N. Chandrababu Naidu - Ahead of His Time...

It’s 10 am on a Sunday, and Chandrababu Naidu’s residential space has already seen more action than a supermarket on Boxing Day. Right on time, Mr. Naidu greets us with a smile as he and his wife Bhuvaneswari walk in for the photo shoot. He sets to work lightening the atmosphere, cracking jokes and making Mrs. Naidu laugh, when we were all set for a serious outing!   

Surfing adeptly through myriad appointments, he swiftly attends to each subject in order. “I move very cautiously,” says Mr. Naidu. It’s this cautiousness and discipline that elevated him from a student leader to a chief minister in a very short period.

Mr. Naidu’s childhood was characterised by drudgery. Lack of an education centre in his native village meant that he had to travel one and half kilometres to a primary school in the next rural community every day. He attended a government high school and, with no alternative, often brought along a lunch box containing neither curry nor chutney. A hard worker with charisma that drew people to him, his leadership skills were evident even as a student. Mr. Naidu entered politics as a youth leader from Chandragiri, and there’s been no looking back since.   

“Even as a student leader, I worked very hard, maintained discipline in food habits and never let anything distort my personal character. I held myself according to the situation, and continued to do good work,” he muses when we ask him about his youth. The good work was rewarded, and he went on to become one of the most successful chief ministers the country has ever produced.     

In the new millennium, Mr. Naidu was emulated by his counterparts from other states. The admiration and respect were well-deserved. He was regarded as both tech-savvy and hard-working, the CEO of Andhra Pradesh who mixed poverty with computers, and managed politics with a rare acumen. After he assumed power in 1995, many chief ministers began to see him as the model modern politician with a larger-than-life image.

While Mr. Naidu selflessly served his people, he knew he was being unfair to his family. His wife Bhuvaneswari stood in for him in all family matters. She looked after the family and family business, and made sure that home was a peaceful haven for him. “I was never bothered with family matters. She understood the cause and supported me by attending to all my family duties. We hardly had family time. I feel I’ve done injustice to them. But there was this conviction of achieving something big that made me strong. There were times when I only saw my son Lokesh while he was asleep. I left home early. My calling demanded long hours and I would return late,” shares Mr. Naidu, who now completely switches off from politics on a quick family holiday.

To this day, Mr. Naidu follows rigorous working hours. He wakes up at 4 am sharp; the next 120 minutes are spent in the gym, on the treadmill, and with breathing exercises. In his two-minute prayer, he asks God for good sense, food and security for his family, the people of his party and the common man. He then attends to his political duties.             

The Telugu Desam Party chief lives and breathes big dreams. He has faith in Indians’ bright future, considering the country’s aging profile and the poverty index - provided we protect family values and our culture. He explains, “We are in transformation mode. Wealth is being created and whenever there’s a flow of money, cultures are likely to change. There’s no doubt that we need money, but in this global village you will suffer if you lose your culture. It’s in India that a family is kept together, even forcefully. Divorce is not an easy alternative here. Elders, throughout their lives, support us and guide us. In some foreign countries, you’re on your own if you cross eighteen, you start fresh. We must safeguard this. It’s a gift.”

Mr. Naidu was portrayed by Profit magazine as one of the hidden seven working wonders around the world. During his tenure, he was the West’s favourite Indian. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton visited him in the State capital; global computer giants like Microsoft, IBM and Oracle invested here, and he computerised many government departments and district headquarters.

“As a matter of fact, I brought many globally viable working models to India. I would look at any successful model and ask myself, ‘If they can do it, why can’t we?!’ I began with education. At that time, education was lacking in AP. I pushed for engineering and medical colleges. We account for about 30% of the knowledge pool today. Then I pushed BSNL for fiber optic connectivity and look where we are now. I proposed to the then prime minister that we develop the four-lane road system, following Malaysia’s example. Today we are converting it into six and even eight lanes. Money is not a problem; in fact, the government is earning from it,” asserts a passionate Mr. Naidu.    

