GUNTUR: Raja Vasireddy Venkatadri Nayudu is considered to be the first king who built a planned city in the southern India almost two and half centuries ago. He christened the new city as Amaravati, which inspired the incumbent ruler of AP, Chandrababu Naidu to name the new capital city after Amaravati. Ventadri Nayudu’s gesture of liberal donation of lands to various temples in and around the temple town has greatly helped Chandrababu Naidu’s Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) become an instantaneous success as nearly 7000 acres of temple land is now part of the LPS.
Surprisingly, none of the Raja Venkatadri’s descendants have entered into political arena after giving up the kingdoms and zamindaris. Continuing the patronage of Venkatadri to arts and culture, the scions of the Raja entered into filmy world by becoming producers and exhibitors. Raja Vasireddy Sudha Swaroop Bahaddur Manne Sultan, the foremost living scion of Venkatadri’s family, is a proud owner of film theater in Guntur. The forgotten kings of Amaravati have once again shoot into fame after Chandrababu Naidu deciding to name the capital city as Amaravati. Government had also promised to install a massive statue of Raja Venkatadri in the new capital. Raja Vasireddy Swaroop recalls the journey of Raja’s family from forts, armory to agriculture fields to businesses to filmy world in a free-wheeling chat with TOI.
Tell us about the family of Raja Venkatadri and his descendants.
Raja Venkatadri had no biological children. He adopted Jagannatha Babu and Ramanath Babu to look after the kingdom after his death. Although Raja Venkatadri is a generous king, he was also known as violent ruler in those days. He killed many notorious pindaris (local tribals) on the charges of looting innocents travelling through his empire. Then he was believed to have been cursed not to have children for five generations. So, he adopted children following the advice of his court astrologers. My grandfather Harihara Prasad was lost foster son in the family. My father Ramabhunu Prasad is first biological scion.
When did the families of Raja shifted out of their forts and kingdom? Do you have any knowledge of this history?
My grandfather used to tell me the stories of the past. The foster children of Venkatadri had engaged in a fierce legal battle for the legal rights over the zamindari for decades after his death. British regime encouraged them to keep on battle with each other in order to usurp the valuable assets. The scions slowly shifted to Chennai, then headquarters of British in the guise of settling scores against each other and finally ended up losing most of their assets. Subsequently, Indian government had taken over vast tracts of lands owned by our family after bringing in the zamindari abolishment Act of 1951. The urban land ceiling Act of 1976 was the last nail in the coffin of Raja family’s assets as we have surrendered huge extents to the government. I still wonder as to how some public representatives are acquiring huge extents of land despite having the Act to prevent them to do so.
When did your family shifted base to Guntur?
We shifted to Guntur much before the British rule came to an end. Lack of business acumen to our forefathers too had shrunk the assets remained with the families. Local businessmen picked up some precious assets from our forefathers at cheaper price. Subsequently, my grandfather Harihara Prasad and father Rama Bhanu Bhupal had acquired some assets in Madras (Chennai) and also in Guntur. These assets helped us shift base to Guntur.
Tell us your childhood memories in the family of Raja Vasireddy Venkatadri.
To my knowledge ours is the only palace (perhaps the only house) in the entire two town area in Guntur in those days. Our house is surrounded by the green fields for several kilometers. So we used to get the feeling of living in a fort in modern days (laughs).
What made the Rajas to construct a film theatre shunning forts?
Most of the zamindars from the state used to go to Madras to spend their leisure. They have developed contacts with film producers and financiers in those days. My grandfather’s association with film people made him ventured into this project. We have fond relationship with legendary actor and late chief minister N T Ramarao’s family which prompted us to continue in the field.
So you are forced to rule this theatre business?
No (Laughs)! My uncles used to look after the theatre and other family businesses as initially I did not like this film exhibition. I was back here heeding to the advice of my family astrologer. Once I came here, I renovated the theatre with best available facilities.
What was your actual goal and option?
I have completed my schooling from Hyderabad Public School (HPS). Union minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju is junior to me in HPS. I did engineering in electronics and started my own business in Madras. I have not taken away even a penny from my father. I am one of the foremost manufacturers of voltage stabilizers in the country three decades ago. As I wanted to stuck to the quality, the prices were little higher than the cheaper brands. That made me struggle to sustain in the market. But never wanted to compromise on quality and business ethics.
What is your perception of the new capital city, Amaravati?
There is no doubt that Chandrababu Naidu is an able administrator. However, building capital city is no mean job. He can be a successful only when his team performs well. I have read lot into the history to know as to how Raja Venkatradri struggled to make the temple town Amaravati his capital and build the capital city. Amaravati is first planned city in the southern states. He planned widen roads and built houses for different sections of people. Majority of the roads were encroached by locals. Raja Venkatadri invited merchants from Nandigama, Penuganchiprolu, Bethavolu and Chintapalli to Amaravati to make it a sustainable and livable city. Capital city could sustain only when there is place for all sections including poor and down trodden.
Raja Venkatadri said to have completed construction of Amaravati in two years 1795-1797. Don’t you think it is taking too long in new Amaravati’s case despite having latest technology support?
Chandrababu Naidu had grand plans for new capital city. He has been saying that the capital city should be economic hub of the state. Roping in multinational companies is not so easy. It might be taking little more time than anticipated. Besides, CM can reach his goals only when all in his team matches his pace and vision. He himself admitted at family function (CM recently participated in Raja Venkatadri’s bicentenary function held in Guntur), that he was wondering as to how Raja built the capital city with such an ease in those days. However, Naidu is a very confident leader. I hope he will succeed.
Your take on Sadavarthy satram land (Swaroop is trustee of the satram) controversy?
There is no controversy at all. The government fetched decent price in the initial auction. I would have been more happy had the auction fetched much better price. The officials should not have opened the sealed tenders before beginning of the open auction. Except this minor technical flaw, absolutely there is nothing wrong with the authorities or the price we got.
Any suggestions to protect historical structures in the capital city?
I have requested the chief minister to protect all the historical structures by infusing little fund. Chintapalli fort, the original seat of power of Raja Venkatadri is still intact and can be a major archeological site if beautified and protected properly.
Any plans to jump into politics?
No way. We are not even dreaming of it. We are doing our bit to the society through our own trusts.
What about your children
My son Eswar Sarith is a trained commercial pilot. He cherished his dream of becoming of a pilot. He is staying in Mumbai. My daughter, Revathi Lakshmi Sravanthi, the first girl child in the family of Raja Venkatadri, had also settled in US. None of them have any plans to back and enter into active public life.