Hyderabad: Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who grew from the faction-ridden and often violence-marked politics of Kadapa, steered his party through spectacular victories twice consecutively in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections to emerge its undisputed leader in Andhra Pradesh.
Sixty-year-old Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy, widely known as YSR, was equally controversial as he was popular. He was a lot mellowed once he assumed reins of power, compared to the aggressive image he had acquired from his days in student Congress and later as an MLA and MP.
Reddy was impatient with the party high command when under the late P V Narasimha Rao, Vijayabhaskara Reddy was made the chief minister in the mid-1990s but some sane counsel from the former Prime Minister softened him to bide his time.
But with Telugu Desam Party (TDP) under Chandrababu Naidu riding high in a state where information technology became the buzz word and rampant farmers’ suicide taking place, the Congress leader from rural Kadapa set out on a padayatra with rural transformation as his goal.
He vowed to dislodged Naidu from power in 1999 or take political sanyas but failed in that attempt. His big moment, however, came in 2004, which led the almost-written off Congress to power after a gap of ten years.
Since then there was no no looking back for the doctor-turned politician.
Taking over as chief minister in 2004 when the naxal menace was at its peak, Reddy, brought the Left-wing extremists to the negotiating table and had to take them on the plank of development when they refused to lay down arms.
He injected development in rural areas where Naxals were dominating and launched several welfare programmes and irrigation schemes in a state, which had witnessed unprecedented farmer suicides before he came to power.
Known for his leadership qualities, Reddy, the son of a mason Y S Raja Reddy in Kadapa district, reached out to all factions of the Congress and undertook a 1,450-km padayatra in 2003 which eventually brought the party to power.
Reddy, the only Congress chief minister of Andhra Pradesh to complete a full five-year term and also retain power, used all his skills to ensure that not even a single banner of protest is raised against his leadership.
The Congress leader also had the blessings of Sonia Gandhi, who had given him a free hand in running the government and also the 2009 election campaign.
Even on the vexed Telangana issue, both the UPA and Congress high command chose to back Reddy’s line despite losing friends like Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).
His clout went up further when Congress wrested about seven seats in Telangana region in the bye-elections in 2008.
And the Congress went alone in the 2009 elections despite the emergence of Praja Rajyam (PRP) led by popular actor Chiranjeevi solely trusting Reddy, who assured the party that he will bring it back to power.
It was a tough challenge for Reddy, who faced a double-barrel attack from TDP-led Grand Alliance and PRP, to storm back to power on the single agenda of development.
Reddy achieved it by touring at least 174 of the 294 Assembly constituencies in the state and axing non-performing ministers and MLAs.
On the one hand, he attracted by introducing welfare schemes like permanent housing, monthly pension and health insurance for the poor while on the other hand he was the constant target of opposition over charges of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power.
Unlike his predecessors, Reddy had little trouble within the party and enjoyed a free run for five years. In the process, he secured a firm footing in the good books of the Congress high command.
Reddy, a practising Christian was born in a family deeply involved in public service. He had lost his father
Recognizing his leadership qualities, the then prime minister and AICC president Indira Gandhi made him the chief of Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee in 1982.
But Reddy quit the Congress following a split and joined the Reddy Congress in revolt against Indira Gandhi.
After the Reddy Congress was disbanded, he returned to the parent party and went on to become the PCC president again in 1997 when TDP was in power and his erstwhile party colleague N Chandrababu Naidu was at the helm of affairs of the state.
From 1980-1983 he was a minister holding important portfolios related to rural development, medical health and education. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kadapa constituency four times and was elected to the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly six times from Pulivendula constituency.
Reddy was the leader of the opposition in the state Assembly for five years.
Reddy is married to Vijaya Lakshmi and the couple have a son, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, Kadapa MP, and a daughter Sharmila. His father became a victim of violent, faction politics of Kadapa when he was hacked to death more than a decade ago.
Though Reddy’s previous 5-year tenure went off without any major controversies, the Opposition levelled a series of corruption charges against him and his son.