By K Ramachandra Murthy
India has seen 14 prime ministers at the helm in the post-independent era and 16 chief ministers in undivided Andhra Pradesh. Why is it that Indira Gandhi was immensely popular among the masses, even more than her much-revered father and our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru? The legendary actor-turned-politician Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao popularly known as NTR, established the Telugu Desam Party and within nine months of setting it up gave the ruling Congress of the time, a crushing defeat. NTR could forge an alliance opposed to the Congress at the National level and because of his extraordinary leadership skills, he enjoys enormous popularity in the hearts of some people to this day.
Similarly, when it comes to the late Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy, there are countless millions to this day who idolise him and who have boundless affection for him. What could be the reason for such unconditional love and respect?
Nine years ago, on this fateful day, Dr YSR set out in a helicopter to launch the Rachabanda programme in Chittoor district. As fate decreed, the weather which was already inclement turned adverse.
When reports of the CM's missing helicopter surfaced, police rescue teams, official machinery and media personnel swung into action. After a long search operation, when it was announced that Dr YSR's chopper had crashed in the hilly region of Pavuralagutta in Nallamalla forest he and five co-passengers were no more, Andhra Pradesh was poleaxed. The entire state was plunged into grief, benumbed with sorrow.
The wounds of this tragedy remain so fresh in the hearts and minds of many that they are moved to tears at the mention of this tragic incident nine years after it took place. Sakshi TV sent a team to Anupalli village in Chittoor district where Dr YSR was scheduled to launch the Rachabanda programme nine years ago. When the reporters asked the local villagers about how they looked forward to his visit, the problems they sought to bring to his notice and the shock which overtook them when they heard news of his death, there was hardly a soul who did not weep while recollecting September 2, 2009.
Why is it that Indira Gandhi and Dr YSR were held in such high esteem? Why is it that they were placed on a loftier pedestal than all other leaders? Is it because of the tragic circumstances of their death? Or is it because of the way they functioned and endeared themselves to the people? Though it is said that public memory is short, people remember with gratitude those who strive to fill their lives with light, who take bold decisions to improve their lot to instill a sense of confidence in them and who endeavor with sincerity to usher in better days in their lives.
Every single leader works under special circumstances and in a particular political environment. Inevitably, the socio-economic and political circumstances of the time influence decision-making. Every prime minister and chief minister has his own limitations. Only a leader who surmounts all obstacles with the resolve to do good for the people leaves his imprint in history. It was Dr YSR's objective that every family should benefit in some form or the other from the government welfare schemes. Therefore, he is remembered as the architect of the pioneering healthcare initiative Arogyasri which made corporate medical facilities accessible to the poorest of the poor. Similarly, he envisioned a state where the deprived sections were empowered with education and introduced the fee reimbursement scheme so that students from the most impoverished background could have access to higher education supported by government funding.
He brought in farmer-friendly governance by adding to what the Centre announced as support price for the farmer's produce. With an eye on the future irrigation needs of all regions of the state, including the most parched areas, he initiated Jalayagnam. Dr YSR strove for the welfare of all segments of society transcending the barriers of politics, caste and creed with the sole intention of ensuring that welfare governance percolates to the lowest layer of society.
The idea behind subsidised gas was to reach out to the middle classes and support them to the extent possible. It is because of his sincerity that Dr YSR enjoyed tremendous credibility. Dr YSR proved to be a messiah for the Muslim community in the same way that Indira Gandhi was for Dalits and Adivasis. He worked for the upliftment of the Muslim minority community with the same sense of dedication which marked Indira Gandhi's work towards Dalits and Adivasis. Needless to say, people see through leaders who try to hoodwink them with their sugar-coated talk and trust committed leaders who walk the talk and serve them with single mindedness of purpose.
A cursory look at the contribution of Dr YSR to grant reservations to Muslim youth in jobs and educational institutions would serve as a good example to illustrate this point. In the 2004 manifesto, the government promised 5% reservations to Muslims, while the TDP said that it would give 3%. The Congress stormed to power and on May 14, 2004, Dr YSR was sworn in as the 14th chief minister of the state. On July 12, 2004, less than three months after he assumed office, Dr YSR announced 5% reservations to the Muslim community through GO No.33. While the proposal to ameliorate the condition of the Muslim community which is socio-economically among the most backward ones in the social structure through a system of reservations had been there since 1971, it was Dr YSR who gave it a shape and form. PS Krishnan, an IAS official, who worked closely with former Prime Minister VP Singh in implementing the recommendations of the mandal commission, also worked closely with YSR as an advisor at this point.
