Maverick Messiah – A Political Biography of N.T.R

Author: Ramesh Kandula

Published by Penguin eBury Press

Release Date in India: 25 January 2021

Available in all leading book stores and online

This book deepens our understanding of NTR’s political role. It is very rare to find the combination of passion, compassion, fierce determination, extraordinary discipline and work ethic, a sense of purpose, high moral compass, and unflinching physical and mental courage in one individual. Such individuals invariably make a profound impact on those around them, and often became trail blazers in history.

NTR was one such legendary hero in reel life and real life. Even twenty-three years after his passing, when those who knew him meet, including those who opposed him, invariably the conversation would be about NTR. Even today he evokes strong feelings of admiration, love, resentment and envy. You may have liked or disliked him, but it was impossible to ignore him during his life time, or escape the influence of his life and work well after his passing.

It is very difficult to write an objective biography of such a colourful personality. It is easy to confuse between style and substance of the subject of biography, and be lost in the dramatic events of a person’s life and politics. And it evokes strong responses and reactions from all sections – friends and foes alike. Despite these formidable obstacles, Ramesh Kandula has produced a very objective, lucid, truthful biography. It is a dispassionate account of a politician’s role in shaping the public life of his state and the nation. There is neither hyperbole nor resort to obfuscation; it is a straightforward and honest account. And it is eminently readable.

NTR has been a trend setter in Indian politics in many ways, and his impact is enduring. There were other charismatic, popular leaders like MGR before him. But NTR converted the old feudal, elite-driven political process into mass politics. Post-NTR, the era of parties reaching out to people, being available to the community around the clock, and directly appealing to the voters transcending barriers became the norm. This, in the absence of effective decentralization had both positive and negative consequences. But we have to recognize that politics has changed with the advent of NTR. His style and techniques of campaigning are now the accepted norm in India.

Removal of hereditary village officers, reorganization of administrative units to bring them closer to people, direct assistance to poor in the form of tangible deliverables, attempts to curb alcoholism, special emphasis on women’s rights, conscious attempt to transcend caste and religious divisions, relentless emphasis on curbing corruption, commitment to private sector and market economy, and unleashing the energies of a generation of young leaders and bringing them into public domain are all his contributions with far reaching impact.

For a leader of a regional party, his contribution to national unity and transforming national politics has been phenomenal. He led the movement to curb excessive centralization and habitual abuse of the Union’s powers. Along with other leaders like Jyoti Basu, Biju Patnaik, Karunanidhi, Ramakrishna Hedge and Farooq Abdullah, he successfully fought to create a more balanced federalism. This work is still unfinished, but compared to the Union riding roughshod over States and undermining the States’ rights in the earlier era, there has been a huge improvement largely because of NTR’s relentless leadership and his ability to bring disparate leaders together and convey a complex message to ordinary, illiterate voters in simple language.

When NTR came into politics in 1982, Congress enjoyed a near-complete and unchallenged monopoly of power in the Union and almost all States of India. There was no real political competition, and opposition was fragmented. By the time NTR passed fourteen years later Congress monopoly ended, there has been fierce political competition in all parts of the country, and coalition governments at the national level became the norm. The single-party majority for BJP in 2014 and 2019 is more an aberration and exception to the trend for three decades since 1989. While there are many factors behind this change, NTR’s vital role in unifying and galvanizing opposition to Congress has been the most significant factor in ending monopoly of political power in India.

We need dispassionate study of political history and the ideas and forces that shaped and are shaping our politics and society. A political biography of NTR is a welcome and important addition to this literature. I would encourage readers to put aside partisan loyalties and prejudices, and enjoy the book. Equally, let us put the events and processes of the past seven decades in historical perspective, and focus on the institutional and political changes required to transform our governance and make democracy work for us, the people.

I congratulate Ramesh Kandula for this excellent book that will deepen our understanding of NTR’s political role, and more important, the political process and forces that are continually shaping our democracy.

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Jayaprakash Narayan

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