YSR--a natural, charismatic leader

YSR with children.
YSR with children.
Yedugiri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy was in many ways a natural leader, a charismatic Chief Minister who endeared himself to the masses in Andhra Pradesh with his perceived empathy for the neglected segments of society.

His ready smile and easy laughter won him many friends during his three decades in politics, though his early career was marked by a more brash and aggressive style that also got him a lot of detractors.

In a way, life came a full circle for him when he met his end on Wednesday in a helicopter crash on a hill in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, not far from Kadapah, where he began his political journey in 1978.

A medical doctor by profession and popularly known as YSR, he was born on July 8, 1949 at Pulivendula near Kadapah in the backward region of Rayalaseema in the state. He was the son of Y S Raja Reddy, a well-known political figure in his own right.

YSR, a Christian by faith, had started taking interest in politics right from his days as a student at the M R Medical College at Gulbarga in Karnataka and was President of the college students union. Later, he served as leader of the House Surgeon's Association at the S V Medical College at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh.

After completing his MBBS degree, he worked as a Medical Officer at the Jammalamadugu Mission Hospital for some time.

In 1973, Dr Reddy set up a 70-bed charitable hospital in the memory of his late father at his birthplace, Pulivendula. His family also established a polytechnic and a degree college in the place, which were later handed over to the well-known Loyola Group of institutions.

YSR entered active politics in 1978 when he got elected to the State Legislative Assembly. In 1983, he became the President of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) at the very young age of 34. He was again made the state party chief in 1998.

In all, he was elected to the State Assembly six times from Pulivendula and to the Lok Sabha four times from Kadapah.

During 1980-83, he served as a Minister in the Andhra Pradesh government, handling portfolios such as Rural Development, Medical and Health and Education. From 1999 to 2004, he was the Leader of the Opposition in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly.

In the faction-ridden politics of the state, Dr Reddy had many admirers and also several detractors. He shed his aggressive manner after becoming Chief Minister and presented a much more mature and mellowed face in the years that followed.

His historic 1500 km "padayatra" across the state in the summer of 2003 helped the Congress wrest back power from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 2004 after a gap of ten long years, and in the assembly elections this year, he led the party to a second successive term, despite misgivings expressed by many in the party and overcoming the incumbency factor.

The victory was made sweeter by the fact that he had to fend off strong challenges not only from the TDP-led alliance but also popular actor Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party (PRP).

In the process, he became the only Congress Chief Minister to retain power for a second consecutive term, a feat that TDP founder N T Rama Rao and the current TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu had achieved earlier.

He also won the gratitude of the party's Central leadership by sending a solid bloc of 33 members of Parliament.

As Chief Minister, he had launched the Rajiv Palle Baata, a mass contact programme under which he travelled to even unmotorable parts of rural Andhra Pradesh to personally collect feedback on the Government's programmes. Later, he extended the programme to urban areas by launching the Rajiv Nagara Baata.

YSR endeared himself to the masses with some popular schemes he launched as Chief Minister, such as Rs 2 per kg of rice for the poor, free electricity to small farmers, and massive irrigation projects, scholarships for students and pension for women.

Though he was, perhaps, too young to start grooming a successor, his only son, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, who business interests in the areas of power, cement and the media, was elected to the Lok Sabha in the last elections from Kadapah, which Dr Reddy and his brother have represented in the past.

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