Thursday, September 3, 2009

YSR's blend of populism and geniality made him unbeatable

NEW DELHI: Congress's big win in Andhra Pradesh not only powered the party to a big win in the Lok Sabha, it reinforced the party's faith in its

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy has died in an air crash.
welfare and social sector schemes that were implemented by the Y S Rajashekhar Reddy government with zeal as part of his development agenda.

His chief opponent, Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu, did his best to outdo YSR's populism and also levelled corruption charges but failed to dislodge the chief minister. Graft allegations did not stick as his effort to present himself as the man who thought of the poor seemed to work, negating his critics.

UPA MPs point out that YSR's personal style helped him win friends as he came across as polite. "When you meet him, there is no arrogance of power. We are praying that he is safe," said MIM's Asauddin Owaisi. TDP leader-turned-Congress MP M Jagannath said the party was waiting for news with bated breath. "He is a leader who worked for the poor. The needy are convinced of this," Jagannath said.

The 2009 Lok Sabha fight was closer than what the final results showed, particularly at the Assembly level. The Congress government was facing the burden of sweeping price rise and a TDP-Left-TRS coalition. While Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam helped Congress, there is no taking away that YSR's programmes like Arogyam and free highway ambulance service were hits.

While Arogyam funded medical treatment for BPL families, subsidised rice also helped. His irrigation programmes, though only partially effective, did make a mark and the government managed to deliver enough power to agriculturists to keep them from turning against him. With his adroit use of resources, he was able to blunt the appeal of TDP's promised direct cash transfer scheme.

YSR has a rough-and-ready aspect to him, as the bloody politics of Rayalseema suggests. Bomb culture is seen to be part of the political ethos but the leader's geniality and soft-spoken presence have made those who met him wonder at the tales they had heard. Somehow, the CM's claims to a simple lifestyle carry credence as when he says he has decided to shift to a common variety of rice at home for his meals.

The sheer weight of his success drove his rivals in the party out of the frame long ago and caused despair in the Opposition. Ironically, it used to be NTR who had a towering state-wide presence while Congress CMs always carried the stamp of being the high command's nominees. If NTR was able to invoke the "Telugu pride" plank, it is YSR who now strides the state looming larger than any regional chieftain.


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