Kakani Venkata Ratnam died 50 years ago. But he is remembered even now, in Krishna district in particular. He continues to be recalled and inspire many. Last fortnight, for example, a girls’ school unveiled Kakani’s photo on their campus, Senior Citizens office has now prominently positioned his photo. This is just what I knew personally. An agitation to relocate his statue in a prominent circle in Vijayawada has been on for a while. Many in high positions, including in USA, thank him for their education. Many housewives and small farmers continue to recall his initiative for the milk revolution and elevating their lives. My observation is he is recalled as a leader by even more now than a couple of years ago. How come?
He made difference
Kakani was in active political life hardly for 35 years (1945-1972). I knew him personally for 20 of those years. A local village school dropout, he was a freedom fighter and a small time farmer, he rose to higher position on his own in the party even before a combined Andhra Pradesh was formed and he was an MLA and Minister more than once. He made a mark and exemplified himself for the difference he made in their villages, to the future of their children and of course for his services and sterling character in representing people. Examples he had set remain even today as some kind of benchmark for public service by a political leader. He has become a legendary leader. He was not viewed as of any one political party once he took up the campaign for development of the coastal districts.
Iron man of Andhra
He died on 25 December 1972 in the midst of a separate Andhra agitation. He suffered heartbreak seeing agitating youth being fired upon by police at Gannavaram airport. With his death, the agitation petered away. The fate of both Andhra and Telangana districts would have been better and much different had that agitation seen a logical end then, 40 years earlier before the actual bifurcation. Kakani was a known fighter for causes and concerns, mostly against oppression and exploitation. The rich, landed, zamindars and interested powers opposed and sabotaged him all through. He neither budged nor yielded at any point. That was how was known as Ukku Kakani. (No wonder, a popular state and historical song, seven years ago, Amaravathi, refers to Ukku Kakani as pride of Andhra). He is remembered also because his strengths are relevant today and a realisation of that is becoming evident. I can recall ten distinct features of Kakani leadership.
Never a loner
The first and foremost was he never considered himself a loner. It was always a team, a team consisting of a combination of castes and communities. They were always together and seen too. They were all of same simple lifestyle, humble backgrounds and from different parts of the district. He had set an example that in electoral politics “solo” will not do. For him it was “we” always, not “me and mine” as it is today.
Election results never mattered
Second,that was how win-lose in elections never mattered him. His pursuit continued same way. Kakani lost assembly election twice and won three times. But an election to him was not an end in itself as they have become now. Nor an occasion for money making. Once a poll is over, parties should not come in the way, was his way.
Focus on underdog
Third, Kakani never lost his concern and focus on the cause of “underdog”, the small and marginal, and victims of powers. Kakani known as a strong man, which he was, but he was also emotional. I witnessed his emotions more than once. Once we both went by cycle-rickshaw in Hyderabad to see a Homeo doctor. Seeing a cinema wall poster in Abids of one blind and crippled youth, he wanted see that film, Dosti. He could not control his tears all through two hours seeing the two suffer societal neglect.
Believed in crowd funding
Fourth, he set an example for true “crowd funding” against “corporate funding” that leaders and poll contestants rely on today. He never needed big money. Volunteers were his strength. He believed and prompted that the contributors should feel “owning the leader”, not vice versa, as it is today. Kakani also showed that even a small contribution prompts people’s participation, unlike today.
Education first, health next
Fifth, as a District Board President nearly 70 years ago, Kakani set an example for district development. His vision was “education first” and went all the way to enhance schools, health was next and infrastructure with irrigation and village connectivity were his focus and he is remembered for what he did in these respects. In fact, what Dr Abdul Kalam preached (unsuccessfully) about the idea of PURA, (providing urban services in rural areas), Kakani endeavoured 60 years before.
Personal contacts with people
Sixth, direct personal contact with individuals across all villages was his way not so much mass or remote ways of grass-root connectivity. He believed in consultation process as often, there and then and as widely participative. He never indulged in personal abuse of even opponents and all his agitations were on issues of people.
Mindful of his tenure
Seventh, he always remembered, whichever position he held, that it was for a tenure and there will be successor to whom he has to leave good precedents as examples.
Never wanted his name associated with any scheme
Eighth, he resisted any schemes to be named by his name. But, so many are there now by his name which have come up after his death.
No question of nepotism with him
Ninth, he never believed in mixing his public life with kith and kin and kept family away all through. I know first-hand his instructions to me, when I was staying in his MLA quarter, was not to allow his only son and he even scolded me for allowing his son to stay overnight.
Tenth, one basic belief constant was that villages and villagers should not be dependants on Govt. Any youth or students coming his way he conveyed that as his favourite message. He himself maintained that sterling character and he wanted the young to assert themselves.
Over six-feet tall, always in white khadi dhoti-kurta attire and walking erect with big eyes, Kakani was a charming and charismatic person. The only car, he used althrough over 20 years was a reconditioned van bought in a military auction. While in Hyderabad, he never hesitated to use cycle-rickshaw (autos yet to come then).
He demonstrated that one need not be elected to represent and serve people or belong to a political party. Death of legendary leaders anywhere should prompt worthy successors who will not forget that they have a choice to be remembered and opt beyond their tenure in power and much beyond.
(December 25 is Kakani’s death anniversary)
(Dr N Bhaskara Rao is a New Delhi based public policy analyst with over 50 years track and author of over a dozen books, now in his native Mudunur village, Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh)