Ramoji Rao, the invisible force behind Andhra’s destiny

Using the media, Ramoji Rao dictated the course of the state's history like no media baron had ever done.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Jun 09, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedJun 09, 2024 | 11:28 AM

Ramoji Rao with Chandrababu Naidu. (Supplied)

Cherukuri Ramoji Rao remained an invisible force throughout his life, influencing the destiny of Andhra Pradesh before and after its bifurcation in 2014.

The 88-year-old media baron’s death due to illness early on Saturday, 8 June, brought down the curtain on an important chapter in Andhra Pradesh’s history

Born in an agricultural family at Pedaparupudi in Krishna district in 1936, Ramoji Rao proved to be an astute businessman. He wore several hats and built a large empire, considered impossible for a single man’s lifetime.

He brought out Eenadu in 1974, ushering in a new trend in Telugu journalism. Using the media, he dictated the course of the state’s history like no media baron had ever done.

Related: Media personality and businessman Ramoji Rao dies 

Political strongman 

Ramoji Rao’s association with the Telugu Desam Party, though invisible to the undiscerning, was strong. He was like the de facto chief minister when the TDP was in power.

NTR.

NTR.

He derived his power from Eenadu and subsequently the ETV channels. They had the largest readership and viewership. The leaders knew that rubbing him the wrong way amounted to committing political harakiri.

Ramoji Rao’s first brush with political power took place when NT Rama Rao, popularly known as NTR, founded TDP in 1982. He had helped NTR plan his campaign in 1983 that propelled the actor-politician to the office of the chief minister within nine months of the formation of TDP. Telugu Desam Pilustondi, Raa Kadali Raa had then become a hit slogan.

NTR captured the imagination of the people by playing on their egos. He questioned why Andhra should not have its party and why it should depend on those who ruled from Delhi, implying the Congress.

Ramoji Rao travelled with NTR, scripting strategies and providing him full coverage in Eenadu which had by then become hugely popular.

Related: Telugu film fraternity mourns the demise of Ramoji Rao

Going local

Originally launched with a circulation of 3,000 copies, it soon became a household newspaper. It now has more than 13 lakh circulation and multiple editions within and outside the state. It set a new trend in journalism by dishing out stories in simple colloquial language.

It brought in the element of local news which was unheard of, going micro-local to cover news.

Ramoji Rao stood by NTR even when the latter faced revolts in the 1980s. He played a key role in restoring the NTR government after his Cabinet colleague Nadendla Bhaskar Rao dethroned him in 1984 while he was in the US for a bypass surgery.

Later on, even though Rama Rao began losing traction with the people, Eenadu supported him. In the 1990s differences cropped up between NTR and his son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu over the former’s wedding with Lakshmi Parvathy.

Ramoji Rao threw his weight behind Naidu. Eenadu began attacking Lakshmi Parvathy to demoralise her, lampooning her in cartoons in the newspaper.

Lakshmi Paravathy was shown as one who had gained full control over NTR to the point that he began blindly following her in decisions related to party affairs and the government.

Also Read: Media in Andhra Pradesh divided over caste, money and political agenda

Support for Naidu

Ramoji Rao played an important role when Naidu staged a coup against NTR in August 1995. It is often said that Naidu would not have dared to pull the rug from under NTR’s feet without the backing of Ramoji Rao.

YS Jagan Mohan Reddy with his father YS Rajasekhar Reddy. (Supplied)

YS Jagan Mohan Reddy with his father YS Rajasekhar Reddy. (Supplied)

Naidu took over as the chief minister. Ramoji Rao had a hand in almost all the decisions that Naidu took. It was during this “August crisis” that ETV was launched which came in handy for furthering Naidu’s cause.

In 2004, when YS Rajasekhar Reddy took over, Eenadu, to support Naidu, unleashed an offensive against the Congress leader.

Rajasekhar Reddy took up the gauntlet and decided to beat Ramoji Rao in the area where he was strong. He brought out the Sakshi newspaper. As he was in power, the paper grew quickly and became very popular, denting the circulation of Eenadu.

Rajasekhar Reddy used Sakshi just as the way Ramoji Rao used Eenadu to discredit rivals. Rajasekhar Reddy ordered an investigation into the irregularities Ramoji Rao-owned Margadarsi Chit Fund in 2004 itself.

After the bifurcation of the state in 2014, Ramoji Rao went soft on BRS in Telangana. He knew that keeping better terms with K Chandrasekhar Rao made sense since his Ramoji Film City and other properties are located in Hyderabad.

Also Read: TDP makes a stunning comeback in Andhra

At the receiving end

But come 2019, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy took over as the chief minister of the residual state of AP, signaling trouble for Ramoji Rao. The AP-CID registered cases and even attached movable properties valued at ₹242 crore in June 2023. They included investments in stocks and mutual funds.

Earlier it ordered attachment of assets worth ₹793 crore which took the total value of the assets attached to ₹1,035 crore.

In April the same year, the AP-CID had sought the help of central investigation agencies including the ED and I-T, to probe the Ramoji Group’s financial affairs after it found the cash deposit records bloated.

The then CID chief N Sanjay said that the group had raised deposits without the RBI’s permission and said that the deposit amounts had been diverted to risky stock market investments.

The same month, a CID team led by SP Amit Bardar, questioned Ramoji Rao and Margardashi managing director D Sailaja Kiran at their residence in Hyderabad.

By the time better days arrived with the TDP now returning to power, he was no more. He could not live to see the return of TDP’s days in AP.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).