Ex-cop takes on seasoned actor in Andhra’s Hindupur

Shaik Mohammed Iqbal, contesting on a YSRCP ticket, is taking on TDP heavy weight and film star Nandamuri Balakrishna. Photo: The Federal

“Who else is better placed to know the real picture about a Chief Minister than a guy who worked as his chief security officer?” asks Shaik Mohammed Iqbal, a retired IPS officer, who is taking on the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in his electoral debut in Andhra Pradesh.

Iqbal, known for his uprightness, integrity and charity work, had served as the Chief Security Officer to N Chandrababu Naidu in his first term as chief minister of the united Andhra Pradesh between 1995 and 2000. He went on to become the Inspector General of Police, Rayalaseema region.

Soon after his retirement in April last year, Iqbal joined the YSR Congress Party headed by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy and is contesting the Assembly election from Hindupur in Anantapur district, a TDP bastion. The former top cop is up against a formidable opponent in the Chief Minister’s brother-in-law and popular Telugu actor Nandamuri Balakrishna who is seeking re-election from the constituency.

“As a person who had seen Chandrababu Naidu from very close quarters, I can tell you that he is just a creation of the media. All hype but no substance,” he says amid hectic campaign involving roadside meetings and door-to-door outreach in a predominantly rural constituency.

What made him take the political plunge and confront a member of the powerful first family of the TDP in a constituency that has been their pocket borough for nearly three-and-half decades?

“Even when I was in the police force, I used to take time for philanthropic and social service. My voluntary work to help the poor children in government schools and my contributions in districts, where I worked as Superintendents of Police, are well known. After retirement, I was keen to serve the people in my own humble way. I am not overwhelmed by the profile of my opponent nor am I enamoured of his star appeal,” Iqbal told The Federal.

Call for change

During his election rallies, the former police officer keeps his message simple and straightforward: Vote for change and development and not for film glamour. Addressing small gatherings across the constituency, Iqbal seeks to expose the “doublespeak” and “hypocrisy” of the TDP and its chief Chandrababu Naidu, be it the issue of Special Category Status to AP or support to the “communal BJP”

“Naidu’s TDP survives on hype. It is disconnected from people’s issues. It is time for change and to usher in real progress and development,” he says.

“If you think Naidu has severed links with BJP permanently, you are mistaken. He is still in touch with the RSS leadership which actually controls the affairs of the BJP. No other politician in the country has made as many U-turns as he has done,” he tells a gathering of Muslim youth.

Family bastion

Hindupur, a backward constituency in Anantapur district bordering Karnataka with 22.50 lakh population, has been a TDP pocket borough since 1985 when its founder and matinee idol of Telugu cinema N T Rama Rao won the seat. He was re-elected in 1989 and 1994.  In 1996 by-election following NTR’s death, his actor son Nandamuri Harikrishna was elected from the constituency.

The constituency stayed with the TDP even when no member of the NTR family contested, displaying its loyalty to the party even at the height of the YS Rajasekhara Reddy wave in 2004 and 2009.

In 2014, Balakrishna, NTR’s younger son, won the seat by a margin of over 16,000 votes.

Occasional visitor

The allegation against Balakrishna is that he has neglected the constituency and its development. “He is just a visitor to Hindupur. He has been busy with his films (Balakrishna played the role of his father in the two-part biopic on NTR released recently). In the last five years, he may have at best visited the constituency about ten times. He has left the job here to his personal assistants who rule the roost. Middlemen are having a field day,” Iqbal says.

Hindupur, located about 100 kms from Bengaluru, has a huge potential to develop as an industrial corridor. “Instead, you find pigs roaming around the roads in this town. The drainage system is terrible. There is no sign of development,” the former police officer lamented.

Balakrishna’s mercurial temper and the instances of losing his cool in public and slapping the party workers and fans have dented the actor’s image. “For him, this role as an MLA is just a hobby. He is guest MLA of Hindupur. Besides, he has become unpopular of late because he often loses his cool and beats up even those fans who want to take selfie with him,” Iqbal says.

Both the sons-in-law of Balakrishna are in the electoral fray on the TDP ticket–Nara Lokesh from Mangalagiri Assembly constituency and Bharat from Visakhapatnam Lok Sabha seat.

“I am a retired police officer. My children won’t come into politics. My priority is improving educational standards in Hindupur and ensuring a bright future for the children of this constituency,” he says.

Illusion of development

Hindupur remains backward despite being represented by the members of the TDP’s first family for several decades. “Many colonies in the town get water supply only once in two weeks. There is massive unemployment and farm distress. In the last four years, the TDP government has been hyping up the capital city construction in Amaravathi but for people here in Rayalaseema, there is not even a good road to travel. Naidu treats people as vote banks,” Iqbal pointed out.

Dismissing the TDP’s charge that YSRCP was hand-in-glove with the BJP and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Iqbal said that such a canard was being spread only to divert public attention from the government’s all-round failure.