Politics
Political turmoil and uncertainty follow the sudden demise of former chief minister N.T. Rama Rao
When news of NTR's untimely death due to a massive heart attack in the early hours of January 18 broke, there were shock waves in political circles throughout the country. Though out of power, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, better known as NTR, was an influential figure in Andhra Pradesh and, as chairman of the National Front (NF), was a leader who mattered in Delhi and carried a charisma which gave him the status of a national leader.
 
 
It remains to be seen whether loyalty towards NTR can be converted into support for his widow.
 
 
His demise means a change in political equations in Andhra Pradesh which is bound to have its impact on national politics.

Within 48 hours of his death there were indications that things would not be the same in Andhra politics. The coterie committed to Lakshmi Parvathi—the MLAs who had been loyal to NTR even during the crisis last year after a coup staged by his son-in-law, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu—probably won't stay committed for long. They are now having second thoughts on whether they should risk their political future with his widow.

In fact, political developments in Andhra Pradesh will largely depend on what happens to the NTRfaction. Even when NTR was alive, it was divided—one was with Parvathi and the other with Venkateshwara Rao who returned to NTR's fold six weeks after he backed Naidu in his bid for chief ministership. This, however, did not particularly work to his advantage and he found himself being sidelined by Parvathi. Hence, Venkateshwara Rao's supporters could very well return to the Naidu group at the first available opportunity. No wonder then that a split in the 41-member legislature group of the NTR action is predicted by political pundits.

Though NF leaders are yet to come to terms with the vacuum left by NTR, his demise virtually puts an end to the Front's dilemma as to which faction of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) it should align with. Ever since NTR was ousted from chief ministership, opinions have been divided on whether the Front should induct Naidu's TDP or not. In fact, efforts were even initiated to bring about a compromise between NTR and his son-in-law. Now, with Naidu's position in Andhra Pradesh strengthened, the NF is likely to wrap up an alliance with the TDP under him.

But who will replace NTR as chairman of the National Front? NF leaders are the first to admit they will be hard pressed to find a man of NTR's political stature and acumen. Which is why Jaipal Reddy, a Janata Dal member of the Rajya Sabha, describes NTR'S death a few months before the general elections as a blow to the Front.

Besides, observers note that the changed political scenario is likely to spell trouble for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. The party's strategy after the TDP split was to back Naidu, with the hope that NTR would successfully resist any attempt to rope his son-in-law into the National Front. Now it looks unlikely that the Andhra Pradesh chief minister will align with the Congress, which is no more than a marginal force in the state assembly.

As for Parvathi, her husband's death could very well marginalise her. Though there has been a wave of sympathy for her after NTR's death, it seems unlikely that she can do a Jayalalitha in Andhra Pradesh and translate public sympathy to her political advantage. Parvathi enjoys very little support even in the TDP faction that was headed by her husband. Though die-hard supporters like Muddu Krishnamma Naidu, Buchaiah Chowdhry and Indra Reddy are determined to carry on under her leadership, it remains to be seen how far Parvathi can face the combined onslaught of Naidu's Telugu Desam as well as NTR's family, which is bitterly opposed to her.

NTR's children, who never accepted Parvathi, have already made it clear that they have no sympathy for her. She was subjected to much ill-treatment after her husband's death, with NTR's sons trying to keep her away from his body. Her supporters were roughed up and she was even prevented from attending the funeral. N. Harikrishna, the most belligerent of NTR's sons and the state transport minister, took no time in firing the first salvo by holding her responsible for the death of his father and has demanded a judicial inquiry.

Parvathi's supporters, however, are not giving up. Says Muddu Krishnamma Naidu, who was physically assaulted and pushed away by NTR's sons on the day of the funeral: "The people are silently watching everything. They are biding their time to teach the backstabbers and traitors a lesson. The people will punish those who are responsible for the death of our anna (brother)."

Public sympathy is what will be Parvathi's trump card. But it remains to be seen if support for NTR can be converted into support for his widow. Parvathi was being groomed as her husband's successor and she had even started addressing public meetings. However, she had still not managed to completely win over the NTR faction.

EVEN before he plunged into politics in 1982, N.T. Rama Rao was a superstar of Telugu cinema. Born in the village of Nimmakuru in Krishna district on May 28, 1923, NTR start-ed out as a sub-registrar in a government office in 1948 and then went on to become one of the most popular filmstars in the south. He acted in as many as 323 movies.

The film legend was stung by the refusal of the Congress headed by Indira Gandhi to nominate him as a Rajya Sabha member. This was the birth of NTR the politician and the Telugu Desam Party. In the 1983 elections, NTR proved his political worth and charisma by inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Congress in its citadel, Andhra Pradesh.

In all subsequent elections, with the sole exception of 1989, NTR proved that he was as good at politics as he was as at acting as Rama, Krishna, Bheema, Karna and Bhishma on screen. Like MGR, he made capital of his screen image and in the villages of Andhra Pradesh he was literally worshipped.

In fact, his hold and sway over the masses, particularly in rural areas, was so strong that even his remarriage—despite having declared himself a sanyasi—could do nothing to damage his image. And the results of the 1994 assembly elections made it clear that the people still had faith in him. But his son-in-law ousted him eight months later and in the last few months of his life, the TDP patriarch's one-point programme was to take revenge on the present chief minister.

Political analysts are agreed that in his eventful political career, NTR erred on one count—involving his wife in political decision-making. After all, the revolt in the TDP last year was precipitated by the influence wielded by Parvathi in party decisions. She was seen by party members as an extra-constitutional authority controlling her husband.

A lot of drama can be expected in the weeks to come in the two factions of the TDP as well as in the NTR family. Parvathi has her work cut out. She has to ensure that she retains the unflinching support of the NTR faction of the TDP. And that this transfer of loyalty from the late leader to his young wife takes place with the minimum of fuss. In fact, the jostling for positions began on January 20, with Parvathi sitting on dharna demanding that NTR's ashes be handed over to her.

As for Naidu, he clearly seems to have the edge. Parvathi was never a popular figure even among NTR's loyalists but they stood by her for her husband's sake. However, without the binding force of NTR, the cracks in his faction of the TDP are likely to appear sooner than expected. The Naidu camp is waiting for something along these lines. Sources close to the chief minister say that they expect a split in the NTR faction and this will only further strengthen Naidu's position in Andhra Pradesh. Whether NTR would have wanted it that way is, of course, a different matter.

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