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Triumph of Democracy

Triumph of Democracy
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On September 16, 1984, NT Rama Rao, at that time the dismissed Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh; courtesy the Indira Gandhi government at the centre,...

On September 16, 1984, NT Rama Rao, at that time the dismissed Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh; courtesy the Indira Gandhi government at the centre, rose back to power like a phoenix with people’s support - one of those rare triumphs of democracy

Precisely 29 years ago, Andhra Pradesh made history, difficult to repeat. A popular Government, unjustly dismissed, wrested office back, not by judicial intervention or through a fresh election, but by the sheer power of peoples’ anger spread over a month-long ‘Struggle for Restoration of Democracy’ in August-September 1984.

The Indira Gandhi Government had dismissed NT Rama Rao’s Telugu Desam ministry, assisted by a pliant Governor, Ramlal, on August 15, 1984, after engineering a revolt in the fledgling regional party. The unprecedented wave of popular wrath, resembling today’s Arab spring, led to a replacement of the Governor and eventual reinstatement of NT Rama Rao as the Chief Minister on September 16. NTR’s triumphant comeback paralleled another landmark in AP political history: his incredible ascent to power within nine months of forming a political party.

The dismissal of the first non-Congress Government in the State and appointment of Nadendla Bhaskara Rao as the Chief Minister evoked spontaneous reaction from the people who took over the streets to voice their indignation. Police firings, lathi-charge, burning effigies, a few suicides by die-hard NTR fans had kept the State on the boil for an entire month until the curtains came down on the macabre drama of conspiracy and intrigue. A majority of the media, regional and national, and most opposition parties, right, left and centre literally, joined in an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity with the deposed leader. The Hindu wrote no fewer than three stinging editorials in that one month condemning the high-handed ouster of the TDP Government. It referred to Bhaskar Rao as the ‘usurper Chief Minister’.

A few colleagues from Telugu newspapers and I operated those days from Ramakrishna Studios in Golkonda Chowrasta where party MLAs and others supporting NTR’s leadership were lodged to protect them from poaching by the usurper Chief Minister’s men and attempts by the police to break into the haven.

The MLAs were treated like VVIPs. Every whim was satisfied, except permission to leave the studios. The ‘embedded’ pressmen were given priority in telephone connection while the MLAs waited for their turn. Cell phones were yet to arrive. Screening of NTR and Balakrishna movies in the RK Studios preview theatre was part of post-dinner entertainment. ‘Mangammagaari Manavadu’ was a show-stealer.

Top leaders of all national parties condemned the Delhi-scripted dismissal of NTR at a huge public meeting in the Nizam College grounds on August 19. They included Farooq Abdullah, Charan Singh, Sharad Pawar, M Venkaiah Naidu, S Jaipal Reddy, N Rajasekhara Reddy, Shanti Bhushan, HN Bahuguna, Era Sezhian, N Giriprasad and P Upendra. Farooq Abdullah stole the show raising ‘NTR Zindabad’ and ‘Telugu Desam Zindabad’ slogans and asking the gathering to follow him in a tone loud enough to be heard in distant Delhi!

NT Rama Rao made a dramatic appearance, unshaven, clad in banian and lungi with a saffron upper cloth over the drooping shoulder. He barely spoke, but succeeded in touching the heart-strings of the audience.

NTR paraded his MLAs before the President in New Delhi and then moved them to the Nandi Hills in Karnataka as State guests of the Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde. Communal clashes on Ganesh nimajjanam day (September 9) led to curfew in Hyderabad and a few other places. NTR and other leaders set out in Chaitanya Ratham amidst curfew to receive his MLAs at the AP-Karnataka border. Large crowds turned up at every village and town en route to greet NTR and the MLAs as they returned to Hyderabad.

The test of majority on the floor of the Assembly was scheduled for the following day. The NTR cavalcade was stopped near SVP National Police Academy at Shivrampally by the police who insisted on escorting them in chartered RTC buses. NTR feared that the MLAs might be hijacked en masse. The police backed down after a team consisting of Justice VM Tarkunde, civil liberties leader, Arun Shourie, and others intervened.

The Assembly met under unprecedented security. All roads leading to it were cordoned off. Only one journalist from each newspaper was allowed to cover the proceedings. Visitors were not allowed. Every newspaper and television channel worth its name in the country and the western media were on hand to witness history’s hour of glory. The Assembly proceedings were marked by trading of charges and abuses, slogans and the presiding officer fainting in his chair and an accidental fire to the carpet.

With its fingers badly burnt in the misadventure, Delhi watched as Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, the new Governor sacked the Bhaskara Rao Ministry for failure to prove majority in the given time and invited Rama Rao to form the Government. News spread like wildfire. People in thousands rushed to the Raj Bhavan to see NTR reinstalled as the Chief Minister. They stopped the Madras Express in front of the Raj Bhavan for over 30 minutes, climbed atop the bogeys and watched an exhausted but happy NTR come out and share the jubilation. It was the culmination of the month-long ‘Struggle for Restoration of Democracy’.

While the Congress party reaped a rich harvest throughout the country in the Lok Sabha elections held three months after the death of Indira Gandhi; in Andhra Pradesh, NTR rolled back the wave wresting for the Telugu Desam, 29 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats to emerge as the largest single party. PV Narasimha Rao lost his Hanamkonda seat to C Janga Reddy (BJP). He was only one of the two BJP candidates to win in the country. Telugu Desam swept the Assembly elections also a few months later.

It was a privilege to witness history from the ringside.

(The writer is former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, Hyderabad) [email protected],

[email protected]

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