NTR was a pioneer in implementing pro-grassroots reforms

He passionately espoused the concept of strengthening the federal character of the Constitution and was ahead of his time in outlining his vision of welfarism.

He passionately espoused the concept of strengthening the federal character of the Constitution and was ahead of his time in outlining his vision of welfarism.

As the centenary celebrations of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, the legendary actor-turned-politician popularly known as NTR, unfold in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it is time to remember his invaluable contribution to the fields of cinema and politics, in which he walked like a colossus.

NTR was one of the most iconic movie stars in Indian cinema. A larger-than-life figure beyond cinema, he is widely regarded as a rebellious nonconformist and pioneer of “alternative politics”, who rewrote the grammar of Indian politics. It’s often said that NTR penned a new political idiom when it burst onto the political scene like a blazing meteorite. He single-handedly dethroned a entrenched ruling party in Andhra Pradesh, enjoying extraordinary success within about nine months of forming a regional party and offering a strong political alternative.

NTR was an ardent nationalist who was immensely proud of his Telugu identity. Stripped of parochialism, NTR’s regionalism exemplifies the idea of ​​unity in diversity. He passionately espoused the cause of strengthening the federal character of the Constitution, set forth his own well-articulated doctrine on center-state relations, and was ahead of his time in outlining his vision of welfarism.

Displaying a missionary zeal to empower the underprivileged in various fields, the NTR administration had a trademark predilection for pro-poor programs.

Once he turned to public life, he was tireless in his efforts to advance his fledgling party, Telugu Desam, and succeeded in building it into a powerful political force. Perched atop his refurbished van, which he named Chaitanya Ratham, he campaigned tirelessly with an inimitable speech in chaste Telugu. The dedication with which he propelled his party to unprecedented success is part of the political tradition. Of course, long before he made his foray into politics, NTR was a household name in Andhra Pradesh and other southern states as an actor.

When he tried out roles from the Puranas – as diverse as those of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Arjuna, Karna, Duryodhana or Ravana, for example – NTR did so with remarkable ease, depth and grace, which no other actor could match. He was revered by the common populace as an embodiment of divinity, and a number of Telugu households would have a calendar with NTR’s image either as Rama or Krishna. When he decided to enter politics, the overwhelming affection and admiration the Telugu masses had shown him for decades gave NTR an edge that few public figures enjoyed.

A convinced nationalist

Charismatic and colorful, NTR was seen as a popular figure with orthodox beliefs. The truth remains that although in popular perception he appeared to be religious at first glance, he was a staunch nationalist. There was no contradiction in the fact that he was a staunch nationalist and a leader who championed regional aspirations. He articulated the cause of Telugu Atmaguravam (Telugu self-respect) by interweaving it with nationalistic pride, with exceptional emotional engagement using his eloquence to forcefully get the message across to the masses.

While promising to root out corruption, NTR often relied on pan-Indian symbolism with terms such as Rama Rajya. When it comes to governance and building people-friendly social and socio-economic protection programs, NTR has been serious in its approach.

As someone who shared a special bond with him based on mutual trust and respect, I could see that he was, deep down, well-meaning and kind-hearted. His spectacular entry into politics was not motivated by self-serving ambition. From my many interactions with him, I could measure that NTR was sincere and ardent in its desire to serve the underprivileged and eradicate corruption. The numerous welfare programs for the poor launched during his time are ample evidence of his intentions. The masses responded enthusiastically to NTR’s outreach programs, seeing him as a messiah cut from a different political fabric. Popularly perceived as a different leader, in the eyes of the general public he seemed to offer a credible alternative.

NTR’s political journey has not been without its ups and downs. Unfamiliar with the intricacies of politics and shocked by the cynical pursuit of power by some of his close associates, he suffered serious setbacks in his political career. These setbacks have in no way tarnished his image and have on the contrary reinforced his stature as a leader of irreproachable integrity. His sincerity and directness have sometimes proved to be his faults in the face of the machinations of public life, unaccustomed as he was to the adjustments, accommodations and compromises which are an integral part of politics.

After the historic victory following the electoral tsunami that it led, NTR appeared to be in a hurry when it came to rolling out its governance model. Whether it is the revolutionary welfarist initiative to provide rice to the poor at ₹2 per kg, the decentralization of administration through the mandal system, the abolition of the Upper House or the Legislative Council, the implementation of the Upa-Lok Pal law to strike down corruption, the empowerment of women by giving them property rights, the establishment of a university for women, the introduction of a reservation for backward classes at Zilla Parishads, the ban on donations of places in educational institutions, especially vocational colleges, supplying Chennai with drinking water through Telugu Ganga, or manufacturing Telugu, the official language of correspondence at all levels of administration, every measure bore the hallmark of NTR’s pro-grassroots approach.

“Save Democracy”

As a stalwart of the opposition, NTR finds a niche among South Indian political giants such as NG Ranga, EMS Namboodiripad, Annadurai, MG Ramachandran, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. History will remember his leading role in establishing opposition unity at the national level. Soon after taking the reins as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in 1983, NTR turned to bringing all opposition parties together and building a viable political alternative to the ruling party. of the time and invited a galaxy of opposition leaders to attend the Mahanadu party in Vijayawada in 1983. The following year, 17 opposition parties in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh came together under the Save Democracy movement after the indefensible dismissal of the NTR government. As young opposition MPs, my good friend, the late S. Jaipal Reddy, who was then a member of the Janata party, and I were at the forefront of the campaign to restore the democratically elected government.

At the heart of NTR’s personality was its “Indianness” – its admiration for Indian culture, heritage, values ​​and philosophy – which defined its approach to virtually everything. NTR and I shared a common love for Telugu language and literature and were bonded by a deep interest in our scriptures and our rich cultural traditions. NTR’s legacy extends beyond our political canvas – he will be remembered for his righteousness and candor, his dedication and discipline, his exemplary nationalism, his commitment to the cause he championed and his solid faith in him.

(Mr. Venkaiah Naidu is the Vice President of India)

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