Hyderabad, Jan. 17: He was the man who proved that it was possible to stand up to the Congress. Today, the initials that once symbolised the sunrise of regional parties reflect the shadows that have crept up on the Telugu Desam, the party NTR — N.T. Rama Rao to the uninitiated — founded.
Twenty years after he inspired people to fight the Congress’ domination and corruption — in that order — the term NTR has come to mean ‘note rejected’ in administrative jargon and ‘nothing to report’ in journalese.
This is despite the Telugu Desam being in power for such a long time except for five years of Congress and two months of the Nadendla Bhaskar Rao regime.
A day before NTR’s sixth death anniversary, there seems to be no preparation by the Andhra Pradesh government for any memorial function. But it is not only NTR who is forgotten, his policies have been dumped, too.
The poverty eradication programmes he started have no parallels in the history of the country. Today, his scheme of distributing rice for Rs 2 a kg to the poor and the prohibition drive have been watered down.
The rice scheme now reaches hardly 36 per cent of the intended beneficiaries, while Andhra has become a watering hole.
The emphasis is on a “made easy night life” in Hyderabad city to attract tourists and investors. No wonder, NTR’s portraits have vanished from the chambers of many Desam ministers and bureaucrats in the state secretariat.
Old-timers in the party feel the Desam has been transformed into a commercial venture. Former deputy speaker and now the chief architect of the Telengana Rashtra Samiti, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, says the Desam “as envisaged by NTR is dead and gone. Even the skeleton is not there now. Chandrababu Naidu has made the Desam into a political enterprise.”
Rao says no one should have any doubt as to what Naidu would do if the BJP ditched him in the next elections. “He will shift over to the next best without any remorse.”
Desam office-bearers, however, say Naidu is very much in the NTR mould. “NTR wanted the party to be above the government. Now the party decides on the programmes and the government only implements it,” says official spokesman Umareddy Venkateswarlu.
Asked about the current state of the schemes launched by NTR, finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu stressed on the need for change.
“We have to keep changing, change our priorities as per the demand of the time. We could not have continued the prohibition and the rice programme as they were launched. We have improved and also seen to that the benefits reach the real poor and not those hangers-on,” the minister said.
Despite the iconic status he enjoyed, NTR’s last days were far from happy. His troubles began soon after he married Lakshmi Parvathi. The entire family ganged up against him for marrying against their wishes at the age of 70. Though they reconciled after he strode back to power in 1994, the goodwill was short-lived after he lost power to his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu.
Today, most of his family have faded from the limelight, though Naidu is still firmly in the saddle in Andhra and one of NTR’s sons, Harikrishna, has made it good in the film world.
His eldest son, Jayakrishna, who heads the family’s main business — the studios in Nacharam — is burdened by huge debts. The studios are closed for the last four years. Harikrishna, who launched a party in 1999 to fight Naidu, made up under embarrassing circumstances.
The photographer son, Saikrishna, is in hospital for the last two years with a serious head injury and is reportedly still in coma. Another son, Ramakrishna, was in America, estranged from politics. Umamaheswari, a daughter who married a Coimbatore businessman and later divorced him, has tied the knot again with a US-based doctor.
The final burial of the NTR legacy was two weeks ago. His widow lost the spacious property at Gandipet — Telugu Vijayam — to the Desam. The plot, on the banks of the Gandipet, is hot property, where the ruling party is planning to set up a training centre for its cadre with private partnership.