The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Doctor on padayatra heals Cong

Hyderabad, May 11: Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy has been spared political sanyas.

A few months ago, the frontrunner for chief ministership had declared in public that he would go into political hibernation if the Congress missed cashing in on the general unhappiness over the nine-year-old Chandrababu Naidu regime.

Reddy, the 55-year-old outgoing leader of the Opposition, can rest easy, now that the Congress has trounced the Telugu Desam Party with a 7.3 per cent swing in votes.

The victory has wiped the ignominy of the party’s defeat in the 1985 and 1989 elections when Reddy was the state Congress chief.

Since he started out in 1978 in panchayati raj institutions, the Rayalaseema leader has had to weather four chequered terms in the Assembly followed by 10 years in the Lok Sabha (1989-99) and several setbacks of late.

Once a contemporary of Naidu in the youth Congress, Reddy’s proximity to the outgoing chief minister had earned him the wrath of party veterans such as K. Vijaybhaskar Reddy and others from Telengana.

His peers, too, had breathed fire at him when he gave up an indefinite hunger strike against power-tariff hike and withdrawal of a corruption case involving Naidu.

The Desam put his family’s business under the Assembly’s glare. “The TDP brought in the business activities of Rajasekhar Reddy’s son on the floor of the House to silence him in the Assembly,” former minister Raghuveera Reddy says.

The Congress’ instability while in power in the state and its changing of chief ministers in its previous two regimes did not help.

But the physician — a graduate from Gulbarga Medical College, Karnataka — quietly went about setting his track record straight and healing his party’s prospects in the process.

For over three months, he covered 1,500 km across 100 Assembly and 20 parliamentary seats on foot. He also rode a bus for 5,500 km during this campaign in a show called Chaitra Yatra.

“Reddy’s humanitarian outlook (also) earned him the laurels of all, including the common man,” says K. Rosaiah, a veteran Congressman and former home minister.

He cites the instance “when Naidu was attacked by Naxalites in October 2003”. “Rajasekhar Reddy’s attempts to meet an injured Naidu were thwarted by his men. So Reddy went all the way to Hyderabad airport at midnight to meet his old friend,” Rosaiah recalls.

Reddy’s concern for the state’s farmers, many of whom committed suicide, did not go unnoticed either. He encouraged party workers to mobilise funds for the farmers’ families.

Last but not the least, other leaders in the Congress failed to revive the party, making Reddy the high command’s sole choice to lead a recovery run.

Fired by the Naidu regime’s withdrawal of mining leases from Reddy’s family that proved a setback for its business, the showdown between the two leaders gained an edge over the last five years.

Reddy, however, attributed the victory to the common man and his approval of Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. “It is the suffering of the common man and the indifference of the TDP towards him that made him finally turn towards the Congress. We will see that he does not regret his decision.

“The Congress party had earned the credibility to provide political stability after she took over the mantle and altered the image of the party,” he said of Sonia.

The Congress chief has returned the compliment by rushing two AICC observers to Hyderabad with the clear message of ensuring the crown for “obvious” choice Reddy, though state party chief D. Srinivas and former Union minister G. Venkata Swamy are also in the race.

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