When #KhabarLive asked the Telugu Desam Party supremo to spare some time for our questions, his tricky but most interesting answers, political twists and his laughs and much more. He agreed to give us some time during his hectic tour in phases. We completed the entire interview in a week days tour along with his convoy.

Here are edited excerpts:

Question: You just lost a senior leader, former Speaker Kodela Sivaprasad, to suicide. Was his death avertable?

Answer: We are paying a price for democracy. I have been in politics for the past 40 years. I was Chief Minister for 14 years and opposition leader for 11. This is the first time I have come across such a vindictive chief minister. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government has attacked opposition leaders relentlessly, using its television channel and newspaper to write negative articles defaming them, humiliating them on Twitter and finally booking a series of cases against them based on small incidents from the past. The victims are shocked; they are living in fear.

The police slapped 19 cases on Kodela, including one alleging he stole furniture from the Assembly and displayed it at his son’s showroom. He was booked under Sections 409 [criminal breach of trust by a public servant] and 414 [assisting in concealment of stolen property] of the Indian Penal Code. Anyone who has been in politics for a while knows that MLAs, MPs and ministers are routinely given government furniture they can be asked to return any time. In this case, Kodela had written a letter on June 7th about taking temporary possession of the furniture. The Assembly did not acknowledge the letter. The case very badly damaged his image and labelled him a thief. We tried to console him and assure him we would fight it out.

The government could have shown some repentance after Kodela’s suicide. Instead, they have defamed his family and spread rumours that his son had humiliated him the previous day. We had to produce evidence that Kodela’s son was in Kenya at the time.

Several TDP leaders joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for ‘protection’. How do you explain this exodus?

Jagan Mohan Reddy is a master of criminal conspiracy. Under the new regime, Adinarayana Reddy [a three-time MLA from the Jammalamadugu Assembly constituency in Kadapa between 2004 and 2019, he had defected from the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) to the TDP] started getting death threats. He feared for his life and decided to quit and join the BJP. In the same way, Gonuguntla Suryanarayana, ex-MLA from Dharmavaram, paid some money to those threatening him but when even that didn’t work, he joined the BJP. Former Minister Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy, too, has been booked in a flimsy land dispute case over just 2.4 acres and now this man—a bold, firm leader—is afraid. The case against former state planning board Vice-Chairman C Kutumba Rao is another example of harassment. A thorough professional, he stands accused of grabbing five acres under the purview of the Urban Land Ceiling Act. In fact, the land had been given to the Railways by Rao’s family but as no compensation was paid, they filed a case and the Supreme Court recently issued a status quo order.

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The government somehow wants to paint TDP leaders as criminals and the likes of Sujana Chowdary [a businessman and TDP Rajya Sabha MP who recently defected to the BJP], former whip Chintamaneni Prabhakar [he has been arrested and faces several criminal cases, including some under the SC/ST Atrocities Act] and ex-MLA from Gurajala Yarapathineni Srinivasa Rao [booked for illegal limestone mining] are feeling cornered. When I had called for the Chalo Atmakur rally to bring to attention the YSRCP’s attacks on and eviction of TDP workers in parts of Guntur district, one of our MLAs, Acham Naidu, was not allowed to visit me at home where I was under house arrest. He was paraded around town, taken from one police station to another to another.

You are locked in a constant battle with the government. Have you had the time to introspect after the TDP’s worst performance in an Assembly election?

It was an unexpected upset, yes, and we have been reviewing poll data and feedback from the ground. The YSRCP has won by fluke. There are two main reasons: false propaganda and fake news against the TDP and a sentiment among a section of people that if they gave Jagan a chance, he might do a better job. There was no anti-incumbency; people are aware of the development projects and the welfare schemes championed by our government. No one blames our policies.

This government won’t last its term. Jagan Mohan Reddy is not an administrator or an organiser. He has gone to the people one time and built his image on that alone. Already, he has become unpopular because of his extreme anti-development stance. He has done irreparable damage by reversing all the work that needs to be done to build a new state. Some leaders may be inefficient, some may be corrupt, some arrogant. He is worse. Let’s not forget that this is a man who was banished by his own father, when he was Chief Minister, to Bangalore.

You have said your successor wants to decimate your legacy and prove himself a bigger leader.

He cannot overlook my legacy. He wants to destroy Amaravathi, for which history will hold him guilty. It is a self-financing project that, had he implemented, would have brought a lot of revenue to the state. The land monetisation in the capital would have reached a minimum of Rs 1 lakh crore. And what has he done? He has destroyed the reputation of Andhra Pradesh. You need long-term vision for problem-solving. It is because of my works that every reservoir in the state is full of water today after the rains. People may not always realise what a government has done for them, but these development projects speak for themselves.

