Remembering NTR the politician in his centenary Year 


The most common model of NTR’s statue, found in thousands across Telugu states, a unique phenomenon there. He was founder-leader of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) that was in power for long years, and now has almost 40 percent vote in today’s AP.  His popularity as a film star-turned politician who became in 1983 the first non-Congress CM of Andhra, is presently sought to be exploited by TDP and others too, including BJP, who hope to get some political mileage. He has a larger-than-life political image cultivated and sustained for decades by various vested interests, and this article, also a chronicle of the period, seeks to show the other side of NTR. There are many NTR fans and politicians who are pushing for a posthumous Bharat Ratna, a coveted honor in India, and there is no surprise if the Modi-led BJP comes out with such an announcement anytime now. The BJP, too weak in AP, has been eyeing to boost its electoral base there, and so it hopes to get some political mileage out of that.

It’s 40 years since the beginning of NTR’s political career, and so the majority today, in particular young generations, even many media persons, have little understanding about it. What has been written on NTR is full of exaggerations, and half-truths. Hence this story, on his political (not cinema) role, with a focus on the ‘other side’ of NTR, ‘forgotten’ by all parties.

Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR 28 May 1923 – 18 January 1996) was recently remembered widely, to mark his birth centenary, by Telugu media, polity and people, particularly in present Andhra Pradesh (AP), and also to a lesser extent in Telangana state(TS). He is a widely known Indian politician who served as the Chief Minister (CM) of undivided Andhra Pradesh for seven years over three terms. He was born in an agrarian family on 28 May 1923  in Nimmakuru, a small village in Gudivada taluk of AP’s coastal Krishna district, which was a part of the erstwhile Madras Presidency. He did his BA from Guntur.

This article is in two parts, and includes a brief backgrounder to AP politics. It recalls some aspects of NTR times, and is of current interest as major parties in AP are seeking to project NTR for their own interests keeping in view the coming 2024 elections to the Assembly as well as Loksabha. However, it focuses only his political (not cinema) role, and that too for three reasons given below:

AP politics, NTR and his clan 


Modi has been a friend and ally of NTR’s dynasty and paid rich tributes to him on his birth centenary. All in the family, as in many regional parties in India: NTR and his two sons-in-law, Babu on extreme Left, and Daggupati. The two were given key posts in TDP and in the Cabinet too. Harikrishna, his son, was made an MLA, MP and a cabinet Minister. His daughter Daggupati Purandeswari became a Union Minister much later. His son Balakrishna has been an MLA, while Babu’s son Lokesh is now the proclaimed successor to TDP after CBN. There are more leaders in the queue. None of his 12 children, as also their spouses, supported him when he was toppled by CBN. Only his second wife, Lakshmi Parvati stood by him, and she became a leader and MLA, but had to leave TDP.           

For one, NTR dynasty is a significant political phenomenon in AP, and his political legacy is sought to be used now by a wide spectrum, particularly in AP.  He will be kept live in news until at least next election an year later. TDP held its Maha Naadu, massive conference, on May28 NTR’s birthday, and declared its initial Manifesto for polls due in 2024 summer. The ruling YSRCP also held a small meeting that day, and recalled it was their Govt that honored him by naming his home Krishna district as NTR dt.

Secondly, because caste is a significant factor, like elsewhere, for ruling classes in AP politics. NTR was the first man to become the CM from the caste of Kammas, which has many notable, influential and prosperous names associated with that  community. Most of the CMs in AP were Reddys until NTR arrived on the scene, and after him too.  And NTR’s name is sought to be used, particularly by a kamma-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP)  keeping that in mind. Kammas have some business clout in neighboring TS/Hyderabad city, and a little in Karnataka and Tamilnadu too, and parties are keen on that.

Thirdly, because BJP has also been keen on exploiting cinema field, NTR family included, for its ends. The BJP that currently has less than one percent vote in Andhra despite PM Modi canvassing, has been trying to rope in as many defectors as possible. Being a most popular Telugu star, known particularly for his mythological roles as Rama, Krishna and Venkateswara (Balaji in North), BJPalso hopes to cash his name: NTR’s daughter, Purandeswari, a turncoat, is currently in BJP as one of its General Secretaries. She is the wife and current political face of Dr. Daggupati Venkateswara Rao, who was a TDP leader, legislator and minister in NTR’s cabinet, side-lined by former CM Chandra Babu Naidu, another son-in-law of NTR.

