‘Vice President Naidu phones up to enquire how I was doing’

Mr M Somasekhar a seasoned writer has extensively covered areas of politics, business and science for nearly 40 years. It was during those times he came in contact with Vice President of India Mr M Venkaiah Naidu who hails from formerly united Andhra Pradesh.  Here is his account.

M Somasekhar

Hyderabad: It’s not often that one gets a call from the Vice President of India. So, when my mobile phone rang late on Monday evening and the caller said, Somasekhar, the VP would like to talk to you, it got me by surprise. 

Why would he call? Especially, some Journalist, who has just hung his boots? Several thoughts flashed across quickly. Within seconds, the familiar voice asked, “What Somasekhar, how are you? Hope all is well with you?”

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Smarting under the lockdown due to COVID 19, as I was for nearly 45 days, the words from the VP were very encouraging. Quickly, he asked about the well being of each member of my family and wished them the best. 

The next sentence was still surprising, Venkaiah Naidu  said, “I was told, you retired recently. You are still young, like our Mallikarjun (my ex-colleague in The Hindu, now with the VP). Keep yourself busy, write and be always active,” he advised.

Not used to getting calls from VIPs, I quickly regained composure and replied, it’s great to receive a call from the VP of the largest democracy in the world and also be enquired about our safety and well being, especially in the world’s biggest and unprecedented lockdown conditions.

The conversation, quite brief, veered around personal well being. I said, you were so busy travelling across the country, talking at various fora and trying to motivate people, but now had to be confined to home, it must be difficult? 

The VP said, it’s an extraordinary time and after decades, I and my wife have been together for the longest period at one place. We keep ourselves busy with routine activity, interacting with various people he said.  The enthusiasm and concern were clear in the call, but I could sense that the VP was eagerly awaiting things to start coming back to normalcy, so that he can be his own active, energetic self.

I reminded him of my covering him as a young PTI Reporter his early political career as a firebrand MLA, then as BJP President in Delhi and Union Minister. The last time, we met was in Hyderabad towards the end of 2019.  I had the privilege of having lunch with him in the Swarna Bharati Trust, where he honoured farmers, scientists at an event organised by Rythu Nestham Foundation headed by Venkateswara Rao Yadlapalli.

Moments after the pleasant call ended, the curious Journalist in me took over. I soon found out that the Vice President has undertaken an exercise to talk to MPs, MLAs, Politicians, old friends and Journalists across the country. It was a good feeling to be among his callers from Hyderabad.

Venkaiah Naidu has been for decades, a spokesperson and familiar face of the BJP in Andhra Pradesh and New Delhi. He has been particularly popular with the media and knows many senior Journalists by name. His one liners and quick repartee during discussions, media briefings as Union Minister endeared himself. Though, he struggled politically to win elections, his abilities to debate, trouble shoot and be ever positive, got him into the upper houses of legislature and Parliament and serve the BJP and governments in a long career of over 50 years.

Not a person to lose any opportunity, Venkaiah Naidu  has, it appears, is using the lockdown well to connect with a cross section of people at various levels, including the emotive to keep up the morale in these extraordinary times.

I first met Venkaiah Naidu as an MLA representing Udayagiri of Nellore district in the lobbies of the Legislative Assembly of the combined Andhra Pradesh in 1984 as a PTI Cub Reporter. A fiery speaker from his Andhra University student leader days, he quickly caught the attention of BJP stalwarts L K Advani and A B Vajpayee. He was also close to N T Rama Rao, the TDP founder and Chief  Minister.

When I moved to New Delhi with the Hindu BusinessLine in 1993, Venkaiah Naidu was one of the key spokespersons of the BJP. I benefitted enormously during the phase of uncertain, action filled politics during 1995-1999 as far as news gathering was concerned.
Coalitions, government collapses and rise of regional parties in the national capital and central government getting information and fulfilling professional commitments as a reporter were made that much easy with Venkaiah Naidu  and S Jaipal Reddy being spokespersons with the BJP and the United Front respectively.

Incidentally, present Prime Minister Narendra Modi too was in the BJP headquarters as a Secretary then.

Though he was not successful in the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP could not gain strength in AP consistently. But his proximity to the powers in Delhi ensured his Rajya Sabha representation from Gujarat and Karnataka as well as a slot in the Union Ministry.

As Union Minister in Vajpayee government his hosting lunch one winter afternoon in 2000 to the media with all top leaders including PM Vajpayee and Advani attending is unforgettable. Virtually every popular dish from Andhra and Hyderabad was served, some specially made and flown to Delhi. Most Delhi media persons always cite his lunches as memorable.

Over the years I have maintained a professional relationship and tracked his rise in the political arena and influence.

As the Vice President now, he energetically travels across he country with a majority of events in the two Telugu states, addressing different audiences, regaling them with his one-liners, humour and engaging speeches.

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