Andhra Pradesh

Battle Hindupur : Actor vs Cop

Hindupur assembly constituency has been a Telugu Desam pocketborough since 1985 when NT Rama Rao won from it. He was to retain the seat in 1989 and 1994 as well. In 1996, his son Nandamuri Harikrishna won from Hindupur. The constituency stayed with the TDP even when no member of the NTR family contested, displaying its loyalty to the party even at the height of the YS Rajasekhara Reddy wave in 2004 and 2009. 

In 2014, Nandamuri Balakrishna contested on the TDP ticket, winning by a margin of over 16000 votes. Not only is Balakrishna chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s brother-in-law, his daughter Brahmani is also married to Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh. 

This time, the opposition YSR Congress seems determined to wrest Hindupur from the TDP. Deployed for the task is a retired IG of police, Shaik Mohammed Iqbal. What will make this contest interesting is that Shaik Mohammed Iqbal was the Chief Security officer to Naidu between 1995 and 2000, when he was chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh.

Shaik Mohammed Iqbal spoke to on the dynamics of the contest in Hindupur, his plans for the backward constituency and what he thinks of Naidu, a chief minister he has seen up close. 

Q. You are up against a formidable candidate, Nandamuri Balakrishna. He is politically powerful, has the advantage of cine glamour and is a well-known name in Andhra Pradesh. Plus this seat has been represented before by Balakrishna’s father and brother, so there is an emotional connect as well. And the TDP has been undefeated from Hindupur for over three and a half decades. 

Iqbal : Balakrishna is a visitor to Hindupur, his main job is to serve the film industry, not the people of Hindupur. He is busy making films. (Balakrishna played his father NT Rama Rao in a two-part biopic, `NTR’). In the last five years, my guess is that he would not have visited his constituency more than ten times. He has left the job here to his personal assistants who rule the roost. Middlemen have vitiated the system. Hindupur, being close to Bengaluru (103 km) should have been developed as an industrial corridor. Instead you find pigs roaming around and a terrible drainage system.

Balakrishna playing NT Rama Rao in `NTR’

Q. But given the craze among the people of Andhra Pradesh for films, Balakrishna would have an advantage over you. Don’t you think so?

Iqbal : Not this time. In 2014, the YSR Congress lost due to discordant notes within the party in the constituency. But this time, there is a wave in favour of the YSR Congress. The TDP candidates are terrified. Moreover, this role as MLA is just like a hobby for Balakrishna, he is a guest MLA of Hindupur. Besides he is temperamental, he loses his cool even with fans trying to take a selfie with him and will slap them. I am a retired police officer, my son and son-in-law won’t come into politics (Incidentally, both sons-in-law of Balakrishna – Lokesh and Sri Bharat – are contesting elections on the TDP ticket this time). My top priority is education in Hindupur and ensuring a bright future for the children of this constituency.

Q. You joined the YSRC within ten days of your retirement in April 2018. Given your proximity to Naidu, didn’t you ever think of joining the TDP?

Iqbal : My working as Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the chief minister was precisely the reason I joined the YSR Congress. Naidu was publicity oriented then and remains so now. He keeps talking of empowerment but the truth is that it is mere jugglery of statistics. He speaks of a 71 per cent increase in per capita income in the last four years but the reality on the ground is that in many colonies of Hindupur, water is supplied only once in two weeks. There is massive unemployment and farm distress. In the last four years, he has focused on building the capital in Amaravathi but for people here in Rayalaseema, there is not even a good road to travel there. Naidu treats people like votebanks.

Q. Naidu accuses the YSRC of being in league with both the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the BJP. The charge is that Narendra Modi provides the electricity, K Chandrasekhar Rao the switch and Jaganmohan Reddy has the fan (the YSRC symbol).

Iqbal : They bring in Modi and KCR because they have nothing else to speak about. They know how to divert the attention of the people. YS Rajasekhara Reddy when he campaigned for a second term in 2009, had concrete achievements to speak about but the TDP government has not done anything tangible. 

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