Currently, BJP is keen on using kapu caste also, by allying with film star-politician Pawan Kalyan (PK), who founded, a decade ago, the Jana Sena Party (JSP), and made some mark having polled some 7 to 10 percent votes in various elections, including those of local bodies across AP. The kapu family, though a later entry after NTR, currently has a key role in Tollywood (Telugu filmdom), with huge money and several actors and producers, competing with that of NTR’s political, cinema and business successors. BJP is wooing Kapus, two of its succeeding AP presidents being from that, even while using NTR’s daughter.  

Film stars turning into successful politicians is a phenomenon more of South India, Karnataka included, but not so much in Kerala, not to speak of the North.  Films are not only a most popular medium to reach vast masses, but a big business in South India, often outwitting Bollywood, in recent past. They are a big source for political funding, next only to corporate money that has a significant role in Indian politics today.

NTR is one of those popular Indian film stars who turned to politics and made a mark, the others being those of Tamilnadu, namely MGR (MG Ramachandran), and Ms. Jayalalitha, both having become popular CMs of that state. In fact MGR was the model NTR inherited and adapted successfully.

Efforts are on to bring them all -TDP JSP And BJP- on one platform to defeat the currently ruling Party (YSRCP) led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, a former, twice-elected popular, Congress CM of undivided AP. YSRCP, formed after YSR’s death, is one of those rare parties in India that came to power polling almost 50 percent of polled vote, and hence the efforts, chiefly by TDP, for such an all-in-one alliance.

TDP has Balakrishna, NTR’s son and a film hero, as a TDP MLA, and has used grandson ‘NTR-Junior’, another star, as a campaigner during last polls. CBN’s son Lokesh is brought into politics, and already groomed as successor leader to CBN. There is some disgruntlement among NTR clan and followers that their future is constrained by Lokesh. This conflict is not new as can be seen below:

TDP split, reminiscent of Tamilnadu

NTR was the founder-leader of the TDP, and so his name is naturally sought to be exploited by that party. But there has been a hitch: TDP underwent a split, engineered by current TDP leader, wily Chandra Babu Nayudu (CBN or Babu), in his very life time, at the peak of NTR’s popularity. In fact the shock of the split ultimately led to a ‘heart-broken NTR’s death by heart attack.

NTR’s had some similarities with political life of Tamilnadu, not only by emulating MGR. Dravida Kazhagam (DK) movement underwent a split, and DMK was founded as a party, after  Periyar’s second marriage at a late age, detested by other leaders. Likewise, the split in TDP was ascribed to widower, 70-year-old NTR’s second marriage (in 1993) with his biographer Lakshmi Parvathi (LP), a post-graduate in Telugu Literature – 30 years younger to him – who separated from her previous husband. NTR had made a dramatic announcement at a public meeting in Tirupati about his marriage. It triggered a series of crises, the reverberations of which are being felt even today.

This marriage became a controversy within the family and the party, as LP was deemed an ‘intruder’ who would usurp his legacy, personal and political. That led to a turmoil in the life of NTR as well as of TDP.  NTR had done enough to create doubts, including promoting her politically, even as his successor as suspected by many inside TDP. He reportedly (India Today 1993 Oct 15, long before the crisis) even claimed his marriage had ‘national interests’ while his apologists (Renuka Chowdary, TDP leader who later was a Union Minister, and joined Congress) said it was for ‘uplifting women’! That led to a split in TDP, and NTR was outwitted, by the very script-writers who brought him in.

After split and NTR’s tragic death in January 1996, LP indeed set up a new short-lived party, NTR-TDP, that had contested polls in 1995 against TDP, with lion symbol and with NTR’s picture on the flag. She campaigned for her own party as his political successor (Sinhagarjana rally, Vijayawada). Some expected her to become a Jayalalitha in the Telugu region. She became an MLA, but her party withered away. She later joined TDP’s rival, Congress party, and then YSRCP (Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party) where she currently enjoys a post as chairperson of Telugu Academy, with cabinet rank.  Thus NTR’s successors are distributed in three parties, TDP, YSRCP, and BJP, though TDP remains the chief claimant.

