On September 22, the Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSR) government in Andhra Pradesh passed a bill in the Assembly, seeking to remove “Dr NTR” (film star, TDP founder and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, late NT Rama Rao) as the prefix of a state-run health university in Vijayawada. Instead, the bill also proposes to replace NTR’s name with that of Dr YSR or YS Rajasekhar Reddy, father of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, in the title of the university.
Jagan, by doing so, has succeeded in seeing the extended Nandamuri family of NTR poles apart in its reaction to the war he has waged against the icon of TDP and the Nandamuri family.
Tollywood hero Jr NTR aka Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao Jr, the grandson of Sr NTR, trod a different path from the other members of the Nandamuri family, including actor Nandamuri Balakrishna and BJP’s former Union minister Daggubati Purandhareswari, son and daughter respectively of the family patriarch. Jr NTR is a son of Nandamuri Harikrishna, NTR’s elder son.
NTR established the university (currently Dr NTR University of Health Sciences) during his period as chief minister in 1986 after taking over the privately owned Siddhartha Medical College. Later, the TDP government headed by his son-in-law, N Chandrababu Naidu, named it after NTR.
T Lakshminarayana, an activist based in Vijayawada, told The Federal that the change of the university’s name will create a lot of problems for students. In their first-year UG or PG course, they will get a marks memorandum in the name of NTR health university and another name in the next year, creating confusion for prospective employers and hardships for the students, Lakshminarayana explained.
Balakrishna (or Balayya) and Purandhareswari have been vociferous in opposing the name-changing act of Jagan’s government. TDP troll armies and Balayya fans have targeted Jr NTR for courting a “compromise” with the rival, Jaganmohan Reddy. Some sections in the TDP vowed not to celebrate Jr NTR’s birthday or even allow his films to be screened in theatres.
What angered them was the actor’s tweet that sought to see both his grandfather NTR and YSR of the Congress on the same page despite belonging to different schools of thought in politics. “Both NTR and YSR were equally popular leaders. Dropping his (NTR) name from the university will neither downgrade his image nor does it promote that of YSR,” read the tweet.
Balayya, contrary to his nephew, reacted on his Facebook page: “NTR is not a name to change or to remove, he is a culture and civilization and to the Telugu race he is a backbone.” He went on to add: “(His) Father (YSR, when he was Chief Minister) has changed the name of the airport after ascending the throne. Now, son is changing the university. People are there to change you soon.”
Balakrishna also took a dig at Jr NTR and the other TDP turncoats currently in Jagan’s camp without naming them. “Also, some people are surviving with the alms of the great man (NTR)… the very same dogs that are barking at others without any faithfulness,” he said.
Citing how even Jagan’s sister, YS Sharmila of YSR Telangana Party, vehemently opposed the dropping of NTR’s name from the university, Naidu’s social media wing launched a vitriolic campaign against Jr NTR for failing to take a leaf out of Sharmila’s book.
Jr NTR is also accused of displaying a lukewarm response when his aunt Bhuvaneswari, also Naidu’s wife, was subjected to personal attacks by a section of the ruling YSR Congress leaders.
NTR’s favourite child
The 39-year-old Tarak or Jr NTR was considered a favourite grandchild of NT Rama Rao. Tarak was born to Shalini Bhaskar Rao, the second wife of Harikrishna. The marriage with a Kannadiga Brahmin bride was performed against the wishes of NT Rama Rao. Yet, NTR used to like Tarak the most, as the latter inherited his features and mannerisms. With this liking, NTR hand-held Tarak into the film industry, helping his debut as a child artist in Brahmarshi Viswamitra, a Hindi mythological film he directed in 1991, film journalist Omprakash Vaddi told The Federal.
Since then, Tarak has starred in over 30 films, but the blockbusters Simhadri, Adurs, and RRR helped him rise to prominence as a Tollywood star. His rise is obviously credited to the patronage and celluloid demigod image of his grandfather.
Ploughing his own furrow
His tweet now raises questions over the kind of bonding he enjoys with the Nandamuri family and the TDP headed by his uncle, Naidu. Jr NTR apparently ploughs his own furrow, as the extended family of the Nandamuri clan failed to treat him in an inclusive manner. Harikrishna’s second marriage with Shalini, who used to be a receptionist at Awhanam Hotel owned by NTR in Hyderabad, was said to have failed to gain acceptance from the Nandamuri family. Hence, Jr NTR’s secluded life.
Harikrishna played a key role in legitimizing the leadership of his brother-in-law, Chandrababu Naidu, in the TDP after the August coup Naidu staged against NTR in 1995. In return, Harikrishna was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat, a Cabinet berth with transport portfolio, and membership of the TDP politburo, the party’s highest decision-making body. After Harikrishna’s distancing from the party, Naidu firmed up his bond with the NTR family by arranging his son’s marriage with Balayya’s daughter, Brahmani.
However, Harikrishna sulked and distanced himself from the party for some time. But Naidu drafted Jr NTR as a star campaigner in the 2009 state elections for the TDP, and the actor proved himself as a crowd-puller with his starry charisma. But the party failed to win that election. Since then, Tarak has been conspicuous by his absence from party activities.
Observers have attributed his alleged side-lining from the party to a threat Naidu sees in Jr NTR to the prospects of his son Lokesh emerging as his heir apparent. After the TDP’s rout in the last elections, some sections within the party clamoured for Jr NTR’s comeback to revive the party’s sagging fortunes under Naidu’s leadership. Both Naidu and Tarak remained silent on such appeals. Both Harikrishna and Tarak lacked emotional attachment with the TDP, as it drifted away from the shadow of its founder NTR and the core philosophy infused by him after Naidu took over its reins. It turned out to be Naidu’s brand later, commented analyst Raka Sudhakar.
Why is Jr NTR soft with Jagan?
Though Tarak is a direct descendent of NTR, he has strong connections with Naidu’s bitter rivals in Jagan’s camp—Kodali Venkateswara Rao alias Nani and Vallabhaneni Vamsi, both defected from the TDP. With Harikrishna’s blessings, Kodali Nani has secured a TDP ticket for the Gudivada Assembly segment in the past. Subsequently, he left Tarak, then a high school student, in Nani’s care. His relations with Nani continue beyond politics, and the actor fondly calls him “Nani Anna.”
Vamsi was one of the co-producers of a film, “Samba,” in which Jr NTR was in the lead role. Incidentally, Nani and Vamsi have been making personal attacks on Naidu, his son, and even his wife. But apparently, in view of his relations with Nani and Vamsi, Jr NTR is failing to be aggressive in his retaliation against the attacks on his blood relations in the Nandamuri family. The adage, blood is thicker than water, is failing to work in Tarak’s case.