In the heart-rending tragedy of Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy’s death in a helicopter crash, Andhra Pradesh has lost its most charismatic leader and the Congress its most politically talented and resourceful Chief Minister. A medical graduate, YSR, as he was widely known, was inducted into politics by his father, Y.S. Raja Reddy, a shrewd politician of Pulivendula in Kadapa district who was murdered by rivals. YSR proved a quick study. He became an MLA at the age of 29, a Minister two years later, and never lost an Assembly or Lok Sabha election thereafter. A devout Christian, he made pilgrimages to Bethlehem and Tirumala with equal piety, showing his broadmindedness. The real surprise was his metamorphosis from a factional leader whose detractors dismissed him as a rebel without a cause into a party unifier. The game-changing event was his 1500-km padayatra in 2003, which brilliantly tapped into mass unrest over the agrarian crisis and catapulted him to the seat of power a year later. For five years and three months, YSR strode the State stage as the Strong Leader. There was no effective challenge from the Opposition or, for that matter, from within what used to be a notoriously faction-ridden State Congress. Such was his self-assurance that when he made it back to power with a wafer thin majority, he did not perceive any real threat to his pre-eminence. He had accomplished something extraordinary in post-1971 Congress affairs: emerged from the long shadow of the high command without raising doubts about his loyalty.

YSR was a strategic risk-taker who looked around eclectically for ideas that would be useful to him and initiated a plethora of welfare schemes to alleviate extreme economic distress among the rural and urban masses. His most impressive political achievements were the confidence and can-do spirit he injected into his camp and the political credibility he won for his schemes through incessant mass contact. His tenure, however, was marked by controversy, with a number of allegations of corruption and misuse of power levelled against him and his regime. He also showed signs of intolerance of criticism, which was revealed in his government’s vendetta against the Eenadu group. YSR achieved the distinction of being the only Congress leader to serve a full five-year term as Chief Minister and was on course for a second full term. He tirelessly presented his mission as the transformation of agriculture and farmers’ lives and the ending of agrarian distress. His ‘Jalayagnam’ drive to irrigate ten million acres of land by 2014, his Agriculture Technology Mission, his vigorous implementation and expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and his schemes to supply rice at Rs. 2 a kg to the poor and provide free power to farmers won him enormous credibility on the ground. His death at the age of 60 is the kind of loss the Congress will find extremely difficult to recover from.

Correction

The second paragraph of “Death of a talented leader” (Editorial, September 4, 2009) said that YSR achieved the distinction of being the only Congress leader to serve a full five-year term as Chief Minister [in Andhra Pradesh] and was on course for a second full term. Kasu Brahmananda Reddy was the longest-serving Congress Chief Minister (February 29, 1964 – September 29, 1971) which is seven and a half years. YSR was at the helm for five years and three months. Brahmananda Reddy took over from Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy two years after the general elections in 1962. The general elections were held in 1967 and Brahmananda Reddy was at the helm for four years till 1971 when he was forced to step down in the wake of the Telangana agitation, without completing his full term. This means he served three years in one term and four in the other. YSR completed a full five-year term from May 2004 to May 2009 and became the only Congress leader to do so.

Clarification

A sentence in the second paragraph of “Death of a talented leader” (Editorial, September 4, 2009) was “YSR was a strategic risk-taker who looked around eclectically for ideas that would be useful to him and initiated a plethora of welfare schemes to alleviate extreme economic distress among the rural and urban masses.” “Plethora” could have been replaced with a “wide range”.

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