NTR’s Rise and Fall


NTR on his Chaitanya Ratham, meaning a chariot of awakening, a re-purposed cinema studio-van in 1982. With Harikrishna his son as driver, he travelled thousands of  kms, virtually lived – eating and sleeping- in it for almost nine months, carrying on a first-of-its-kind political campaign, a no-holds-barred tirade on Congress rule, which was defeated in 1983 election,  for the first time in AP. He was a demagogue, a match to PM Indira Gandhi at her peak, who invoked ‘Andhra pride’ and self-respect. He called her an autocrat, and the Centre as a midhya (myth) that has no existence of its own. It was a powerful script , in a new idiom, the ‘hero’ delivered well; it was reached effectively by Eenadu, Telugu daily,  to the millions of audience that lined up all the roads, including interior villages. He was a novice to politics, and till then currying favors with Congress ministers as a film businessman. Suddenly he became an icon of anti-Congress politics, so much so that he was made the Chairman of National Front that had VP Singh as its PM in 1989. But alas, by that time TDP led by NTR was defeated in 1989 AP polls.

NTR’s entry into politics in 1982-83, as well as his political setback and ultimately death, were all dramatic. TDP was floated in 1982 and he stormed to power in the combined Andhra Pradesh in the 1983 elections.

He was however dethroned twice, the first time in 1983 August by a conspiracy of the Indira Gandhi-led Centre; Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, a former disgruntled Congress leader, of Kamma lobby that had brought in NTR, played Indira’s agent, was hurriedly sworn in as CM aided by a pliant Governor of the day.

But NTR reversed the conspiracy, with the help of a massive ‘Dharma yuddham’, a ‘save democracy’ protest movement backed by the entire non-Congress Opposition, from Vajpayee to Janata Party to CPM. Nadendla was shown the door within a month, and NTR was reinstated, a rare occasion in India’s autocratic politics by the Centre. The mass movement was also aided by CBN’s tactics of ‘camps’ or ‘resorts’ that barred poaching by Congress. That was a first of its kind, keeping the flock together, in a far-away resort (Bangalore), now a pattern followed by all parties. With this episode, CBN’s position in TDP was fortified, though as a Congressman he contested against TDP in 1983 January polls, and was admitted only later.

The second attempt, in a midnight political coup following an internal revolt led by NTR’s son-in-law CBN in August, 1995, saw NTR totally outwitted. A shocked, ‘heart-broken’  NTR , the Chief Minister of AP for 7 years, died of a heart attack on 18 January 1996 at his residence in Hyderabad, aged 72, after this coup. He never pardoned his son-in-law for ‘back-stabbing’ him and ‘usurping’ power through backdoor. Despite presiding over the TDP for over 25years, Naidu still faces criticism for the alleged ‘betrayal’.

It should be noted that CBN could mobilize an overwhelming 90 percent of TDP legislators with him: Only 21 out of 216 TDP MLAs stood with NTR. The Centre and the Governor of course had helped CBN faction, true, but that was so in 1983 August crisis also, which NTR could overcome and return to power.

It is notable that news daily Eenadu and the lobby behind CBN, who had helped NTR to tide over 1983 August crisis, never came to the rescue of NTR in 1995 August crisis. They changed their ‘script’ : NTR came to Sarovar Hotel (Hyderabad) where MLAs were camping. Not allowed inside by CBN camp, NTR from outside shouted, made, through loud speakers, appeals that fell on the deaf ears of the break-away group. Indeed chappals were hurled at NTR from inside the hotel by CBN camp.

Humiliated, NTR left the scene, and was shocked as a not a single member of his own enlarged family (12 siblings and their spouses) backed him. They were all with CBN camp. Only Laxmi Parvati, his wife, stood by NTR in the split. In 1996 loksabha polls, her party contested but was washed out.  However, by winning elections in the post-NTR political era, in the 1996 and 1999  elections, Naidu had finally gained upper hand, and established himself as the inheritor of TDP’s political legacy.

NTR’s widow LP is now accommodated by YSRCP-Jagan govt with a cabinet-rank post.  NTR’s elder son-in-law Dr D Venkateshwara Rao and his wife Purandeswari were also with the YSRCP and he had even contested the last assembly election, though without success. His daughter later joined BJP as suggested by her husband. NTR’s name and nepotism could not help unity of even his opportunist family members: They are distributed in three parties now.

All this established NTR as a mere ‘hero’ who delivered others’ script. If 1983 was a big hit, 1995 was a big flop, the hero being the same. TDP covers up all this, so does Eenadu today, and the latest Maha Nadu conference of TDP projected NTR as a great, unparalleled leader, as an icon to be used by TDP to win 2024 polls.

