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What had begun as a peaceful protest on October 14, 1966, soon changed course and turned violent

It was on October 14 in 1966 that T. Amrutha Rao, former MLA of Tadikonda constituency in Guntur district, had launched an indefinite fast demanding that the Central government set up a steel plant in Visakhapatnam.

Amrutha Rao had fasted for 20 days in the Port City. What had begun as a peaceful protest soon changed its course and turned violent.

Seventeen persons had been killed in mob violence. Properties of the Railways and other Central government establishments had been destroyed.

Even as violence continued, the protesters raised slogans such as “Save Amrutha Rao” and “Visakha Ukku – Andhrula Hakku.”

As the State plunged into a turmoil, Indira Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister then, had announced at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting on October 31, 1966, that the government would consider the matter favourably and urged Amrutha Rao to end his fast.

The Cabinet Sub-Committee had later recommended the setting up of the steel plant in Visakhapatnam.

Later, Indira Gandhi had announced in Lok Sabha that the fifth steel plant of the country would be set up in Visakhapatnam.

On November 3, 1966, the Union government had “in principle” accepted the proposal.

Hours later, the then Chief Minister, Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, had reached Visakhapatnam by a chartered flight and offered a glass of orange juice to Amrutha Rao and enabled him to break his fast. Soon after, Amrutha Rao was rushed to the King George Hospital and provided emergency oxygen support.

“My grandfather was firm in his demand and drew inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi. He had set out to Visakhapatnam on October 14 and launched an indefinite fast opposite the Collector’s office. As the State plunged into a turmoil, he had convinced the then District Collector, Abid Hussain, to pause the shooting orders. His agitation had sparked instant protests and prompted many leaders to set up local committees. The 15 Members of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh had represented the matter to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,” said T. Mohan Gandhi, grandson of Amrutha Rao and president of the Gandhi Mission International Society of India.

The foundation stone for the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant had been laid on January 20, 1971. The construction had begun in the year 1979.

Later, Amrutha Rao had risen in the ranks of the Congress and was elected as the first MLA of Tadikonda (SC) constituency in 1978. Later, he was nominated as the first Chairman of the A.P. Scheduled Castes Finance Corporation. Amrutha Rao had died in 1989 in penury.

In Guntur, where Amrutha Rao had spent his early childhood, a bronze statue and a park named after him was set up in the year 2008. Former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy had sanctioned ₹78 lakh for the purpose. He had also announced that October 21 should be celebrated as ‘Amrutha Rao jayanthi’.

Grandson’s appeal to Jagan

After 55 years, when the demand for saving Visakha Steel Plant was getting louder again, Mr. Mohan said, “Most steel plants in the country have captive mines, and so operational cost of running the VSP may remain high. I urge Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy to use his good offices and persuade the Union government to merge the VSP into the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC).”