When he was 10 years old, Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu was attracted towards the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP’s mentor. Not because of its ideology, but to play kabaddi!
The love for the Indian sport set the tone for the son of a farmer from a village in Andhra Pradeh’s Nellore to rise – from an announcer in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s programme in 1963 to an MLA to a spokesperson, MP, party general secretary to BJP’s national president. And on Monday, he was named ruling NDA’s candidate for the Vice-Presidential election.
The BJP leader lost his mother in a road accident when he was just one-and-a-half-years-old. “The party eventually became my mother,” Naidu said, his voice heavy with emotion.
When he joined Jan Sangh, which later evolved into Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), he was told that the RSS is a Hindi-belt outfit and promotes vegetarianism.
“I walked down to the local RSS leader. He told me, I can eat as much non-veg as I want. And if I have extra food, I can give him too,” Naidu laughs, sitting in his office in Parliament.
He first met Vajpayee in Nellore in 1963. “I was a student. My job was to make announcements in the meetings for him. I never thought as the party’s national president I will sit next to Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani,” he said.
Soon he went on to take up major roles and was at the forefront in the protests against Emergency imposed by then Congress government headed by Indira Gandhi.
“I was always critical about Indira Gandhi. I remember once she even came to campaign in my constituency for the Congress candidate,” Naidu said.
Soon he was elected as an MLA in erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh Assembly from Udayagiri seat in Nellore district for two terms: 1978 and 1983.
While he has been enamoured by Vajpayee’s charisma and oratory skills, he followed Advani’s organisational skills and managerial abilities.
Today, Naidu is the senior-most BJP leader after Vajpayee, Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, and is often credited with mentoring ministers such as Anant Kumar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Ravi Shankar Prasad. (It was during his tenure as BJP president that Ram Nath Kovind, NDA’s presidential nominee, became the Dalit cell chief of the party.)
In the run-up to the vice-presidential election, Naidu has been hesitant, and in his trademark poetical style, often quipped, “I am not for Rashtrapati or Uprashtrapati. I am happy as Usha’s pati (husband).” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in fact, wanted him to run the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP is in minority, properly.
Reminiscing the past, Naidu looks to the future.
“You have to change with time. Long ago, I used to protest against automation, participate even in anti-Hindi agitations. But can we do that now? Jaipal Reddy, myself and Asauddin Owaisi’s father used to sit in the same bench in school. We were brats,” he said, adding, “My son and son-in-law have business. I don’t allow them to come in politics while I keep out of business.”
As he embarks on a new innings, many things will change in Naidu’s life. But his beloved granddaughter may continue to call him “TV thatha” (grandfather in Telugu) as Naidu – all set to be country’s next vice president – will continue to live under the limelight of public life.