Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu’s vow not to step into the state assembly until he wins the next election, followed by a teary outburst in front of full media glare against the alleged insults heaped on his wife Bhuvaneswari by the treasury benches in the assembly, seems to have worked in his favour.
The whole episode which highlights the poor treatment of women in state politics, has not only rendered the women empowerment slogans of the Jagan Mohan Reddy government ineffective, but has also helped Naidu mend long-broken ties with the NTR family.
Naidu’s ‘theatrics’ not the first of its kind
The theatrical pledge by an Opposition leader to enter the assembly only as chief minister, is not new to Andhra politics, with Naidu’s mentor NT Rama Rao or NTR and current chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy having employed the tactic in the past. In Tamil Nadu, of course, former chief minister J Jayalalithaa, after being humiliated in the assembly by DMK MLAs in 1989, had famously vowed to return only as the chief minister, and she did return with a thumping majority in 1991.
NTR as an opposition leader in the undivided Andhra Pradesh in 1992 walked out of the assembly with a resolve to come back only as a chief minister after he was not allowed to speak by the then Congress government on the killing of his party colleague and former minister P Siva Reddy.
Jagan Mohan Reddy during the previous TDP government too had employed the same tactic. As an opposition leader, Jagan in 2017 boycotted the assembly as a mark of protest against massive defections from his party to then ruling TDP, allegedly engineered by Naidu. Reddy returned to the assembly as a chief minister two years later.
With assembly elections just two-and-a-half-years away, experts say Naidu, who has been swamped with routs of late, has just re-enacted the scene to turn public sentiment in his favour.
Naidu’s feud with the NTR family
Naidu was alienated from the NTR family after he led an infamous coup against his father-in-law NT Rama Rao on August 23, 1995. Naidu, during the transition of power from NTR to himself, was accused of having discarded NTR’s eldest son-in-law Daggubati Venkateswara Rao after using him to succeed in his mission. Rao’s wife Daggupati Purandhareswari has turned a bitter critic of Naidu since then. Naidu also used Nandamuri Harikrishna, elder son of NTR, to further his cause. In return, Naidu inducted Harikrishna into his cabinet, giving him the transport portfolio for only six months only to dump him later. An enraged Harikrishna fell out with his brother-in-law and floated a rival party named Anna Telugu Desam Party. But it turned out to be a flop show. Naidu redrafted Harikrishna and sent him to Rajya Sabha after the TDP faced a rout in the 2009 elections.
Naidu embraced NTR when he needed him the most, says a Hyderabad-based analyst Vikram Poola.
However, in spite of the hostility from the NTR family, Naidu managed to get legitimacy for power transition in his favour by riding his party to power in the subsequent state elections in 1999.
Pitched battles with YSR
But bad days fell on him after his party suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Congress led by YS Rajasekhar Reddy, father of Jagan Reddy, in the elections in 2004. During that period YSR humiliated Naidu by talking derisively about his mother in the assembly, the same way his wife has been insulted by Jagan Mohan Reddy’s MLAs.
The electoral setback in 2004 forced Naidu to bank on the NTR legacy and realign with the latter’s family. At this juncture, in 2007, the TDP chief got his son married to Nandamuri Balakrishna’s eldest daughter Bramhani. Naidu remained out of power till 2014 for a decade.
NTR family comes to Naidu’s rescue
Despite the NTR family’s treacherous past with Naidu, Daggubati Purandhareswari, a BJP leader and former Union minister, swallowed all the past bitterness and chose to stand by her younger sister Bhuvaneswari by condemning the “heinous” act almost instantly.
Later, almost all the members of the NTR family, led by Balakrishna or Balayya, made an appearance before the media in support of the Naidu couple. Besides Balayya, those present at the media conference were NTR’s sons Ramakrishna, Mohana Krishna and daughters Lokeswari and Umamaheswari and granddaughter Suhasini and Kalyanram (Harikrishna’s daughter and son) and Chaitanya Krishna, son of Mohan Krishna. Some of the family members were even sent for from Chennai for a show of solidarity.
Subsequently, Junior NTR, Harikrishna’s son from his second wife, released a video separately assailing the alleged attempts of the YSR Congress for character assassination involving his aunt Bhuvaneswari. Jr. NTR, popularly referred as a ‘Young Tiger’ of Tollywood, went an extra mile to defend the Naidu’s family at the expense of his professional interests while criticizing minister for civil supplies Kodali Venkateswara Rao aka Nani and TDP rebel MLA Vallabhaneni Vamsi for insulting Naidu’s wife. Nani produced an action film Sambha for Jr NTR to play the lead role while Vamsi produced another film Adurs for the actor. Nani secured a TDP ticket from the Gudivada assembly segment and made a debut in electoral politics in 2004 on the recommendation of Jr. NTR to Naidu. Nani later switched to Jagan’s party.
The Nandamuri family’s aadapaduchu sentiment involving Bhuvaneswari has even forced Jr. NTR to keep aside the fact that he lives the life as an outcast in his grandfather’s family. Harikrishna’s second marriage with Shalini Bhaskar Rao that led to the birth of Jr. NTR was unacceptable to the NTR family, leading to the alienation of Jr. NTR, it is said.
An alleged victim of Naidu’s hire and fire approach, Jr. NTR went out of political limelight after his vigorous campaign in the elections in 2009. His filmu glamour and his proven crowd-pulling abilities in that election, besides his features identical to senior NTR helped him present himself as an heir apparent to the party’s patriarch. Such a projection obviously was not to Naidu’s liking.
‘Chickens come home to roost for Naidu’
The way loose comments have been passed on NTR’s widow Lakshmi Parvati, actor and YSR Congress MLA Roja and now Naidu’s wife Bhuvaneswari reflect the patriarchal mindset prevalent in Andhra Pradesh politics, Aruna Kumari Gogulamanda, writer and scholar on caste and gender from Hyderabad Central University, told The Federal.
She says, Bhuvaneswari was unfairly dragged into the legislative house in the backdrop of the claims made by the Jaganmohan Reddy government about women empowerment.
Three women Mekathoti Sucharita, Taneti Vanitha and Pamula Pushpavani—two from Scheduled Castes and one from Scheduled Tribes—were inducted into Jagan Mohan Reddy’s cabinet and two of them were even made Deputy Chief Ministers with which Jagan seeks to reinforce his claims of women empowerment.
“But all the three ministers are voiceless. And, Sucharita as a Home Minister, even reduced herself to merely distributing cheques with compensation of ₹10 lakh to each rape victim in the Jagan Reddy government,” Aruna Kumari lamented. Not even one accused in rape cases in the last two and a half years of YSRC rule was convicted, she added.
The governing principle that no reference should be made against anyone who is not a member of the House has been conveniently thrown to the wind by the both the present YSRCP government and the previous TDP government as well.
Recalling how Naidu, when in power, failed to rein in his party MLA Chintamaneni Prabhakar who was accused of ill-treating D Vanajakshi, lady revenue officer, in Krishna district, she added, “After all, the chickens have come home to roost for Naidu now”.