Barring Dr. Marri Chennareddy, the Congress party in Telangana has not produced an independent leader with stature. All the prominent personalities from Telangana were made in Delhi unlike their counterparts from Andhra Pradesh. One such man was M. Satyanarayana Rao who was popular with his acronym MSR among party circles. MSR passed away this morning of COVID-19 while undergoing treatment at NIMS, Hyderabad.

A staunch advocate of separate Telangana state, the three-term MP from Karimnagar and AICC general secretary when Indira Gandhi was at the helm of affairs, MSR could not become a regional satrap in stature with his own following and faction.

Maybe this is the hallmark of the Congress party in the Telangana region. Strong and influential leaders always came from Andhra, Rayalaseema in particular. A man with political values, MSR could not make money either.

In May 2000, like a bolt from the blue, MSR was appointed the president of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee. It was shocking news for all. How did the party high command re-discover a man who had never been active in party politics over one-and-a-half-decade is still an enigma? Who suggested his name is a question that still remains unanswered.

It was a time when the Congress was being torn apart by factional feuds. Dr. Y.S Rajasekhar Reddy was holding two posts ­- leader of CLP and PCC president. Former Chief Minister Kotla Vijayabhaskar Reddy, YSR's arch rival, was against his holding two posts. Another leader who had been campaigning to divest YSR of one of his positions was P. Janardhan Reddy from Hyderabad. Leaders such as N. Janardhan Reddy, V. Hanumantha Rao, and G. Venkatawamy were also opposed to one man holding two posts.

All were hell-bent upon getting YSR removed as PCC president. The anti-YSR campaign gained momentum when the party suffered two successive defeats at the hands of the then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

Naidu's TDP emerged victorious in the 1999 elections with a massive mandate. The TDP won 180 seats with Congress ending up as poor second with 90 seats. The miserable performance disappointed many as the party which looked reinvigorated under the leadership of Y.S Rajasekhar Reddy bit the dust. TDP went to the polls highlighting reforms with Congress opposing them.

The defeat triggered a revolt of sorts for the removal of YSR as PCC chief. The party's performance was equally dismal in the municipal elections held in March 2000. So, everybody was baying for YSR's blood. The bickering reached a point of no return. The high command finally decided to appoint a new PCC president leaving the CLP leadership with YSR.

YSR is said to have laid a condition that his nominee alone should be appointed as chief of the state party in order to continue his efforts of unseating Chandrababu Naidu in the next election. He reportedly suggested four names – D. Srinivas, T. Purushottam Rao, and Dronamraju Satyanarayana as his successors. At the same time, Kotla was trying to get his nominee appointed as PCC president. Kotla's panel of names included Samabani Chandrasekhar, K. Satyanarayana Raju, and M. Kodanda Reddy.

Meanwhile, former minister N. Janardhan Reddy, former RS member V. Hanumantha Rao, Hyderabad strongman P. Janardhan Reddy and former minister Marri Sashidhar Reddy were also in the fray. There was intense lobbying by all the factions and other aspirants.

Much to the disappointment of all, the Congress high command, however, pulled MSR out of its hat. Everybody felt MSR was no match for Chandrababu Naidu who was then the most popular Chief Minister in India. He was being seen as a kingmaker who can make or mar the government at the Centre with his political clout.

Even in the state, MSR was long forgotten. Though a three-term MP (1971, 1977, and 1980), he was denied a ticket in 1984, 1989, 1991, and 1996. He was defeated in the 1998 Lok Sabha election and 1989 Assembly election. He was again denied a ticket in the 1999 Lok Sabha election. So, it was beyond anyone's comprehension how the Delhi leadership picked him for PCC chief.

It's true everybody was confused by his appointment but at the same time, all factions were happy that their rival's nominee was not appointed as PCC president. Nobody had an axe to grind with MSR.

Having come from a middle-class Velama background, Rao knew well that it would be impossible for him to run the organization without money. He allowed himself to be coopted by YSR who became the real boss of the party. Rao, a gentleman politician without any business interests, had to resign in 2003 making way for D. Srinivas, a nominee of YSR. In return, he got rehabilitated as the chairman of APSRTC in the YSR government in 2004.

Jinka Nagaraju

Jinka Nagaraju is a Hyderabad based journalist. He covered the entire spectrum of political activities of Telugu states from Hyderabad and New Delhi for about 3 decades. He represented Vaartha in New Delhi during the most happening decade of 1996-2006. He was the political correspondent of Times of India from Hyderabad for 10 years. He was editor of Asianet's Telugu digital platform.

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