WHEN Telugu Desam supremo N.T. Rama Rao was chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, his family fought over his chair. Now that he is dead, they are squabbling over his property. And over who should inherit his legacy.
On the one side is NTR's widow, Lakshmi Parvathi, who is determined to set up a museum in his memory in a building opposite her house at Banjara Hills. On the other are NTR's sons and sons-in-law, equally determined to take the battle to the streets. Last month, piqued with Parvathi, two of NTR's sons, Saikrishna and Ramakrishna, stormed into the building earmarked for the memorial with the help of a large police contingent to take possession of it. It was the ugliest incident ever in the Nandamuri family—since the coup by his son-in-law Nara Chandrababu Naidu that toppled N.T. Rama Rao from chief ministership eight months ago. An event which had prompted an agitated outburst from the supremo: "I might have given him my daughter, but he cannot demand the state as dowry."
When NTR's sons forced their way into the building on Road No 13, Banjara Hills, Parvathi was away in Bangalore. In the three-storeyed building (2,600 sq yards), which was constructed under her supervision at the instance of NTR, Parvathi now plans to house all his artefacts and mementos, besides other collections spanning a four-decade film career and 13-year political stint.
Claims Harikrishna, the most rebellious of the lot who had waged many a war against his father beginning with the demand for a party ticket for the Tekkali assembly by-election last year: "What moral right does Parvathi have to claim the building? The land was bought by the Basava Tarakam Memorial Trust of which I am a trustee along with my brother, Balakrishna. We cannot remain mute spectators if Parvathi and her henchmen try to meddle with the museum issue."
The brothers' action is suspected to be yet another ploy of their second brother-in-law and Chief Minister, Naidu, to humiliate their stepmother, who is trying to take the wind out of the ruling party's sails. Parvathi, in fact, has already signalled the beginning of the battle of wills that will shape Andhra politics in the months to come, by organising a massive Simha garjana rally at Vijayawada on February 16.
Not one to be left behind, Chief Minister Naidu declared that he would go ahead with converting the 19-acre Buddha Purnima project site, adjacent to the state's secretariat, into a memorial for NTR.
Naidu now wants to unite the family, at least on the property issue. But for now, the children of NTR—seven sons and four daughters by his first wife, Basava Tarakam—are still undecided on whether to support or oppose the Naidu government.
Supporters of the Parvathi faction are vociferous about her rights. Says Gali Muddu krishnama Naidu: "None of the family members has any right to stake their claim as NTR disowned them in public just before his death. Moreover, he had made it clear that Parvathi was his ' ard hangini ' (his other half) and that no one could separate her from him." Quips another: What more proof does one require in the court of law or anywhere to prove that NTR developed much hatredagainst his family members?" However, according to Sankara Rao, legal adviser of the Telugu Yuvatha of the Naidu group (whose leader is Harikrishna), "Neither Parvathi nor NTR's sons can inherit NTR Trust properties. The trust deed, which was registered on March 5, 1991, in Madras, is irrevocable as all the powers of the trust were vested in the managing trustee, NTR."
After their father's death on January 18, the two sons were quick to set their eyes on the multi crore property. They met at their residence in Abids two days later and unanimously elected Balakrishna as the managing trustee. Does this action conform to the trust deed? Yes, says Rao. He asserts that Parvathi's claim of possessing the bills and receipts of the expenditure incurred and the funds raised in the name of the trust does not stand legal scrutiny.
Does Parvathi possess any legal or other documents to stake her claim? For now, Parvathi's supporters have toned down their aggressive posture. Instead, they want the Naidu government to either take over the museum or make Parvathi a member of the trust.
Besides, Parvathi and her supporters have got a reprieve. After they moved the high court, a two-member bench including Chief Justice Prabha Shankar Mishradirected Director-General of Police, M.S. Raju to provide protection to the disputed premises.
Although Naidu initially maintained a stoic silence over the fight in the family, he now says "the government has no intention to take over the museum." The move could be a ploy to keep both camps busy with the quarrel. This is one way of keeping Harikrishna from posing problems in the party and the government as the former will be preoccupied with fighting Parvathi over his father's property.
Naidu seems to have realised that he cannot organise attacks on Parvathi. This is evident from the government's sudden decision to issue a notice entrusting the construction of the NTR memorial to the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC). The Dalit organisations and Congressmen have already intensified their campaign against the government's decision to convert the Buddha project site into 'NTR gardens' along with an 'NTR memorial' on the lines of Rajghat, at a cost of Rs 12 crore. The government has set the deadline for May 26, 1996, NTR's birthday.
Argues Congress Legislature Party leader P. Janardhan Reddy; "How can the government go back on its earlier stand? T. Anjaiah's Congress government in 1991 proposed and launched the Buddhapurnima project, including the decision to unveil a gigantic statue of the Buddha on the rock of Gibraltar, amid the placid waters of the Hussain Sagar lake."
Things are hotting up for the government on both the issues as NTR's family fights over his property. It is no secret that the Telugu film legend had already distributed most of his immoveable properties among his children. These include:
His youngest son, Jaishankar Krishna, will inherit the Madras house. Among his sons, except for Jaishankar who is an engineer, the rest are directly or indirectly involved with the film industry, including Balakrishna who stepped into his father's shoes as an actor. Of his four daughters, the eldest is married to a doctor and the youngest to a computer engineer settled in the US. His two other daughters were admitted into the TDP after NTR came to power for the first time in 1983.
During his four-decade film career, NTR called the shots, being the star among the Telugu heroes. At one time, he claimed to have been earning Rs 1 lakh a day, and as a family source put it: "Honestly, we are not aware of his real earnings." Like any other shrewd businessman, NTR invested his money in insurance policies to avoid payment of income tax. Each member of the family, including Parvathi, will get Rs 2.25 crore as share from the insurance amount.
For now, Naidu wants to keep his MLAs together, while he indulges in political games and pits NTR's family members against one another—all the time making the right noises about the memorial to garner support for his government. The question is how far will he succeed?