Hyderabad, Nov. 2: Kijavarapu Yerran Naidu, the face of the Telugu Desam in Delhi and the party’s second in command, died in a car accident today.
He was 56 and is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.
Yerran, who was sitting in front, was grievously injured when his SUV rammed into an oil tanker near Ranasthalam in Srikakulam district in north coastal Andhra, about 700km from Hyderabad.
Witnesses said the former Union minister, who had survived a Maoist landmine blast in 2004, could have had another chance had the ambulance that rushed him to hospital been equipped with oxygen.
“He asked for oxygen as he was breathless after he was hit in the chest,” Desam’s Srikakulam district president Rammohan Naidu, who was sitting at the back and was also injured, said.
The state government has sought a report from the Srikakulam district administration. GVK-EMRI, which runs the ambulance service, refused to comment. For several months, GVK and the state government have been at loggerheads over supply of material, salary of ambulance staff and other issues.
Of the six persons in the car besides Yerran, five are injured, two of them grievously. The Desam leader was returning to his village Nimmada in Srikakulam after attending the wedding of a colleague’s daughter in Visakhapatnam.
“I lost my right hand,” said Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, who cut short his padyatra to reach Srikakulam by a special flight.
Yerran, then 26, became one of the Desam’s youngest MLAs when he was picked by NTR in 1982 to contest from Srikakulam. He won again in 1985, when mid-term elections were held, but was denied a ticket in 1989 because he had grown close to Chandrababu, NTR’s son-in-law who later unseated him. Yerran contested as an Independent and won.
Chandrababu’s closest confidant, Yerran helped him galvanise MLAs during the 1995 coup against NTR. He was rewarded with a parliamentary ticket and a cabinet berth in the United Front government, becoming Union rural development minister at the age of 39. Yerran was MP for four terms till he lost in 2009 to Killi Kruparani, who has just been inducted as Union minister.
The party also had him on standby to become Speaker of Lok Sabha, in case candidate G.M.C. Balayogi failed to reach Delhi in time to file his nomination. Balayogi’s term as Speaker was cut short in 2002 when he died in an air crash.
Yerran’s last rites will be performed in his village tomorrow. The Congress government in Andhra has decided to give him a state funeral with gun salute, the chief minister’s office said.
A lawyer by training and a backward class leader, Yerran was possibly the most popular Desam leader after NTR, the party’s late founder, and Chandrababu. Only a few days ago, he had said during a conversation that “one has to be closer to people if to survive in politics. That is what I did all these years and am happy that Chandrababu Naidu is also doing now”. He was referring to the padyatra Chandrababu will now resume on Sunday.