Hyderabad: More than three decades after NTR University of Health Sciences, named after former chief minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) founder N.T. Rama Rao, came into existence in Andhra Pradesh, current Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has decided to rename it after his own late father, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), leading to a major controversy in the state.
The decision to change the Vijayawada institute’s name by the Jagan-led YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) has predictably drawn the ire of the opposition TDP, which is currently headed by N. Chandrababu Naidu, one of the most vocal critics of the move. However, the renaming has also attracted unexpected criticism from Jagan’s own sister Y.S. Sharmila and acceptance from some of NTR’s family members.
The matter has even led to a war of printed posters on public walls — including some that take a dig at Chandrababu Naidu over a ‘coup’ he staged against NTR, who was also his father-in-law, nearly three decades ago.
Last week, printouts of a newspaper frontpage from 1995 appeared on walls in Vijayawada, the political hub of Andhra Pradesh. The headline was ‘We don’t need NTR’— a quote attributed to Naidu when he dethroned NTR in August that year.
Back then, Naidu and a band of MLAs had revolted against NTR, who planned to hand over the reins of the TDP to his second wife N. Lakshmi Parvathi. As a result of Naidu’s machinations, NTR was ousted not only from the CM’s chair but from the party.
— andhrawishesh (@Andhra_Wishesh) September 26, 2022
Not to be outdone, Jagan detractors put up posters of the CM’s wife Y.S. Bharathi. These images featured a barcode scanner and the pun “BharathiPay” (spinning off the payment platform BharatPe) and the phrase “liquor money accepted here”.
— Actual India (@ActualIndia) September 26, 2022
Here’s a look at how the controversy started, the Chandrababu Naidu factor, and how the incident has revealed differences of opinion within both the NTR and YSR political families.
How did the controversy begin?
The Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly passed a bill last week to change the name of NTR University of Health Sciences to Dr YSR University of Health Sciences. The TDP, which opposed the bill, created a ruckus in the House, and 17 of its members were suspended for the entire day.
Justifying the decision, the chief minister said the move was not intended to disrespect NTR, but to give due credit to late CM YSR, who is Jagan’s father, since he was considered to have brought significant improvements to the healthcare sector in united Andhra Pradesh. YSR was a practising doctor before he joined politics, Jagan pointed out.
One of the most heated reactions against the bill came from TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu who said the move was an attempt to defame NTR. He also met Andhra Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan, who is also the chancellor of the university, and appealed to him to reject the bill, which he termed as unethical and irrelevant.
Naidu further pointed out that of the 32 medical colleges in the state, 16 were established under TDP rule. During the YSRCP’s three-and-half-year rule thus far, permission has been granted only to three colleges, and the construction of these colleges hasn’t yet been completed, Naidu claimed last week.
Naidu, notably, was instrumental in renaming the medical university after NTR.
Established during NTR’s government in 1986, the institute was initially known as the Andhra Pradesh University of Health Sciences. It was renamed when Naidu was CM in 1998 as a homage to NTR, who had passed away in 1996. However, as mentioned earlier, Naidu was perceived by many of NTR’s supporters to have ‘betrayed’ the older leader by taking over the TDP in 1995.
Varied reactions from NTR’s family members
Brickbats as well as praise have been directed against Y.S. Jagan from different members of NTR’s family since the decision to rename the university.
NTR’s son, actor-turned politician and TDP MLA Nandamuri Balakrishna, strongly objected to Jagan’s move. Taking to social media, he said NTR was not just a name that could be changed but represented “culture and civilisation… to the Telugu race he is a backbone”.
NTR was a superstar in the Telugu film industry and emerged as a political stalwart when he started the Telugu Desam Party in 1982 and shot to power in just nine months, throwing the Congress out of power. One of the main slogans for NTR’s TDP was to protect the self-respect of Telugu culture, which resonated with many. He was also the president of the National Front, a coalition led by the Janata Dal, which toppled Rajiv Gandhi’s government at the Centre and took over in 1989.
NTR’s stardom, the characters he played, and his political persona all combined to make him a larger-than-life figure. He was widely seen as the ‘king’ of the Telugu film industry well into the 80s. Some of his most popular performances were in mythological films, where he played roles such as that of Lord Krishna and Lord Venkateshwara. For lakhs of his admirers, these roles made him something of a godly figure himself.
Meanwhile, NTR’s grandson — N. T. Rama Rao Jr.— who is also a star in the Telugu film industry and currently riding on the wave of his latest hit RRR, seemed more sanguine about the university’s name change. On Twitter, he said that both NTR and YSR had earned their place in the hearts of people and renaming the university would not enhance or detract from anyone’s popularity.
As for NTR’s widow Lakshmi Parvathi, she praised Jagan for his “magnanimity” in renaming Krishna district (earlier this year) after NTR and said that this was a more meaningful sign of respect than a university’s name. She also lashed out at Chandrababu Naidu while addressing a press meet.
“NTR used to often say that Mr. Naidu would backstab him any day. Would Mr. Naidu get two posts in the party if I wielded power?” she said.
Why did YSR’s sister object?
In an unexpected reaction, Jagan’s sister Y.S. Sharmila voiced her displeasure at the decision to change the university’s name, and said the move was an insult to NTR’s legions of admirers. She said her father YSR was a beloved leader in his own right and there was no need to change an institute’s name to bolster his stature.
This is not the first time brother and sister haven’t been on the same page.
Sharmila, without Jagan’s support, floated her own political party — the YSR Telangana Party— last year in the neighbouring state of Telangana.
A spokesperson of the Andhra Pradesh government, during a political meet before Sharmila’s party’s launch, had clarified that there was no personal rift between the siblings but that they had ideological differences, adding that Jagan had always advised against a party in Telangana but Sharmila had gone ahead with her plans anyway.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)