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"YSR" statues a reflection of Indian life and politics

Marie Mentesana / Red Dirt Report
Statues of the late politician Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy can be found all over the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
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NELLORE, India  - Located in a  lush area of southeastern India, the district of Andhra Pradesh is known not only for its large rice fields, banana groves and tobacco fields but also its high poverty rate. 

And the other thing that Andhra Pradesh is filled with is statues.

It is rumored that there are more than 20,000 statues of the late political figure Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, also known as simply as YSR.  While on assignment covering charity work in southeastern India, Red Dirt Report was struck by the large number of statues and the story behind the statues.

At first you see one of the statues and you think this must be a great man in this village. Then you drive five minutes to the next village and you see a similar statue of the same man.  This continues on for hours and days of touring. Every village, no matter how small, has a statue of this same man.  Some are colorful statues, some are gold, some are bronze. And all are one-and-a-half life size and placed in prominent locations.

So, who was YSR and why so many statues?

Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy was popularly known as YSR, was the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, from 2004 to 2009.

Incredibly popular with the people, YSR won every election in which he ran. In 2003, as part of his election campaign, he went on a three-month, 900 mile walking tour during the hot summer months, throughout Andhra Pradesh.  He led his party to victory in the following general and assembly elections held in 2004, and did the same in 2009.

In September of 2009, a helicopter destined for the city of Chittoor, and carrying YSR, went missing in the Nallamala forest area, east of the city of Kurnool. This hilly, tiger-infested and densely forested region is known as a haven for the Naxalites, a much-feared communist guerilla group known for waging terror against their enemies.

As soon as the air traffic control in Hyderabad realized YSR’s chopper was missing, India engaged in that country’s largest-ever search operation with satellites overhead, remote-sensing aircraft, drones, military troops and even deer-hunting “tribals” with bows and arrows looking for the wreckage.

The next morning, media reported that the helicopter wreckage had been found and the five people aboard were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

While it was initially suspected that the Maoist-inspired Naxals (also known locally as “ultras”) were behind the crash – as YSR had been cracking down on Naxalite activity and recruiting in Andhra Pradesh – the helicopter crash was later rumored to be plotted by members of the Indian National Congress Party of which YSR was a member.  The alleged motive was to cover-up YSR’s widespread corruption.

YSR has been accused of amassing large amounts of money during his tenure as the Chief Minister. He is said to have used the populist schemes like irrigation projects and housing schemes to his advantage and earn huge profits through them.

YSR was also criticized for land schemes in which he profited by his government position.   It is also alleged that he amassed large sums of money from bribes and kickbacks from contractors and schools.

The people of Andhra Pradesh have mixed views of YSR, Red Dirt Report discovered.  Some say he did great projects for the poor, others say he was a criminal who embezzled over 1 trillion dollars or 100,000 billion rupies.

So where did the statues come from?

Six months after his death, YSR's son, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, also known as Jagan, went on a condolence tour.  The Congress Party's central leadership directed Jagan to call off the tour but he refused. The tour was successful and established Jagan as a major political force in state politics. He resigned from the Congress Party in November 2010. In February 2011, the YSR Congress Party was established with Jagan as its president.

Elections for the seats left vacant due to the resignations of Jagan and Y. S. Vijayamma (YS's wife) were held on 8 May 2011. Jagan and Vijayamma contested the elections on behalf of the newly formed YSR Congress Party.

From May 2012 until Sept 2013, he was in jail under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 for Disproportionate Assets and providing quid pro quo favors to businesses

A series of bail applications were repeatedly rejected by three levels of courts partly owing to “the serious nature of the offense,” “with estimated amounts exceeding Rs. 3000 crores.”

The YSR Congress and other opposition parties have alleged that Jagan is being politically victimized and the CBI is acting at the behest of the Congress and that this is a case of political vendetta. After 16 months, on September 23, 2013, a special CBI court granted him bail, but he is not permitted to leave Andhra Pradesh.

YSR’s legacy lives on through his son and Jagan has been the Leader of the Opposition in the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly since June 2014.

Red Dirt Report photojournalist Marie Mentesana filed this report while on assignment in southern India.

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Marie Mentesana

Marie Mentesana is a second-generation American of Sicilian descent who started out as a...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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