Public emotion vindicates YSR’s mass appeal

By Murali Krishnan,IANS,

New Delhi : Was Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy one of India’s most popular leaders in terms of crowd appeal? If the turnout for his funeral, the public display of emotion by thousands and the number of people in Andhra Pradesh who have died of shock or committed suicide is an indication, then it would appear so.

Support TwoCircles

There have been instances of grief-stricken supporters ending their lives after the deaths or misfortunes of their political idols, particularly of cinema stars turned politicians. But no political leader’s death in recent times has triggered such a wave of emotion.

There was mass hysteria in Tamil Nadu, for instance, after then chief minister M.G. Ramachandran was taken to the US in 1984 for treatment. Many people attempted self-immolation. His death three years later sparked an inexplicable frenzy of looting and rioting all over the state that left 23 people dead, says a posting on his site

Besides, 30 people committed suicide and lakhs had their heads tonsured, said the site.

In 1984, eight people killed themselves after Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao was toppled by his finance minister N. Bhaskar Rao.

Unlike Rajasekhara Reddy, known as YSR, MGR and NTR were not just politicians but also hugely popular screen stars who had been elevated to the status of virtual demigods.

“However, YSR’s death is different as he did not have an actor’s label. He was a truly a people’s leader and endeared himself to the masses, identified with their cause and did a lot for farmers to lift them from the agrarian crisis,” Rama Brahman, head of political science in Hyderabad University, told IANS on telephone.

“Going by the initiatives he launched in 2004, he altered the policy agenda for governance. Obviously, farmers who have benefited from schemes, pensioners in rural pockets who receive their fixed Rs.2,200 and even women who are financially independent through employment schemes now feel orphaned or insecure,” Brahman, who has been chronicling YSR’s policies for some years, added.

A large number of nearly 70 people who died of shock included young supporters of YSR and the beneficiaries of the various welfare schemes launched by him in the last five years. The deaths were reported from 19 out of 23 districts in the state.

According to Malla Reddy, a leader of the Andhra Pradesh Railu Sangam, a farmer’s collective, people loved YSR “very much”.

“Some poor farmers are apprehensive of the fate of free power and medicare. There are others who have benefited immensely through subsidised housing and pension schemes. They are bound to get worried and have taken the extreme step,” he said.

“I won’t be surprised if the death toll goes up.”

In Reddy’s view, this was another way for people at the lowest rungs of the social and economic hierarchy to draw attention of the political class to their plight.

Anand Kumar of the sociology department in the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi gives a different spin.

“This expression of frustration and disappointment where people have taken their lives or died of shock is extremely rare in India and not witnessed especially in politics,” he said.

“These people have been beneficiaries of his schemes and put all their eggs in a basket called YSR.”