History is not without episodes of empires lost over a woman. Nearer time and home, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao realized this truth of history at great cost. He lost the party he founded, the Government he headed and much worse, forfeited the love of his own family for the sake of a woman – Lakshmi Parvathi.
This write-up is an objective narrative of the sordid developments that led to the downfall of one of the most charismatic leaders of our times. Interwoven into the drama was the entry of Lakshmi Parvathi in N T Rama Rao’s life, her phenomenal rise and gradual fade-out.
Lakshmi Parvathi, who hails from Pachchala Tadiparru in Guntur district, was married to Veeragandham Venkata Subba Rao, a harikatha exponent 20 years older. She gained scholarly knowledge of epics, puranas and mythology. After post-graduation, she taught at a college in Narasaraopet and obtained M. Phil from Telugu University. She then registered for Ph. D. with the subject ‘Mythology in Cinema with special references to the roles played by Sri N. T. Rama Rao’.
She met Rama Rao in New Delhi in 1985 with her husband and sought his support for her research and also for writing his biography. The Chief Minister was too busy to say OK. Then…
Sometime in 1993-94, I had accompanied Rama Rao, then leader of opposition, on a tour. We returned to his Road No 13 Banjara Hills residence in the evening. The house was nearly empty, barring a servant or two and the security men. As he sat down for dinner, he found nothing to eat. He was about to go to bed on an empty stomach when one of the servants, moved by ‘saar’s plight, alerted Alladi P. Rajkumar, MP and NTR’s Man Friday. Rajkumar rushed home-made food to NTR. The teary-eyed servant told me the story the following day, drawing a parallel to NTR’s role in Badi Panthulu where he and wife were left in the lurch by his sons.
After the death of his first wife Basava Tarakam in 1984, NTR became a loner and was looked after by servants. There was no connect with the family as most of the members – 7 sons and four daughters – did not bother to keep the bond intact. He was in need of a caring partner in the evening of his life.
It was against this background that Lakshmi Parvathi entered Rama Rao’s life in 1991-92. By this time, she had separated from her husband. NTR agreed to her repeated requests for help in her research and biography. As leader of the opposition by 1991-92, he had more time to spare. He was impressed by her knowledge of mythology and culture and analysis of characters, which brought them closer. Her research work at the Telugu University meant regular visits from Narasaraopet by bus. NTR made it easier for her giving her a job and accommodation in the NTR Trust office, a stone’s throw from his house.
As the relationship between the two grew stronger and intimate, the family got worried. Its response initially one of surprise and embarrassment turned angry and even paranoid with the passage of time. They could not stomach Lakshmi Parvathi alerting doctors at night to save NTR whose blood sugar levels rose alarmingly and he almost lapsed into coma. She also nursed NTR after he suffered a stroke and was hospitalized, again without keeping the family in the loop.
Their relationship soon became hot topic of gossip in the media and political circles. NTR remained unfazed and decided to silence criticism by solemnizing it through marriage. The family tried in vain to stall the plan. He chose the 100th day celebrations of Major Chandrakant at Tirupati the perfect occasion to make the announcement on September 10, 1993. With the permission of the large gathering, he called Lakshmi Parvathi onstage and sought her hand. Chandrababu Naidu staged walked out in a huff.
The family felt their worst fears – that Lakshmi Parvathi would don NTR’s mantle and ‘knock off’ his property – were coming true after the marriage. NTR resisted every attempt to distance Lakshmi Parvathi from him. He promoted her by having her by his side during the 1994 election campaign and at party meetings. She had a say in the selection of candidates too.
After the Telugu Desam swept back to power with a huge majority, her fortunes were on steep ascendancy and those of Chandrababu Naidu on the decline. She also participated in official meetings. NTR took her to meet the Prime Minister and later on a tour of the UK in 1995. Late-comers, sycophants, defectors and vested interests soon entered her camp. She called the shots as NTR looked approvingly.
The family and Chandrababu Naidu bided their time as Lakshmi Parvathi went from strength to strength. It was now a question of survival. Her followers occupied strategic positions in the party while the loyal cadre felt choked. Under the new dispensation, the Telugu Desam suffered hurting setbacks in the elections to the local and civic bodies. This was the last straw for the loyal party cadre and a majority of MLAs under Chandrababu Naidu to revolt against Rama Rao and Lakshmi Parvathi in August 1995. Before the intransigent NTR could sense the gravity of the situation, the baton passed on to Chandrababu Naidu as the party president and chief minister. The rest, as they say, is history.
Thus Lakshmi Parvathi fell from the lofty pedestal while her husband and stoutest champion died a few months later, a bitter, sad man.
Dasu Kesava Rao is a seasoned journalist who has worked, among several newspapers, with The Hindu and served as its Bureau Chief in Hyderabad.