Political rivalry is so acute that feature (political) films were produced to support both camps: Film director Ram Gopal Varma’s “Lakshmi’s NTR”, released in the run-up to the April 2019 general elections, portrayed Naidu as the villain, with the perspective of Lakshmi Parvathi who is a persona non-grata for the present TDP dispensation. The film focuses on the final stages of NTR’s life when he was tormented by the split led by CBN. Countering that film, CBN camp supporters produced another film with the help of Balakrishna, MLA and NTR’s son and successor in films.

NTR’s larger-than-life image: How he came to power

NTR’s election in 1983 is ‘historic’ it is said. If so, what laid foundations for the win in 1983?

Like in movies, ‘directors’ and ‘screen-play and script writers’ played a vital role in NTR’s politics. Just as investment and profit ruled cinema, politics has also been ruled by them, class and caste vested interests. Admittedly NTR didn’t know much about politics. The political script writers (Nadendla etal) said that he and others brought him into politics, and it was a fact. How were the not-so-popular Pratibha Patil, Ramnath Kovind and Draupadi Murmu brought forward as India’s Presidents?  That was how NTR too was brought in.

Communists’  role: NTR’s cinema glamour was combined with the appeal of Telugu nationalism which was developed by earlier movements including that by the undivided CPI:  ‘Vishalandhralo Praja Rajyam’ ( People’s Rule in Greater Andhra, by by P.Sundarayya, was a propaganda book-let of late 1940s). That was written in the context of the demand for linguistic states championed by the then undivided CPI. It was a demand that represented democratic aspirations, but was a hyperbole in the sense that a people’s raj couldn’t be achieved by linguistic states. The anti-Congress platform developed by various movements for decades, in particular by Communists with their sacrifices, was appropriated by forces behind NTR.

It should be recalled that the popular song ‘Cheyyetti Jaikottu Telugoda’ (‘Raise your hands Telugu-man, hail victory’, invoking Telugu nationalism, was written by the communist leader Vemulapalli Srikrishna decades earlier. Written with a class collaborationist perspective, it was easily ‘owned up’ – rather grabbed without acknowledgement – and extensively used by TDP in its successful campaigns.

At that time, ‘Eenadu’, a new Telugu daily newspaper, which broke new ground in journalism, vigorously propagated, in innovative methods, NTR’s poll campaign by ‘Chaitanya Ratham‘ (vehicle of awakening).  Eenadu reporters accompanied it and gave extensive daily detailed coverage, helping its own circulation that expanded massively into lakhs, never to look back, and topped all others very soon:  Ex-communist Ramoji Rao, the owner of Eenadu, became a king-maker for NTR, in addition to being a marketing king. It is no exaggeration to say that all the senior journalists who worked tirelessly and developed that newspaper were communists; most of them left it later frustrated by the sheer business man, Ramoji.

Anti-Emergency movement  in AP – In opposition to Indira Congress, later strengthened TDP which had emerged as a new political force of the Telugu land. Janata party government was formed at the Centre after the Emergency (1975-77); the Congress led by Indira Gandhi lost all over the country but won in Andhra (Karnataka too). In AP the anti-Congress, democratic consciousness was slow to express itself in terms of votes. Despite losing the 1977 Loksabha elections in Andhra, the factions of the Janata Party (led by JP-Senior) however had won significant 32.30 % -plus votes. In that situation, the forces of the ruling class in AP, who wanted to take the place of the Congress, entered the field:  including the neo-rich landlord forces, they played their significant part in NTR’s and TDP’s win, by combining the slogan of ‘Andhra pride’ :  They could exploit follies of Indira-led  central autocracy that had changed four Andhra/Telugu Chief Ministers in five years and humiliated CM Anjaiah.

There was however no significant role of money in 1983 election. But as early as in 1985, when NTR was very much there, TDP bought votes by paying Rs 15-35 per vote in elections, Tadepalli Gudem and Tanuku constituencies, first-hand accounts revealed. No need to uncritically embellish TDP victories! In later stages, as in 1989 and after, buying votes has become a regular practice, promoted by TDP, with Naidu always playing a key role, that claimed it’s a (pun intended) ‘value-’based party. Now the going rate is at least Rs. 500 to 2000 per vote.

