HYDERABAD: What do people expect when Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu takes a holy dip in the river Godavari along with his family during Pushkarams? Everybody hopes that Naidu will be surrounded by a battery of high priests amid chanting of Vedic hymns. But, the media-savvy chief minister struck the perfect pose on the banks of the river under the guidance of Tollywood film director Boyapati Srinu while the Vedic chants were drowned by the command, ‘Start, camera, action... cut’.
Naidu began his political career at a young age of 28 years as a cinematography minister during the Congress government in 1978. Later, he came in contact with the then popular film star N T Rama Rao and married his second daughter Bhuvaneswari. It seems Naidu, after being a part of the legendary film star’s family for decades, is now bitten by the acting bug. Proving this, on the first day of the Godavari Maha Pushkarams on July 14, Naidu along with his wife and son Lokesh posed for the cameras of the National Geographic channel on the banks of the river at Rajahmundry in the state.
After kick-starting the holy event by taking a dip in the Godavari waters at an auspicious timing of 6.26 am, Naidu stayed there for over two hours so that the documentary filmmakers could capture on camera his and his family members’ rituals
The TDP boss reportedly wanted to use the ongoing Pushkarams as a good occasion to show his commitment to protect Telugu culture by organising the event in a grand manner than that of the Kumbh Mela.
According to sources, when the popular international channel came forward to film a documentary on the significance of the Godavari Maha Pushkarams, the state government okayed the proposal thinking this would help to build the image of Naidu across the globe. “While the normal Pushkarams is celebrated once in 12 years, the Maha Pushkarams is observed only once in 144 years. Hence, the TV channel has come forward to capture the event reflecting the Telugu culture and Hindu spiritual flavour,” an official at the Chief Minister’s Office told The Sunday Standard.
The 40-minute telefilm is likely to be broadcast across the world after the completion of Pushkarams. However, the state government is keeping the details such as cost of the project, main theme of the film and script under wraps. However, sources said that the channel has signed a contract for `60 lakh to capture the mega event for the 12 days, starting from July 14 to July 25. “Even though the documentary is about the Godavari Pushkarams, it would portray the chief minister as a spiritual leader preserving the Telugu culture and promoting ancient Indian tradition. This would in turn be helpful for the state government to sell ‘brand AP’ among investors across the globe,” said a senior official.
Naidu’s reported efforts to bank on Telugu pride, which is the poll plank of the TDP, by taking part in the proposed documentary would have gone smoothly, had the unfortunate incident of stampede, which claimed the lives of 27 people, not occurred. Opposition parties such as the YSR Congress (YSRC) and the Congress alleged that it was the shooting of the documentary that had delayed the milling devotees for three hours at the main Pushkar Ghat resulting in the tragedy.
“Naidu, instead of going to the Saraswathi Ghat reserved for VIPs, came to the main ghat where general public are supposed to take holy dip. He lingered on for hours for the cameras to capture him and his family taking the holy bath. As a result the devotees were forced to wait outside and their numbers grew resulting in a stampede,” alleged APCC chief N Raghuveera Reddy. He demanded Naidu to accept moral responsibility for the tragedy and step down from his post.
State government advisor Parakala Prabhakar, who is the chairman of the Godavari Pushkarams Committee, denied the allegations of the opposition parties and said, “Tourism department had commissioned the shooting of the documentary. Like any other channel, they might have been there too.” He added that the stampede had nothing to do with the filming of the documentary.
A Tradition That Worked With NTR
The motivation to combine politics and religion in Telangana is, perhaps, deep-rooted since the days of the legendary film-star-turned-politician and founder of TDP Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, more popularly known as NTR. He is the father-in-law of Naidu and is immortalised by the mythological characters he had donned during his 40-year film career in the Telugu cinema. He gained popularity with his portrayals of Hindu deities, especially Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. These roles made him a “messiah of the masses” and helped him make the 9-month-old TDP defeat the Congress in 1983 Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh. Even though, NTR served as the CM of undivided Andhra for three terms, he is still remembered by people in both the states for his roles as Hindu gods.