When I was chided by a chief minister

"You are a cynical person,” chief minister Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy said to me with a contemptuous look on his face.

Dismissing a question I had posed to him, the former chief minister of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh chided me for asking what he told on my face was a ‘baseless question’. It perhaps was. But there was a need to ask him. And elicit a response.

Not that anyone expects that all politicians give all right answers all the time. They are adept at dismissing questions. Ignoring them. Poking fun at them. Digressing and not giving a direct answer. And attributing motives to the person posing the question.

Communal clashes had broken out at Musheerabad in Hyderabad. This was unprecedented. Despite such incidents in the old city, Musheerabad was largely incident-free. But not this time.

Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy was chief minister of the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh from  December 17, 1990 to October 9, 1992 when the incident occurred.

When a communal situation flared up at Musheerabad, Janardhana Reddy quickly chose to visit the place. Ostensibly, it was to reassure the general public that the situation was under control and that they should also not give scope for communal elements and anti-social elements to take advantage. He said the police would handle the situation and ensure there was peace and sought the cooperation of the public. The chief minister addressed the people from an open top vehicle.

“Is your presence here to embolden the perpetrators of the communal violence and those behind the scenes?” I asked. Janardhana Reddy down to listen to my question as I walked along his vehicle. The question upset him. He was infuriated. Instead of giving me a reply, he took the mike, and in the hearing of all people said: “You are a cynical person.”

Was I? The talk that did the rounds, the interpretation that was given to his visit and the questions that were being raised in connection with his visit were all the basis for my asking the chief minister the question to his face.

Not that I had any doubt about his sincerity in wanting to handle the situation well so that it does not snowball but little did I expect that I would be publicly put to shame for asking a question as harmless as I thought it was.

In hindsight, I felt the chief minister was justified in his reaction. I’d meant no offence but wasn’t his reaction disproportionate? I wondered about it.

I had a question. He had a response. Both of us played our roles.

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