‘People’s politician’ Bhandaru Dattatreya

M Somasekhar

As he turned 74 on June 12, Bhandaru Dattatreya, the Governor of Himachal,Pradesh, remains one of the very few real ‘People’s Representative Politicians’ in the country.

Though, he is ensconced in the comforts of the Raj Bhavan and all the attendant frills in the salubrious climate of the Hill State, his ‘heart and mind’, are, I am sure, with the people in Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

‘Dattanna’, as he is fondly called, is a man well ‘grounded’ from the position of power. When he was suddenly dropped by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi from his Cabinet in 2017 Bandaru easily returned to where he really belongs–people.

The 1946 born, Dattatreya is a grassroots, BJP party man, who has endeared himself to several sections of people with his simple approach. In 2019, he was given the gubernatorial role by the Centre.

Somehow, Dattatreya did not seem cut out to be part of the corridors of power and the bureaucratic, protocol driven Lutyens Delhi atmosphere. No wonder he was always at hand to his people in Secunderabad, which he represented 4 times in the Lok Sabha. At one point of time, as the sole minister from Telangana State he even started reviewing State Level Bankers meets, activities of other departments beyond Labour and Employment which he was charged with to keep himself busy in Hyderabad and away from Delhi.

The soft spoken Dattatreya was very close to former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. ‘During the Vajpayee era he was a minister of State holding Railways and Housing. He used to be very helpful to us journalists from Hyderabad and any friend from back home. With some of us struggling to find our feet in the Capital both in profession and tough life in hostile cold and summer times in the mid 1990s, Dattana was one of the go to leaders for news, chats and show off some helpful influence in getting a reservation done.

As most people who lived in Delhi during 1980-2000 perhaps would appreciate, getting a railway ticket in rush days, good Andhra/Hyderabadi food and an affordable meeting place for a do were big challenges.

Me and K Kailash, who was with Andhra Jyothi then used to call on Dattatreya as MP and minister to get news, enjoy a tasty meal as he had a good cook from Telangana. Then followed freewheeling discussions on interesting subjects too.

I remember as Junior Minister in Housing, to the dominating Ram Jethmalani his struggles. He got an IAS officer of Bihar cadre, Mr Vidyasagar, my senior from Nizam College, Hyderabad who was Telugu speaking as Principal Secretary to support. He was comfortable holding press conferences only with regional language media, especially from AP in attendance on the Ministry Affairs. While Jethmalani handled Delhi matters, Dattatreya used to confine to some states and mostly Andhra Pradesh.

He made up his shortcomings of sophisticated English speaking, subject depth and handling bureaucracy with easy access, humility and ready to do things. In the last few years I have often run into him even at small social events of friends in Hyderabad in addition to seminars and conferences. Dattatreya has always been friendly with journalists and also tried to push through matters related to them in the Labour Ministry. Another popular Minister from Hyderabad, T Anjaiah, who later became Chief Minister of AP, also did a lot for journalists as Union Labour Minister of the then Congress government.

But, two things that were uncharacteristic of him (I thought) and he got personally involved in recent time were his pro-active role in dashing off letters to Smriti Irani ( Union HRD Minister) on the controversial Rohit Vemula events at the University of Hyderabad and the lavish manner in which he performed his daughter’s marriage in the Gachibowli stadium. Both attracted criticism in different ways.

In contrast his was a simple, late marriage. His off tangent views on some labour related issues and performance in the present Ministry where jobs are not being created and people’s hard earned savings in PF etc. were being threatened to be diverted have also come under scrutiny. They were quite uncharacteristic given his public image.

Dattatreya-Patience and loyalty pays

Exactly two years to the dot, the fortunes of Dattatreya rose again. In September 2017 he was dropped from the Ministry and in early 2019 denied a ticket to the Lok Sabha with the BJP favouring Kishen Reddy. These developments too did not deter him much. His persistence with service to the BJP, which he joined over half a century ago paid off and he landed a Governorship.

Dattatreya had joined the RSS sometime in 1965. He also served as State President of Andhra Pradesh.

Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor & Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad.

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