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Posted at: Jan 8, 2018, 12:45 AM; last updated: Jan 8, 2018, 12:45 AM (IST)

NTR, a trailblazer in Andhra politics

NTR, a trailblazer in Andhra politics

Suresh Dharur

Within nine months of floating a regional party on }Telugu pride} plank, the legendary film star NT Rama Rao had stormed to power in Andhra Pradesh in 1983, ending the Congress monopoly in the state. NTR, as he was known to Telugus across the world, might have entered politics at the ripe age of 60, but he blazed a new trail during his rather short political stint of 12 years. His unexpected debut in politics in 1982 after an illustrious and impactful career in cinema changed the political contours of Andhra Pradesh forever. Almost 35 years after he had established Telugu Desam Party (TDP), his political legacy still lives on.

The actor-turned-politician created history by founding a party and breaking the Congress bastion in a matter of nine months, a feat unrivalled to this day. It was widely seen as a political tsunami of sorts when he single-handedly trounced the grand old party which had been ruling the state without interruption since independence. Chiranjeevi, another super star in Telugu, later tried a repeat of NTR’s feat but failed miserably, indicating that it was not merely the star power that led to TDP’s triumph.

An accomplished actor who assayed a variety of roles during his more than three decades of acting career, NTR’s nuanced portrayal of Hindu puranic characters such as Krishna and Rama broke new ground in the genre. However, people did not vote for NTR because they mistook him for Hindu god, as some analysts interpreted in the past. NTR’s ability to connect with the people and the tireless manner in which he undertook the campaign remain milestones in the state’s political history. The people saw in him a harbinger of hope and change. His transformation from abhineta to neta was dramatic.

It was his rigorous campaign across the length and breadth of Andhra Pradesh on what came to be known as }Chaitanya Ratham}, a refurbished Chevrolet van, that created a groundswell of support for him. NTR had a charismatic personality. He had a strong political message - the subjugation of Telugu pride by Delhi and the need to uphold Telugu self-respect. And he walked the extra mile to take his message to the last person in the state. That is why NTR was successful though he did not have any political background unlike MG Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu, who had been actively involved in politics for many years before he became chief minister.

Another credit to NTR was that he was the only chief minister in the country who had to be reinstated in September 1984, exactly a month after he was dethroned in a bizarre manner at the behest of the Congress Government at the Centre.

NTR, like any regional party leader, ran a highly personalised style of politics, was criticised for being authoritarian and faced several setbacks in his tumultuous political career. But he is credited even today for bringing an identity to Telugus, who were earlier clubbed with Madrasis. He is also highly regarded even by his detractors for his genuine desire to do good to the common man.

Though defeated in 1989, he came back with a thunder in 1994. This victory was also very unconventional, like all NTR’s achievements. At the ripe old age of 71, being the chief of a political party, NTR married a second time in the face of stiff resistance from his family members. He took his new wife Lakshmi Parvathi, his biographer, to election meetings and contrary to political predictions, got the endorsement from the public.  But soon, he became a victim of palace intrigues and was replaced as CM by his own family members in a political coup, led by son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu.  NTR vowed revenge in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, but passed away in January, 1996 before he could realise his dream.

It was an irony that the man who founded the party, and captured power not once but thrice, was finally ousted from his own party and stripped of power by kith and kin. NTR died a bitter man, but his legacy continues to be invoked by the present day TDP led by Chandrababu Naidu.

As both an actor and a political leader, NTR still commands great respect among Telugus. He strode both the worlds-films and politics-like a colossus.


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