“This government won’t last its term. Jagan Mohan Reddy is not an administrator or an organiser. He has gone to the people one time and built his image on that alone. Already, he has become unpopular because of his extreme anti-development stance”.

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Looking back, would you have done anything differently in the past five years?

I developed Hyderabad airport over 5,000 acres of land. I built a 165-km, eight-lane outer ring road. I dreamt up HITEC city, the best knowledge economy in the country today, from nothing. Today, Hyderabad is ranked the most liveable city in India. I wanted to replicate the success of Hyderabad and build a greenfield city in Andhra Pradesh. It is easy for K Chandrasekhara Rao [KCR] to say Amaravati is dead investment. Had I thought Hyderabad was dead investment, he wouldn’t be so happy now, would he? Whenever I land at the Hyderabad airport, I have the satisfaction that I initiated this engine of growth.

People are unable to understand me. First, like Hyderabad in Telangana and Bangalore for Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh needs one big city to showcase itself to the world. Second, by completing Polavaram and the linking of the rivers, we could have erased most of the problems of the state. The new government has not done even one unit of concrete—all the irrigation projects are doomed.

Jagan says he wants to bring back his father’s golden rule. The 2019 election may be a throwback to 2004, when the Congress swept the combined state of Andhra Pradesh in the Assembly elections after YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s padayatra. But do you see other similarities between father and son?

Rajasekhara Reddy was a shrewd politician and a practical man. We were close friends between 1978 and 1983, we moved in the same circles. After he became Chief Minister, he did take some decisions to show me in poor light. But he realised the state needed to attract investments. He realised if he set out to reverse my actions, the state would suffer. Jagan is no match for his father.

I’ll give you an example of Rajasekhara Reddy’s political acumen. He owned over a thousand acres of unregistered land and when I produced the documents showing his father had purchased them, he got away by making one simple argument. “My father is an innocent,” he said. “He did not study the rules. But now the family wants to give it back to the government.” Not only did he effortlessly surrender the land as part of his Bhoodan Yagyam, but he also gave people across the state four months to do the same, amending the law for this specific purpose.

“As Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh, I went to Delhi to meet Bill Gates for the first time. He refused to meet at first but eventually gave me 10 minutes. He ended up spending 45 minutes with me. We made Microsoft happen in Hyderabad. That is networking”

Jagan Mohan Reddy does not have a keen understanding of politics. The man is completely different from anyone I have encountered. I am unable to understand him and his motives. How can you cancel all power purchase agreements, bring works to a standstill in the midst of a recession and send all the wrong signals to investors? Andhra Pradesh is considered far away and there are few direct flights to Vijayawada. Logistics is a problem. I was able to mobilise investment with great difficulty. The rule of thumb is industrialists, especially in the IT sector, will never give you money easily.

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As Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh, I went to Delhi to meet Bill Gates for the first time. He refused to meet at first but eventually gave me 10 minutes. He ended up spending 45 minutes with me. We made Microsoft happen in Hyderabad. That is networking. Recently, when Shiv Nadar came to Andhra Pradesh, I personally saw him off at the airport. Because there were 20,000 jobs he was interested in creating in the capital region.

Let me tell you the story of how I brought the Indian School of Business to Hyderabad. I saw a news item that said they wanted to launch in India, but the McKinsey chief told me Hyderabad was nowhere on the agenda. I invited them. I sent my ministers to the airport to receive them. I welcomed them with beautiful bouquets and shawls, served breakfast, then made a presentation. I told them, wherever you go, what they offer you I will make it plus one. They went to Tamil Nadu and they went to Bangalore. They could not even secure an appointment with the Chief Minister. They went to Maharashtra and found reservations for locals to be a hurdle. This is how I got institution after institution to set up centres in Hyderabad. Under my watch, the state came to be ranked the first in ease of doing business. Under a chief minister with a negative attitude, there is a worry that some of the big-ticket investments may no longer come to Andhra Pradesh.

The TDP has come to be regarded as a party of businessmen. Do you think you missed out on promoting ground-level leadership?

It is true a party needs not just corporate politicians, but also intellectuals and ground leaders. But even they find a reason to jump ship at an opportune time. I built KCR. He was a close follower of mine. In 1999, when we won the election and I had to choose two Velamas to be part of my Cabinet to maintain sociopolitical balance, I chose former CBI Director K Vijayarama Rao and Karanam Ramachandra Rao from Medak. KCR felt slighted and he started the Telangana agitation because of this.

Now I have to rebuild the TDP into a party of the future with educated youngsters who are responsible to society.

What is your equation with the BJP?

We differ only on one issue: the development of the state. Because Andhra Pradesh was denied special status and because of the sentiment of the people, our alliance didn’t work out. Beyond that, I did not have any problems with the BJP. Right now, my priority is to protect the rights of the people and to put Andhra Pradesh back on track. #KhabarLive