Policymakers certainly didn’t buy into his ideas instantly; neither was convincing corporate heads a walk in the park. “They wouldn’t believe me or show any confidence,” says Mr. Naidu. “Back in New York, I walked from office to office with just a file and my secretary. I gave presentations on my laptop and persuaded them to invest here,” continued Mr. Naidu, who seems to have up his sleeve plenty of such stories of challenges overcome. Once he was traveling with the Singaporean prime minister, who was impressed by his optimism but dismissed his vision as impossible. He was astonished to see the steep growth in the next few years. In another interesting instance, the Switzerland minister gave a stiff statement contesting Mr. Naidu’s vision and said that if he were Swiss, he’d have had him behind bars for such projections. He later apologised for his statements. 

Mr. Naidu’s most significant audience was with Bill Gates, an occasion that he clearly views with pride, and deservedly so. He managed to convert a ten-minute slot with this business magnate into a solid forty-minute conversation. “Bill Gates was in the country and after persuading the U.S. ambassador for India, I was given only ten minutes. Organisational skills, hard work and persuasion were my strengths. I impressed him with my presentation and made him believe in my dreams. He said we’d work together. I assured him of good human resources and, then Microsoft came to Hyderabad,” Mr. Naidu beams.            

The symbols and the results of Mr. Naidu’s achievement will pass on to coming generations. As a first generation politician, he doesn’t want to force politics on his heirs. “If they are eager, they are welcome. But it should be service-driven and not motivated by the monetary factor,” explains Mr. Naidu, who believes if you have suffered, your children should not. “Don’t give them money, give them education. I’ve given my son a good education; after that, it’s up to our children to take it further. Lokesh, a postgraduate from Stanford, is working, and my daughter-in-law, Brahmani, is studying. My wife looks after my family business. And as a human being I’ve to contribute something to society,” concludes Mr. Naidu, indicating that his busy day has finally caught up with him, and leaving us grateful for the time he’s so generously given us.     - Rahul  


What are the challenges and responsibilities of being a politician’s wife?
Right from the beginning, I knew that the people’s welfare would come first for him, and that we would always be public figures. I accepted this and adapted to it. I support and stand by my husband whenever needed.

When your husband was in public service, was it challenging to run the house all by yourself? You also had the responsibility of the family, and the business to look after?
Running the house comes very easily to me. I’ve learnt so much from observing my mother bringing up 11 children. My husband and I are disciplined, which makes things so much easier. He has a lot of confidence in me and never interfered in the running of the house and bringing up Lokesh. I love to work and it gives me great joy when I visit any of my stores and interact with the team. All I can say is that we are one big happy family.

What is Mr. Naidu like at home – as a father and husband?
He is very patient and understanding. The only drawback is not giving his family much time. This is the major bone of contention between us. As often as possible, all four of us sit down together and discuss the issues pertaining to both work and family. Both Lokesh and Brahmani have high regard for his advice.

On family outings, where do you like to go and why? Also, how and where do you spend family time?
Due to security reasons, we cannot go on many outings. I prefer to go without the security, so we visit places close by and that too for very short periods of time. We try to totally relax and unwind and catch up on a lot of things. Once a year, we make it a point to go to the village with the entire family and have a great holiday, when we all really bond.       

Heritage is a big retail chain now. How did you conceive the idea? What were the early hurdles? How well is it doing now, and how does the future look? 
The idea was conceived by my husband. We have a great, experienced and dedicated professional team, and it is our aim to make it one of the top companies of India with their help.

Is it true that you have lost more than 40 kgs? What was the driving force behind such an achievement?
Yes, I was obese and suffered from frequent asthma attacks. The doctor gave me an ultimatum and fortunately, by God’s grace, my spiritual journey  gave me tremendous willpower. Once I started, there was no looking back.

It’s an inspiring story for many. Can you shed some more light on how you lost the weight?
I follow a strict diet regime; work out at the gym, do yoga and pranayama. I was very fond of non-vegetarian food, but one day, a thought just cropped up in my head and just like that, I turned a strict vegetarian. Even today, I marvel at this. All I can say is that when the thought comes from within, as long as you are disciplined and determined, you can achieve your goal. Of course, none of this could have been achieved without the grace from above.     – as told to Rahul   

PIcs: Rajesh Vaddem