N.T. Rama Rao’s Chaitanya ratham has spawned dozens of others, but no one has put a vehicle to better political effect
NTR is said to have clocked up 75,000 km in the run-up to the elections in 1983
If there is an award for a vehicle winning the maximum number of elections, the celebrated “Chaitanya ratham,” a customised Chevrolet van that helped Telugu Desam founder N.T. Rama Rao ride to power, will grab it.
When he first hit the road with it in 1982, soon after founding the party, the vehicle was an object of ridicule by the Congress. But criss-crossing the length and breadth of the State on the ‘chariot of awakening,’ with the theme song of Telugu self-respect on his lips, he was able to rouse the masses and defeat the ruling Congress. The election was a landmark in the country’s political history, as NTR stormed to power within nine months of founding his party defeating a century-old party.
For months, the ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ trundled along the lush green paddy fields of coastal Andhra Pradesh, the dry landscape of Rayalaseema and Telangana and through the busy thoroughfares of the towns.
The ‘ratham’ had rotating flood lights on either side and loudspeakers that blared the familiar soul-stirring song Maa Telugu Thalli Ki Mallepudanda catching the attention of the passersby. Driven by his son Harikrishna, it is said to have logged 75,000 km in the run-up to the elections in 1983.
Rain or shine, the star campaigner, sat atop the vehicle waving at people, who often waited for hours on the roadside, even cooking their food in makeshift kitchens. Whether it was a small or big group, he would stop, interact, speak in his booming voice and then leave with his trademark left hand wave.
For many he was a charismatic messiah, in whom they saw the famed mythological characters of Rama and Krishna he played, the only difference being that he was riding a Chevrolet and not the horse-driven chariot.
Later, NTR effectively used the ‘ratham’ to get the message across to the masses about the undemocratic way he was removed from office in August 1984. Undeterred by his recent open heart surgery, he used the vehicle to trigger a huge public movement, leaving no option for the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, but to restore him as Chief Minister.
Till he pioneered the ‘ratham’ as an effective means of campaigning, political leaders relied on street corner and public meetings. NTR’s novel style has spawned many a ‘ratham’ all over the country, but the “Chaitanya Ratham” remains matchless.