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MC Reddy led Telangana Agitation. Indira Gandhi was smarter—she made him UP Guv instead

M. Channa Reddy was the governor of 4 states, and Andhra Pradesh CM twice. The Congress couldn't miss such a tall leader.

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On 1 August 1950, among the likes of Jawahar Lal Nehru, B.R. Ambedkar, Sardar Patel, and many more eminent freedom fighters, new members of India’s Provisional Parliament were sworn in. Among them was a mere 30-year-old leader. He was not from Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, or the Hindi heartland, but the southern state of Hyderabad. A governor like no other, he was a passionate advocate for the Telangana cause and a practicing doctor.

He was Dr Marri Channa Reddy—a politician, social worker, former minister of Andhra Pradesh, and mass leader. He was the chief minister of the state twice—from 1978 to 1980 and 1989 to 1990—and the governor of four different states in his lifetime. His stellar public life spanned more than half a century.

Reddy was born on 13 January 1919 in Sirpur village of Vikarabad Taluk in the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. He defined his politics in  the best possible way when he said, “I am a politician, as well as a doctor, and just as a doctor has to keep his ringers on the pulse of the patient, a politician has to constantly meet people to know what is happening.”

At the age of 23, Reddy joined the political struggle in Hyderabad and became the General Secretary of the Andhra Mahasabha in 1942. Four years later, he became a member of the Standing Committee of the state Congress, besides being the General Secretary of Hyderabad city Congress as well.

When the first elections of independent India were held in 1952, the doctor was elected to the Hyderabad Legislative Assembly as the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Planning and Rehabilitation, thereby becoming one of the youngest ministers in the country.


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A fighter for the people’s cause

In the 1950s, Telangana leaders were rightly sceptical that a merger with Andhra Pradesh would lead to discrimination against them in the state. In 1955, the State Reorganisation Committee was formed under Justice Fazal Ali. While he suggested that the two states not be merged immediately, separatist protests erupted in Telangana. The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1956 was signed between the leaders. This agreement included Reddy as one of the four signatories from Telangana, protecting and safeguarding rights of the people from the state.

As a politician, M. Channa Reddy remained a member of the Andhra Legislative Assembly till 1967, holding important portfolios such as finance, education, and agriculture.

The 1969 Telangana Agitation was sparked when a person went on hunger strike protesting against the alleged illegal recruitment of non-locals in the National Thermal Project at Palvoncha. Discrimination and violation of the Gentlemen’s Agreement resulted in mass movement in the region. The protest, started by students, gradually intensified as more and more people joined. Although an all-party accord was signed, calling off the agitation, the protest only intensified. While numbers vary in different reports, one of them concludes that 369 youngsters were killed in an attempt by the police to suppress the agitation.

Then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was against statehood. In 1969, she called him to Delhi and he was made the Union minister for Steel, Mines and Metals. He brought various reforms in the production side for which he was acknowledged. That was all before he quit to spearhead the Telangana movement.

Reddy quit the Congress and took over the Telangana Praja Samithi. The party spearheaded the movement and gained immense support. To rest the agitation, Gandhi announced her eight-point plan after consultations with the various state leaders.

In a major setback to the Congress, Reddy’s Telangana Praja Samithi won 10 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in the Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh during the Lok Sabha elections of 1971. But gradually, the movement started fading, even though Reddy remained popular. He later merged his party with the Congress in September 1971.


Also read: KCR’s Telangana is utopia for his caste group, land barons. Oppressed continue to suffer


A versatile politician

From 1974 onwards, his two-decades-long stint of being chief minister and governor of different states began. It is said that Gandhi personally called Reddy to become the governor of Uttar Pradesh, her home state. It was considered by many as a way of diluting the Telangana Agitation by taking Reddy out of the state and rewarding him for ending it.

As governor, he was a strong advocate of ‘active governorship,’ and not a passive one. As an important part of active governorship, he visited each district of Uttar Pradesh, which included present-day Uttarakhand as well. He was also the governor when President’s Rule was imposed, after which H.N. Bahuguna’s government fell in the state. Reddy is believed to have worked 18 to 20 hours a day, leaving no files pending.


Also read: Now AP, Karnataka, Telangana usher in world of (upper) caste politics, privilege the Brahmins


Out of Andhra

Two years later, in 1977, Channa Reddy moved to his home state during the run-up to elections. Under his leadership, the Congress won over 175 seats in a house of 289 during the Andhra Pradesh elections of 1978. He became the chief minister for the first time. After growing dissent within the Congress, in 1980, Reddy resigned, and his party member, Tanguturi Anjaiah, took over as chief minister.

However, his career in politics was far from over. The Congress could not have missed such a tall leader. In 1982, he was appointed as the governor of Punjab during the peak of insurgency. During his time in Chandigarh and President’s rule in the state, he engaged in successive political meetings with all different parties including the Akali Dal and brought everyone to a consensus on avoiding violence. He remained the Punjab governor until February 1983.

To dethrone N.T. Rama Rao’s Telugu Desam Party, the Congress brought Reddy back to mainstream Andhra politics. He was always known for his organisational skills and within a short period, he led the workers into carrying out campaigns and programmes against an ‘invincible’ NTR. Reddy-led Congress produced a stunning result—winning 181 out of 294 seats in the 1989 Andhra Pradesh assembly election. He once again became the chief minister of the state.


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Reddy was a long-time coming 

His tenure was marked by a new approach towards Naxalism. As per the Human Rights Watch, a soft stance was taken against Naxalites during his tenure. Many were granted bail and the infamous ‘Praja’ (people’s) courts were also not objected to. But after some pressure, growing anger, and violent incidents, Reddy launched an offensive crackdown on Naxalites. Later, he once again fell prey to dissent in 1990, and this time, G. Janardhana Reddy took over as chief minister.

In 1992, with Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister, Reddy was appointed as governor for the politically significant state of Rajasthan, where President’s rule was imposed after the Babri Masjid demolition. In May 1993, Reddy was made the governor of Tamil Nadu. Then-Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, did not share a warm relationship with Reddy.

He died on 2 December 1996. Today marks his 25th death anniversary. He was truly a pan-India leader having served UP, Rajasthan, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and leading the Telangana movement. A true believer of multidimensional democracy, he once said during a debate in the provisional assembly, “I submit that it is with the fullest cooperation and with the fullest sanction of the people that we have to build up our democratic institutions and run this democratic government of such a huge country, probably greater than most of the big powers in the world.”

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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