However, the GO was released based on the recommendations of the minority commission. As per the 1991 Census, the literacy levels among Muslims were abysmally low (18%). It was even worse when it came to women (4%). 65% of the Muslim community lived below the poverty line and when YSR announced his proposal of reservations, no political party resisted it. The BJP argued that the proposal was violative of the Constitution.
Why did Dr YSR go in for a proposal of reservation for the Muslim community based on recommendations of the minority commission rather than the BC Commission? It may be recalled that the Puttaswamy BC Commission appointed by the Congress government in 1994 did not submit its report even after its term had been completed with an extension granted to it.
Chandrababu, who took over in 1995 made no attempt to seek a report from the commission. While Dr YSR sought to grant 5% reservations to the Muslim community, it exceeded the constitutional limit for reservations pegged at 50%, taking it to 51. Based on this, a five-judge bench headed by Justice Sudarshan Reddy struck down GO No.33.
The bench further directed the government to appoint a BC Commission and asked for a report from the Commission in six months. However, the High Court provided relief to the government by allowing it to go in for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The state government then appointed a BC Commission headed by Justice D Subramanyam and based on the report of this Commission, brought out an ordinance that 4% reservations for the Muslim community should be implemented.
Subsequently in 2007, the state assembly passed the bill and enacted the law providing reservations to the socially and economically backward Muslim community. Groups opposed to this concept of reservation went to court against the ordinance and the act. A seven-judge high court bench headed by Justice Bilal Nazki struck down the ordinance stating that there were lacunae in the methodology adopted by the BC Commission. By a majority of 5-2 the bench decided that it was violative of the Constitution.
Buffeting all the storms which came his way, YSR stood firm saying that he would find a constitutionally acceptable solution to provide reservations to the backward Muslim community.
He kept implementing the reservation system within the framework of the law to the extent of 4%. The government implemented the fee reimbursement scheme in right earnest to students of the Muslim community, as it did in the case of others. Mohammad Ali Shabbir, a minister in Dr YSR's cabinet at that time stated recently that more than 10 lakh Muslim students could gain access to higher education and thousands of them could gain jobs, thanks to this visionary step initiated by YSR. A few months after YSR's tragic demise, the Supreme Court gave an interim directive upholding the 4% reservation proposal to Muslims put in place by YSR.
Dr YSR did not pass the buck on to the Centre as the TDP government did in the case of Kapu reservations after passing a bill in the Assembly.
Apart from reservations, YSR put in place several measures such as lending a helping hand to skilled Muslim craftsmen through the minorities corporation, recovering Waqf lands and restoring them to the Waqf board, renovation of mosques and construction of function Halls among a vast spectrum of other measures.
It would be foolhardiness on one's part to assume that Muslim community would be taken in by meeting held under slogans like 'Nara Hamara' , after the government in power had neglected them for four and half years.
In undivided Andhra Pradesh, there wasn't a single cabinet that did not have a member from the Muslim community. In Chandrababu Naidu's cabinet, however, he did not include a single Muslim. To toe the BJP line at the time of forging an alliance in 2014, the TDP gave only one seat to a member from the Muslim community. Even this was a ruse to get former CM Kiran Kumar Reddy's brother Kishore Kumar Reddy, who was contesting from Samaikyandhra party, elected from Pileru. As it turned out, the YSRCP candidate from the constituency, Chintala Ramachandra Reddy won with a resounding majority in the end. The TDP candidate stood in the third place.
When it came to the Nandyala by-elections, to ensure a victory, Chandrababu Naidu was compelled to appoint Farooq as the chairman of the legislative council. By then, Chandrababu may have made up his mind to walk out of the NDA alliance. Now, he promises to include a member from the Muslim community in his cabinet. Andhra Pradesh could not take up any of the measures which the neighbouring Telangana government did under the able TRS leadership. The Telangana government is according the same treatment to Muslim students on par with Dalits and Adivasis by giving them access to quality education in 200 gurukuls. One can conclude that Dr YSR's spirit of serving the Muslim community lives on in Telangana, while it has almost disappeared in Andhra Pradesh. Chandrababu is fully aware of this fact and hence his ire at the youth from Nandyala who attempted to seek answers from him in the Guntur meeting for Muslims. These youth have been implicated in false cases and no matter what he or the other Telugu Desam worthies may now claim, all of them stand exposed in the eyes of the people.