If we take a poll of politicians who are most easily accessible to people and specially to the media, Konijeti Rosaiah, the former Chief Minister, Governor, MP, MLC etc in a career of nearly 7 decades should rank among the top few.
In his passing away today at the ripe age of 88, the two Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and the Cong (I) have lost a tall and committed leader. Rosaiah, with his 6 foot plus frame always wore his trademark white dress. He was well informed, known for his sharp and sometimes biting humour. All these traits made him one of the most visible leaders in the opposition ranks as well as the Government.
Belonging to the old school of people’s representatives who echoed and worked for public issues for the large part of their careers, he made a record by presenting 15 budgets as Finance Minister. A vintage of the pre Independence era and a close follower of Acharya N G Ranga, Rosaiah entered politics from Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh in the early 1950s.
In a career of steady ascendancy, Rosaiah held many positions. His booming voice, interventions and informed speeches in the Legislative Council stood out. He served several Chief Ministers in key posts, especially as a Finance Minister, where his contributions are recalled by many experts too.
However, his moment of reckoning in politics came under very trying circumstances in Andhra Pradesh politics when the strong leader and CM, Y S Rajasekhar Reddy died in a helicopter crash on September 2, 2009.
Rosaiah stepped into the CM seat. But, troubles confronted him immediately with K Chandrasekhar Rao, sitting on a ‘fast unto death’ for a separate Telangana State and facing the challenge of filling into the shoes of YSR within a Party that was getting divided on regional lines.
After a troubled year in office, Rosaiah was moved out of the ‘hot seat’ of CM in November 2010 by the UPA government led by Dr Manmohan Singh and Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi.
With the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram announcing the UPA government’s intent to give separate statehood to Telangana on December 9, 2009 (coincidentally, the birthday of Sonia Gandhi), Rosaiah’s position became difficult, as he was not a mass leader nor was he equipped to quell the unrest from a rebellious Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of YSR and the Telangana leaders within the Cong (I) and outside. Moreover, his heart was for a ‘United AP’. The Cong (I) high command pitched in for a younger leader, especially from Rayalseema to face the challenges and Mr N Kiran Kumar Reddy was made the CM of AP.
After a period of uncertainty, Rosaiah was rewarded with the governorship of Tamil Nadu in August 2011. He completed the full five year term and managed to maintain cordial relationships with the powerful, temperamental and controversial J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister. He kept himself busy attending social, cultural and film gatherings where he was also comfortable given his associations and understanding of issues, which he could connect and articulate well.
The way Rosaiah endeared himself to the media, especially the print Journalists irrespective of age is perhaps an excellent example of his communication skills, public relations and knowledge and ability to explain issues in a simple manner on a wide range of subjects. That, he was always surrounded by a dozen media persons in any district he visited anytime, who got briefed was a common sight.
There was a common saying that when Rosaiah garu travelled in a train from Hyderabad to Visakhapatnam, he would end up briefing groups of journalists at every major railway station enroute. True to his closeness, as Minister, CM or Governor, Rosaiah released books by Journalists, attended events, including marriages in their families. Gifted with a good memory he often would identify scribes by name.
His rapport with the media, breadth of understanding of state issues and commitment to the Indira-Sonia Gandhi Congress ensured that he was always represented in key positions and was in the Legislature. Hailing from Vemuru in Guntur district, Rosaiah was not strong as a grassroot leader, hence represented as an MLC most terms. Though, he won as an MP from Narsaraopet during the later half 1990s.
That Rosaiah was a star speaker in the Legislature is no news. But, that he peaked during 2000-2008, as an ardent defender of YSR and as Finance Minister and putting down N Chandrababu as CM and later opposition leader with his criticism that was full of ‘Barbs, statistics and biting sarcasm’. Most often, YSR would leave it to Rosaiah to demolish Naidu.
The most unforgettable words that I can recall are his constant refrain to Naidu that “People have given you rest for working too hard but not for their interest.” It was in response to Naidu’s constant claims that he worked tirelessly for 16 hours a day, led from the front, including sweeping the roads and shouldering others responsibilities for people’s welfare.
Rosaiah’s political career was not totally smooth. He lost elections to the Legislative Assembly. He faced controversy and allegations of favouring his son in some projects in Hyderabad as well as initial handling of the metro project. His handling of the affairs of the State in the face of Telangana movement came in for lot of criticism too.
Post, the completion of his tenure as governor of TN in 2016 and briefly, extra charge of Karnataka, Rosaiah gradually slowed down his engagements. In his death, the Telugu states have lost a quintessential politician, grounded to the people.