As Nara Lokesh prepares to embark on an ambitious padayatra — Yuva Galam — from Friday, 27 January, the weight of a lot of responsibilities rests on his shoulders.
Foremost is the one to revive the fortunes of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which has been facing its worst crisis since it was founded by the legendary actor NT Rama Rao in 1982.
The padayatra Lokesh will launch from his family bastion Kuppam in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh on the auspicious muhurtam of 11.03 am. The walkathon is expected to culminate at Ichapuram on the Andhra-Odisha Border.
Setting his sights on bringing the TDP back to power in Andhra Pradesh, Lokesh is set to walk at least 4,000 km in 400 days, starting Friday, and listen to the people.
He is expected to cover at least 125 Assembly segments in the next 400 days.
The TDP has not quite recovered from the humiliating defeat it suffered in the 2019 Assembly elections.
It is evident from the back-to-back defeats of the Opposition party in the polls to local bodies, civic bodies, and the bypoll to the Tirupati Lok Sabha segment.
Lokesh was already in Kuppam on Thursday evening. On Friday, he is expected to offer prayers at the Varadaraja Swamy temple at Lakshmipuram in Kuppam, followed by prayers in the nearby mosque and church before proceeding to the public meeting.
The public meeting is expected to be attended by all top leaders of the party from AP and Telangana, including its politburo members.
On the first day, he will reportedly walk for around 8.5 kilometres before taking a night halt.
The padayatra will continue in the Kuppam constituency for three days and enter Palamaner on the fourth day.
As per schedule, the padayatra will continue in the erstwhile Chittoor district for 43 days.
Party functionaries are also geared up and all the arrangements are in place.
The Kuppam conundrum
Lokesh chose Kuppam, which Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has been focusing on, to launch his padayatra.
Lokesh’s father, TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu has been undefeated in Kuppam for the last 33 years, but is now a little edgy.
After the TDP’s flop show in the local body polls last year, he returned to the drawing board.
Naidu, who didn’t even have a house of his own in Kuppam, started constructing one recently. He has also been visiting Kuppam frequently.
As for Yuva Galam, the yatra’s slogan is “Let’s Walk with Lokesh. Let’s Walk for a better Andhra Pradesh”.
The 4,000-km padayatra is probably the longest in the history of Andhra Pradesh politics.
Emotional moments for Lokesh
On Wednesday, Lokesh performed poojas along with his family members and also took the blessings of his parents, his in-laws and close relatives.
Chandrababu Naidu was seen getting emotional as he hugged his son. Lokesh also affectionately hugged his son Devansh and told him that he would be on video call regularly.
Lokesh went with a huge rally to the NTR Ghat and paid tributes to his grandfather. Later, he left for Shamshabad airport to go to Kadapa.
The TDP general secretary was given a rousing reception by the party activists in Kadapa as he performed special poojas at the temple of Lord Venkateswara and later visited Pedda Darga.
Lokesh also visited the Mariyapuram church and offered special prayers. Then, he left for Tirupati by road.
On Thursday, Lokesh visited the Tirumala temple and offered special prayers to the presiding deity lord Sri Venkateswara in the early hours.
Walkathons have helped
With one exception, whoever has undertaken a padayatra in recent times in Andhra Pradesh has gone on to win the next elections and become chief minister.
In the Telugu states and in recent times, Jagan’s father YS Rajasekhara Reddy was the first politician to embark on a padayatra to revive the fortunes of the Congress — when he was still with it — after it suffered a huge defeat at the hands of Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP in 1999.
To rejuvenate the party, Rajasekhara Reddy undertook a 1,475-km walkathon across the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh and eventually brought the party back into power in 2004. The film Yatra, starring Malayalam actor Mammootty, was based on Reddy’s padayatra.
Similarly, in a bid to resurrect the fortunes of the TDP, Chandrababu Naidu embarked on a 2,800-km padayatra across the length and breadth of Andhra Pradesh in 2012. He won the 2014 election and became the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, with Telangana cleaved away.
Jagan followed in the footsteps of his father and embarked on his Praja Sankalpa Yatra in 2017, covering 3,648 km — said to be the longest padayatra by any politician in the state.
He registered a landslide victory in 2019, despite the strong Narendra Modi wave sweeping across the country.
The only exception to the successful padayatra rule is that of Jagan’s sister Sharmila.
She took up the party mantle when her brother was in jail, and walked the length and breadth of the state. However, in the polls that followed in 2014, the YSRCP could not come to power.