Adivasi appeal: STs constituted a significant 7 percent in AP population. In April 1981, around 60 tribals were shot and killed in Indravelli, of Adilabad dt,  by the Congress government police.  It was the land of the Gonds that insurgent rebel martyr Komaram Bhim (1900-1940) had walked on.  At a time when there was yet another movement for jal jungle zamin, this massacre  ignited public anger (especially in Telangana).  In the early days of the formation of TDP, NTR visited there and announced that he would support the Adivasis and the Naxalites, whom he called ‘real patriots’ (later his govt shot them dead, at least 200 of them, of course); he invoked the memory of Alluri Sitarama Raju (1897-1924), who led an armed revolt of adivasis against the British rule. (Komaram Bhim and Alluri are still invoked for votes, even by Modi). In all the above NTR was dressed up as a hero, subject to the script and direction of the respective lobbies. New illusions were created.  It is another matter that TDP led by NTR actively considered to undo the ‘Act 1 of 1970’ that ostensibly protects adivasis’ exclusive rights in some scheduled  (Agency) areas. However, amid severe protests and legal hurdles, it backed off.

All the above factors provided a great advantage to the lobby that backed NTR, who had a heady win, despite being a novice to politics. All in all, the movie was a big hit at the political box -office in 1983, and in 1985 elections!  They project as if as NTR’s charisma swept the polls. But they have no answer why TDP, and NTR personally too, were defeated so soon after, as in 1989.  (We shall see some reasons in part-2.) 

His policies, highly eulogized, were in fact guided by the script-writers, lobbies and vested interests behind him.

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NTR’s shallow claims of ‘Andhra pride’

Much is made of NTR’s sloganeering in the name of Andhra pride, i.e., of Telugu nationality. They exaggerate and say that earlier many used to refer to Telugus as Madrasis, and it was NTR who gave Telugu identity a due place. Public memory is short: NTR worshippers forget that Congress had formed a separate, the first linguistic, Andhra Provincial Committee almost a century ago. They try to make people to forget that the first linguistic State in India was Andhra (1953) that was separated from Madras province, and then came united Andhra Pradesh (1956).  They were achieved by a prolonged movements, led by Communists which pressed the linguistic principle, and others including Congress Telugu nationalists. There was a movement that turned violent after the death of Potti Sriramulu (1901-1952 Dec) after 56 days fast, and PM Nehru was forced to concede.

NTR’s Telugu nationalism was more verbal and shallow: He did little by way of encouraging Telugu national industry as opposed to all India Big Business. He lived almost all his film life in Madras (Chennai), and refused to shift his film business to Hyderabad until very late years, despite incentives and requests by AP Govt.

Incidentally, it was scholar PV Narasimha Rao (later PM) who as CM in 1970s, and earlier as a Minister, took some steps (notwithstanding the defects) to promote Telugu and Telugu medium, by establishing literary-cultural fora and Telugu Academy (1968) that published acclaimed glossaries, dictionaries and text books, even College-level and Science courses, in Telugu. PVN was brought in by Indira-Congress as CM in 1971 Sep, after separate Telangana movement-phase-1was subsided, and there was a felt need for Telugu linguistic unity.

Thus NTR was not a pioneer; he only revamped the Academies into Telugu University with his own appointees. Its establishment was welcome, but unscientific elements such as palmistry, astrology and Vastu were included there, decades before Sangh parivar did that. It revealed his feudal mindset that did not help modernize and develop Telugu.

The present-day TDP makes dubious claims on his measures regarding Telugu, but it has ditched Telugu, favored and introduced English medium even at primary stage in (‘success’) schools, and it was furthered by YSRCP govt.  

It is notable that unlike in Tamilnadu, NTR  continued the 3-language formula Congress had introduced.  NTR govt disallowed a conference on Telugu as sole medium of instruction in schools : Democratic Students’ Organization (DSO), which opposed 3-language formula,  had organized a conference on education in mother tongue as the sole medium at school; renowned Gandhian, advocate of mother tongue and Chairman of AP Official Language Commission, Vavilala Gopalakrishnaiah was the chief guest.  NTR government refused to allow such a meeting of students for Telugu! The High Court was approached, and it allowed with conditions, and the Govt disallowed a procession on the issue.

His fondness for Telugu worked to give names like Telugu Varuni Vahini for selling, for some time, liquor through PDS, and even through police stations (ostensibly to protect from naxal raids!).  Starting with the slogan of prohibition, the TDP government itself later encouraged alcohol sales and consumption, as a major source of state revenue.

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(This is a modified and enlarged, English version of a short article published in Trending News, a Telugu web magazine, in August, 2022, when the birth centenary was ongoing.

The Big Media outlets are not ready to publish this other side of the NTR story. Books on him also don’t publish much of it, in particular Part-2 that deals briefly with his class outlook, Karamchedu dalit rural poor massacre, and with his autocratic and extremely repressive policies that need to be recorded.

The author is a Telugu media person who contributed some articles to 

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