By Raka Sudhakar Rao Kasturi
Fourteen years ago, exactly on this date, April 9 of 2003, a man set out on a journey. The journey did begin with small steps, but soon gathered storm, graduated into a tsunami and wiped out a nine-year-long, seemingly interminable regime. A leader, who looked invincible, lay utterly vanquished and a new leader rose on the firmament.
That was Dr. YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s historic Padayatra. That it started from Rangareddy’s Chevella and ended at Ichchapuram in Srikakulam, that it went on for 60 days and that it covered 1476km are just mere statistics. The yatra was much more than mere statistics and numbers. It was not merely a political game-changer. Winning an electoral battle and occupying the highest seat of authority in undivided Andhra Pradesh are mere byproducts of this yatra.
The yatra was bigger, its outcome larger and the inner import was deeper than what meets the eye. It reclaimed the governmental commitment to welfare, which was relegated to the background in the mad rush for development. It brought out that for real prosperity, development and welfare must go hand in hand, not exclusive of each other as some modern day money wizards wrongly believe.
In late YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s own words: The Padayatra brought about a total change in me. I learnt many lessons through this. I came to understand the problems of various sections of the society. I observed the lifestyles and livelihoods of the people which inspired me to do something for the oppressed and needy people.”
Thus thinking of this yatra as an effort aimed at positioning him as a mass leader or emergence of a popular challenger to despotic Chandrababu is at best a partial assessment. This yatra is about the emergence of new YSR and new politics – a harmonious blend of development and welfare.
YSR’s signature welfare initiatives like Arogya Sri, 108 services, Fees reimbursement, two-bedroom Indiramma houses and the game-changing Pavala Vaddi schemes have their roots in this historic yatra. This in essence is the real significance of the yatra.
Most of these schemes were emulated by other states.
In fact, when I visited Gujarat to cover 2012 assembly elections, the common Gujarati used to speak in glowing terms about the 108 scheme. “Aap Rajasekhara Reddy ke state ke ho?” was the common refrain.
What is needed today is another padayatra – a padayatra that rekindles the pro-people spirit at a time when in the name of industrial development, the government is putting the lives of commoners to great peril as witnessed in the recent aqua factory leak and in the displacement and denial of rights to capital area land oustees. Such a yatra has become a historic need particularly in view of the slew of non-starter irrigation projects whose aim is mainly to rake in moolah and not real development.
The need of the hour is to relive the historic Padayatra experience. That is the best way to remember the Padayatra!!