minister. From Dallas to Davos, he promoted his ambitious plans to transform Andhra Pradesh from a middle rank into a top rank state”.

Narafans, a filmi-style fan club for Naidu, based in Fremont, California, home to many Indian-American high technology professionals and Infosys Technologies Ltd, lists hundreds of members. Narafans draws its name from the defeated chief minister’s initial, which stands for his first name, Nara.

The website of Narafans, one of the best for information on Andhra Pradesh, was regularly updated — until yesterday morning Pacific Time, when full results from Andhra Pradesh were available.

Today, the website was orphaned, but the moving halo around Naidu’s portrait on the opening page carried the legends “visionary, dynamic, progressive and pragmatic” as a reminder of how the Desam leader was projected abroad.

As he entered his second term as chief minister in 1999, Encyclopaedia Britannica described Naidu as “one of the up-and-coming figures in Indian politics... viewed as a future Prime Minister by many political analysts”.

The new chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, has, however, been spared the task of uninstalling one of Naidu’s pet projects linked to America. His controversial Sankhya Vahini project, which aimed to provide Internet connectivity 1,000 times faster, fell by the wayside some time ago. It had been criticised severely by some of those who are now the architects of Sonia Gandhi’s political strategy.

At the World Bank here and at the UK department for international development, there are some fingers twitching nervously in the last two days. Both organisations invested heavily in Naidu at a time when they needed success stories as much as Naidu needed their money.

Whether Reddy will accept their prescriptions will be a matter for case study by development aid economists in future.

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