YSR: A doctor who feels the public pulse

By Mohammed Shafeeq, IANS,

Hyderabad : A trained doctor, Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy or YSR as he is popularly known, has learnt to feel the public pulse as he takes over Wednesday as Andhra Pradesh chief minister for the second successive term and sets new records.

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He came up the hard way in his public life spanning three decades and emerged as one of the strongest leaders the Congress has produced in the state.

The 60-year-old broke the jinx by becoming the first Congress chief minister to retain power – a feat achieved before only by legendary N.T. Rama Rao of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the 1980s.

Last week, he had become the first chief minister in the state’s history to complete a full five-year term.

He has always been a winner. Elected to the state assembly for the fifth time, YSR is also a four-time Lok Sabha member and holds the record of never losing an election.

Without promises of free TV sets and cash doles and without banking on filmstars’ glamour, he proved why he is more popular among masses.

Popular as ‘people’s leader’ among his followers, YSR tasted success despite facing a hostile poll campaign from both the TDP-led four party Grand Alliance and Praja Rajyam party of actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi.

YSR also emerged as one of the few leaders in the country to retain power beating the anti-incumbency factor. What has made his performance more creditable is the fact that he made no big promises and instead highlighted his performance versus the “poor credibility record” of his main rival N. Chandrababu Naidu of TDP.

Banking on his performance and the numerous welfare schemes his government launched during the last five years, YSR retained power despite a three-cornered contest.

The man who ran the Congress campaign on his shoulders emerged victorious in the face of hectic electioneering by top stars of the tinsel world in favour of TDP and Praja Rajyam.

When he took over as chief minister for the first time on May 14, 2004, it was a dream came true for YSR. The leader from the bad lands of Rayalaseema had come up the hard way, after narrowly missing power in 1999.

Born in a middle-class family at Pulivendula, a small town in Kadapa district, on July 8, 1949, YSR made a modest beginning. Eldest of the five sons of Y.S. Raja Reddy, a dynamic local leader in his heydays, he evinced interests in politics while studying at M.R. Medical College, Gulbarga in Karnataka.

After completing his MBBS, YSR served as medical officer at the Jammalamadugu Mission Hospital for a brief period. In 1973, he established a 70-bed charitable hospital.

He entered active politics in 1978 and was elected to the state assembly from Pulivendula. He served as state minister from 1980 to 1983 and retained the assembly seat in 1983 even when NTR swept to power with a historic victory.

Sensing a potential leader in him, then prime minister Indira Gandhi appointed YSR president of the state unit of Congress when he was only 34. In 1989, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kadapa and held the seat till 1999, when he shifted again to state politics. From 1998 to 2000, he again served as president of the state Congress.

Though the party lost the 1999 state elections, YSR emerged as the strongest leader of the party and became the leader of opposition.

The year 2003 was a turning point in his political career, as he undertook a 64-day padyatra, or walkathon, across the state. Covering 1,500 km under the scorching sun, he received petitions from people about their problems, mainly relating to agriculture and unemployment.

It was this campaign and a strong anti-incumbency wave against Chandrababu Naidu’s government which catapulted YSR to power.

His experiences during the padyatra helped him shape his policies after assuming office as he gave free electricity to farmers, waived their loans, introduced several welfare schemes like pension for the aged, widows and handicapped, housing for poor, Rs.2-a-kg rice, Rajiv Arogyasri or community health insurance scheme and a massive programme to build irrigation projects.

Thanks to these initiatives, the Congress has won 156 of Andhra Pradesh’s 294 seats and bagged 33 of its 42 Lok Sabha seats this time.