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Friday, May 31, 2024

I am an engineer-politician: Vishweshwar Reddy

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WOW! catches up with politician and entrepreneur Vishweshwar Reddy, who is contesting from Chevella in the upcoming general elections

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A parliamentarian from the Chevella constituency in the 16th Lok Sabha, politician, and former MP Vishweshwar Reddy, made an impact when he spoke on a wide range of topics, from biogas to solar energy. He also introduced three private member bills and combined passion with facts and sound knowledge of polity. Today, as he stands to fight another election on a BJP ticket, we catch the suave politician at his candid best. From speaking about surface tension to the beauty of Palaash flowers, he is that rare Indian politician who can hold forth about any topic under the sun. Grandson of Konda Venkata Ranga Reddy, former deputy chief minister of the state and after whom the district of Ranga Reddy is named, he comes from an illustrious legacy. In a freewheeling chat, he speaks about his early years, the ideology that shaped his life, and confesses that, at heart, he is like any other doting grandfather! Edited excerpts from an interview.

Belonging to a political family (as your grandfather was a deputy CM and your uncle Chenna Reddy was a former chief minister), was politics always on  the cards? 

Not really. My foray coincided with the agitation for a separate state of Telangana. Earlier, my knowledge of politics was always on the lower side. It is true that my grandfather was in politics even before Indian independence and was an MLC under Nizam’s rule. He was in Congress and was one of the most popular and enigmatic politicians of the day. He was an extremely successful lawyer who was consulted by the aristocracy of the day and a Persian scholar who was fluent both in Urdu and Telugu.

However, he dissuaded all his children (seven sons and six daughters) from joining politics and encouraged them to be teachers, lawyers, doctors, or engineers. I was brought up in a political household, but he never really wanted me to enter politics. But then, fate had other plans. 

Tell us about your life before politics. 

I always like to say that I am an engineer-politician. I want to use my education for social benefit and cannot get the engineer out of me. (laughs) Having studied at Guindy Engineering College and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, I wanted to work for a small company so that I could get a 360-degree view of a business. I worked with Malwin Electronics, which is into manufacturing flight simulator instruments, for some time before moving back to India. 

How has your time in the US  shaped you? 

My time in the US was eye-opening. I observed that contrary to popular belief in India, American society does value family, just differently. They focus heavily on children’s upbringing until college; contrasting with some traditional perspectives in India where children’s needs tend to be overlooked. Also, the concept of dignity of labor; every job is respected and dignified, showcasing that each culture has its merits and flaws. 
When I became an MP, there was a lot of discussion about government schools in Telangana. The issue was that the toilets were extremely unhygienic, and forget using them, you wouldn’t want to pass by them. An idea was mooted that new toilets should be built which I shot down saying that unless they are maintained they would meet the same fate. In Chevella, I went to government schools and cleaned toilets for a week. I think that is the biggest achievement of my political life as I helped to shed a social stigma, as no one does that. It was a change maker and people started to understand that it was a job like any other. Had I not gone to the US and recognized the dignity of labor in every job, I would have not been able to do that. 

Is it possible to make progress without hindering the environment?

Absolutely. When there was a movement to remove Banyan trees in Chevella for road widening, I made a video about it. When the GO 111 came up last year (which removed protections to prevent construction in the catchment areas of Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar reservoirs), we did a lot of work; in fact, I went to hundreds of villages and understood the issues from both sides. While environmentalists were worried about damage to ecology, people wanted development. I met experts, acquired knowledge, and found out that sustainable development was the key. If there is a will, there is a way. What are the challenges you face? The reality is that the concept of the greater good is harsh. It does a lot of harm to small stakeholders. Many challenges keep one intellectually and emotionally occupied when you try to ensure that no one is at a loss. As much as I hate spending time away from my grandkids, this need to find solutions makes my job worthwhile. 

Many worry that the BJP is not syncretic in its approach and is not inclusive. 

Absolutely not. It is mostly misunderstood from the way the media portrays us. Hindutva has no bearing on or connection with any religion. It was coined by Veer Savarkar, and the founder of the RSS, KB Hegdewar, was a fan of Savarkar and co-opted the philosophy. Both were atheists, so how can we possibly be religious-minded? Hindutva means nationalism, and every single one of the BJP’s policies benefits all sections of the population. 

Do you miss your earlier life, considering that politics is a 24×7 occupation? 

I don’t. But I often wonder if it is worth being in politics. Personally, no. If you are sensitive, it’s very difficult, as you have to go around with a smile no matter how you feel. I also had the greatest of times with my three boys and want to spend time with my grandchildren, but the one thing about politics is that it has helped me to do something I enjoy the most–learn new things. I learned a lot that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned from books or exposure to society, be it agriculture, irrigation, weather, or wildlife preservation. It expands your horizons every day. 

How confident are you of victory? 

Extremely confident of victory. I started my campaign six months ago; I just have to keep up the tempo.

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