A TEMPLE in memory of N.T. Ramarao exists at Gudivada in Krishna district, where his statue is ritually worshipped. NTR's son-in-law and present Andhra Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu may not be far away from deification, given the way things are going.
In this nondescript town on the main road connecting Bhubaneswar and Konark, passersby can see a makeshift mandap with a photo of Naidu installed at the centre and incense sticks burning continuously before it. A part of Puri district, which was also ravaged by cyclone and floods, people here openly say that Naidu responded more promptly to their distress than their own Government. "What did the State Government do for us? Even before roads were cleared Naidu sent relief from Andhra Pradesh," said Jagdish, a local youth.
The sentiment is identical all over coastal Orissa, which was ravaged by the worst cyclone of the century. Gadadhar Rout, a farmer in his early sixties belonging to Pipli, raises his hands skyward at the very mention of Naidu's name and seems to bless him. He blames the State Government for bungling the relief operations despite Naidu's timely help. Another farmer Adikanda, standing next to him, is more blunt. "Whatever we got as relief is due to Naidu. The State Government has not given anything," he says.
In contrast, people seem to be very angry with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. They feel betrayed that after reposing total faith Vajpayee, the Central Government left them to suffer. The people in Orissa in general and coastal region in particular, had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP and its regional ally Biju Janata Dal (BJD) during the recent Lok Sabha polls. As a result the BJP-BJD combine made a clean sweep in all the Parliamentary seats in the ten coastal districts which have been affected by the cyclone. The people are sore that the Prime Minister did not make a visit to the affected areas. Nor did he declare it a national calamity. On the two occasions Mr Vajpayee visited Orissa, he overflew the cyclone-affected areas. "We thought that the Prime Minister, on his second visit, would travel by road and personally see our plight. But he had no need for us after getting votes," said Chakradhar Sahu of Rahama.
Similarly, the people seem bitter that the disaster has not been declared a national calamity. "Is death of over 30,000 people and destruction of all properties in one third of Orissa not enough? How many deaths and how much damage would have made the Centre declare it a national calamity?" asked Manmohan Mohapatra, an unemployed youth of Kujanga, who has graduated from being an ardent fan of Mr Vajpayee to his stringent critic, just in a fortnight. He says that Naidu has shown much more concern for the distressed people than Mr Vajpayee.
The State unit of the BJP has not helped matters by issuing a statement that those demanding declaration of the present cyclone as a national calamity are not interested in people's plight but want to postpone Assembly elections, scheduled three months from now. By implication this has given an impression that the BJP is more interested in elections and coming to power in Orissa than providing succour to the people spending cold winter nights without a roof over their heads.
The Congress activists have immediately cashed in on the statement to expose the BJP's 'real' intentions.
The relief apart, the excellent work done by the Andhra Government staff has endeared the Telugu Desam Party supremo to the people.
The engineers and staff of AP Transco worked day in and day out in restoring power in the State Capital, while policemen and other staff cleared the roads connecting Bhubaneswar with Paradip by removing the fallen trees. Some people who have lost all hope on the State Government as well as the Centre are even heard making a preposterous suggestion that Naidu should be handed over the State.
Surprisingly, no one has praises for Mr Vajpayee.
This article, was published in TimesOfIndia on 13 Nov. 1999 and re-published in some website. Personally, I do not like Mr.Naidu for many of his policies. But being a Andhrite, I feel proud for his popularity. I wonder if he is doing the same service to flood ridden Andhra people too!