Yeduguru Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly known as YSR, was a leader par excellence who connected with the masses like no other. The rule of the late chief minister of the erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh, YSR is synonymous with welfare governance, empowerment of the farmer and the weaker sections of society.
Known for his powerful administrative skills and a fighter to the core, he always had this aura around him with which he had swayed the masses like a proverbial pied piper, earned countless loyalists and even won many admirers from the opposition ranks. Dr YSR’s life is a legend by itself – His rise from being a Kadapa heavyweight to the most dependable national stalwart for the Congress and finally as the most loved and trusted chief minister of the undivided Andhra Pradesh is unparalleled.
YSR was no film star like the late NTR or Chiranjeevi and yet his emergence as the most charismatic leader in the history of the undivided state is an enigma even till today for both his followers and his critics.
YSR became the Chief Minister of the state for the first time on May 14, 2004. He was the first Congress Chief Minister since the formation of the state in 1956 to complete a full five-year term. He emerged as one of the strongest leaders and came to be known as the "People's Leader".
The 'Mahaneta', late YS Rajasekhara Reddy had made a lasting impression in the hearts of the people with a myriad of welfare schemes. Even long after his departure, if he is revered as the ‘true leader of the masses’, it’s not without a reason – Unlike before him, his welfare initiatives were never an eyewash, merely making their presence on paper. They breathed in refreshing change and all-round transformation that no other leader could ever think of in the state.
Aarogyasri was a concept that revolutionized medicare to the poor, under-privileged and even the middle class. No wonder that this amazing scheme was lapped up later by many states. It was due to Dr YSR’s pioneering efforts the scheme is still alive even today in many states. In Andhra Pradesh, his son and dynamic chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has taken this healthcare scheme to a whole new level where it is being viewed as a role model for the entire country.
Being a medical doctor himself, YSR knew the importance of making quality healthcare accessible to the poor. His path-breaking Arogyasri, emulated by several other states across the country, brought the best of corporate healthcare within the reach of the common man. For the first time during his tenure, a poor citizen with no resources could walk into a corporate hospital and get the best of treatment, something that was beyond comprehension of the man on the street up until then.
108 and 104 ambulance services brought paramedics to a patient's doorstep and the rest of the treatment regardless of expenditure, was borne by the government.
Jalayagnam, Dr YSR's pioneering initiative to provide irrigation and drinking water to all parts of the state, was a far-sighted step to turn all regions of Andhra Pradesh into verdant expanses. Polavaram, Veligonda in Prakasam district and Pranahita-Chevella lift irrigation project in Telangana, are among a few of the many irrigation projects Dr YSR envisioned for a 'Green Andhra Pradesh'.
Fee reimbursement, YSR's visionary step, ensured that the poorest of the poor found access to quality education across the state. Thanks to his foresight, thousands of youth could get educational empowerment. Many of the students who could become doctors, engineers, pharmacy graduates and scientists fondly recall how it was only on account of YSR's vision that they could achieve academic milestones which extricated them from poverty.
Pensions to the elderly, widows and the disabled, constituted an important aspect of YSR's model of welfare governance. It was this inclusive nature of reaching out to the most vulnerable sections of society that endeared him to the people of the state. YSR's focus on the alleviation of the condition of SC/ST/BC groups and minorities was driven by single-mindedness of purpose.
To eradicate hunger, YSR started a rice scheme which provided a kg of rice for two rupees that has addressed hunger pangs of many people. YSR also played a key role in weakening the violent extremist left-wing Naxalite movement.
YS Rajasekhara Reddy started his Praja Prasthanam, a march through the length and breadth of undivided AP and rekindled a new hope for the Congress party in the state. YSR covered 1,475 kilometers during his three-month-long Padayatra. The mass leader was moved by the plight of people during his Padayatra and he identified some of the major lacunae in the system.
One Rupee Doctor:
YSR was not only a progressive leader, right from his childhood. A multi-faceted personality that he was, he was always driven by a strong sense of social consciousness. There was this churning within himself that prompted him to constantly think about how to alleviate the hardships of the poor in getting access to quality medicare while braving the expensive treatment that was unaffordable for them.
With this consciousness at the back of his mind, soon after completion of his MBBS, he started his practice as a doctor in YS Raja Reddy Hospital in Pulivendula in the year 1973. He treated the poor and the underprivileged just for a token fee of Re 1. This remarkable gesture earned him the sobriquet of a 'One Rupee Doctor'.
Incidentally, in 1978, after taking charge as the Health Minister under Anjaiah as the Chief Minister of AP, he decided to take One Rupee as his salary. Also in 1973, before taking the plunge into active politics, he established a 70-bed charitable hospital in Pulivendula.
A Born Leader
YSR was elected as the president of his college student's union while pursuing medicine at MR Medical College of Gulbarga University in Karnataka.
Later in 1975, he was made the president of the Kadapa district Youth Congress Committee. YSR joined active politics in the year 1978 and tasted success from Pulivendula constituency in the same year. He belonged to rare elite of leaders of his era who remained undefeated in electoral politics.
He worked as the Minister of State for Rural Development in 1980-82 in the Tanguturi Anjaiah government. Later in 1982, he was the Cabinet Minister for Excise and also worked as the Education Minister in 1982-83.
Indira Gandhi made YSR State President of the party at the age of just 34. In 1985, he quit as APCC President, and in 1989, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kadapa. He continued his winning streak for four terms in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Lok Sabha elections. In the 1999 Assembly elections, he won from Pulivendula constituency.
Later, in 2004 Assembly elections, the Congress party bounced back into power, riding on the wave of YSR’s popularity and his historic padayatra through the length and breadth of the state. Following this fabulous victory in both Assembly elections, YSR became the Chief Minister for the first time of the undivided Andhra Pradesh.
He is survived by his wife Vijaya Lakshmi and children, son YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is the present Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, and daughter YS Sharmila.
YS Rajashekhar Reddy passed away on September 2, 2009 in a tragic helicopter crash. As history proves, life was never the same post his departure. It saw a huge upheaval in the political landscape of Andhra Pradesh which eventually was bifurcated.
But even more than a decade after his departure, Dr YSR is immortal in millions of hearts across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Memories of one of the greatest ‘mass leaders’ in Indian political history remain firmly etched in the minds of the Telugus. And thus, Rajanna lives on!