Monday, June 24, 2024

Wearing multiple hats on- and off-field

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Jagan Mohan Rao Arishnapally is a multi-faceted personality wearing multiple hats, including as president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, secretary-general of the Handball Federation of India, chairman of Indwell Group of Companies, chairman of Akshara International School, and chairman of Ace Media. In a conversation with Naveena Ghanate of The Pioneer, he speaks about his childhood, journey with the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, vision for HCA, and more.

Family of agriculturists
I come from the village of Dandumailaram in Rangareddy. My educational journey began in a government school, where I studied in Telugu medium until my 10th grade. Moving on to Hyderabad, I opted for Commerce, Economics, and Civics and pursued my Intermediate education at Chaitanya College. Later, I did B Com from AV College. After some years, I pursued MBA from Osmania University. We are three siblings. I, my sister Shailaja Rao and brother Madan Mohan Rao together contribute to Akshara School. Family is my pillar of strength. My father Narayana Rao’s livelihood was rooted in agriculture and contracting work in the village. He actively engaged in political circles, particularly with the Telugu Desam Party. Our family has deep agricultural roots, and I followed suit, engaging in farming tasks until I left my native village in 1987. My mother Laksmi Bai was also involved in agricultural activities. At one point, we managed 40 acres of land and owned numerous cattle. However, the severe drought of 1990-94 led to a financial crisis. During my undergraduate years — 1991 to 1994, I aspired to pursue an MBA in Pune but financial constraints thwarted that plan.

Beatings for bunking school
During my childhood, my obsession with cricket often resulted in me getting beatings from my parents, particularly mother, who always disapproved of the sport. Although my father’s protestations were less frequent, I still faced the consequences of prioritising cricket over my education. I would skip school to play cricket frequently, leaving my bag behind and retrieving it later with the help of a friend. However, one day, my father discovered my truancy and took away my bag from school. Later, when I returned home, it led to a lot of beatings. On another occasion, during a tournament with a neighboring village, I ran into my father during fielding while he was en route his farm. Despite his insistence that I return home, I begged for a chance to finish the ongoing game in vain. I was forcefully taken home and disciplined.

Association with RSS
I grew up in a rural area, facing challenges that come with it, and perhaps indulging in a bit of mischief along the way. However, these experiences taught me valuable life lessons. Between classes 6 and 10, I juggled responsibilities such as managing our family’s kirana store, assisting with agricultural tasks, and actively participating in social activities within the village. I was involved with the Pragathi Yuvajana Sangam Youth Association, which introduced me to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. I used to attend RSS shakas regularly. During my college years, I joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad. During the Mandal Commission era, we were engaged in the Kamandal Commission activities. In Hyderabad, I participated in various activities organized by students’ organizations, including calling for bandhs and protests. Although I later transitioned to the business world, I continued to support organizations like ABVP and RSS, whether through financial means or by providing coverage.

Wanted to be CI
My childhood ambition was to become a police officer, specifically a Circle Inspector. In my village, I would proudly proclaim myself as ‘a member of the police force’, eventually earning the moniker ‘Ameen saab’ from the local people. My fascination for uniforms, especially police attire, remains strong to this day. Despite holding an NCC certificate, the absence of job opportunities in law enforcement dashed my hopes.  As I approached the age limit for recruitment, a notification finally surfaced, but ill health and lack of fitness prevented me from seizing the opportunity. While my passion for sports, NCC, and even my academic pursuits were all oriented towards realizing my dream of joining the police force, I attended classes of DGP Ragala. With all my efforts, I could not enter the police force. I slipped into a six-month bout of depression.

Cable TV business
I have cultivated a passion for keeping up with technology. In 1994, I ventured into the cable business from Kukatpally with 30-40 connections. Within a few years, by 1999, I had nearly 10,000 connections. Soon, I delved into the internet business with VSNL, earning a significant amount from both internet and cable connections by 1999-2000, which felt like a substantial achievement. I have always believed that I was born with an entrepreneurial mindset. During the rise of cable TV business, I founded Ace Media. I might have been among the first in Siti Cable to provide live coverage of Vinayaka Chavithi in Hyderabad. In 2001, when only a few channels were available, (former chief minister) K Chandrasekhar Rao organized a large meeting in Siddipet and wanted it to be televised to the public. With no live telecast available, we sourced a large dish from Delhi, which took five days to arrive. We successfully broadcast the event live to 150 cable channels. I continued such endeavors until the government changed. Eventually, I got the opportunity to work with Ace Media during the BRS regime. While some may assume it was due to my proximity to Harish, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Drawn towards agitation
I was deeply involved in ABVP, and during that time, Pradeep Rao, who later contested from Peddapalli, served as the BJYM president. He organized a Rath Yatra for the interlinking of the Godavari and Krishna rivers. I enthusiastically participated in it, chanting ‘Jai Telangana’. Simultaneously, another movement for Telangana, led by Indra Reddy, began in Ibrahimpatnam. My father had connections with Indra Reddy, and when he initiated the Telangana movement, he released a CD of songs that drew me towards the cause of statehood. Additionally, my relocation to Kukatpally brought me face-to-face with the disparities between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The stark differences I observed during my cable connection visits cemented my support for Telangana. When KCR launched his agitation in 2001, I attended his meeting at Jala Drushyam, sitting alongside my friend. Harish Rao noticed my regular attendance and entrusted me with party responsibilities. I served as the party’s youth general secretary and traveled extensively for party engagements. In 2007, when the Rajashekar Reddy regime posed challenges for party leaders, Harish Rao advised me to step back from party activities to safeguard my business interests. Taking his advice, I halted my day-to-day involvement in party affairs and focused on my business endeavors.

When Subhash Ghai called
Since 2001, I have always carried a hand camera to every meeting, ensuring to capture every moment. Alongside this, I also ran a cassette and CD business. Every event I attended was meticulously recorded, converted to CDs, and distributed for free. Many of the archived videos featuring KCR are from my collection. In 2006, I took charge of producing the documentary ‘Still seeking justice’. We distributed 10,000 CDs of it to politicians, celebrities, and others. Each CD prominently displayed my name and Ace Media. One day, I received a call from Subhash Ghai, whose identity I was not aware of then. He had watched the documentary and expressed his desire to support Telangana, requesting to speak with KCR. I facilitated the meeting between them, despite KCR also being unfamiliar with him. Eventually, they met in Delhi.

Contested as MP in Anantapur
In 2004, during the elections, there was a tie-up between TRS and the Congress. TRS had 46 MLA seats and six MP seats. Our symbol was the bus, and according to Election Commission of India rules, we needed to contest a minimum number of MP seats to retain our symbol. Concerned that contesting in Telangana might lead to a loss of votes, KCR decided to contest in Andhra Pradesh instead. He reached out to me and a few other trustworthy individuals for support. At that time, Revanth Reddy was also associated with BRS. Six of us, including myself, contested in Rayalaseema. I contested in Anantapur. Revanth, who was better off financially, generously provided me with a car, a Qualis with a number 0009, and a driver. He even gave me the money needed to file nominations. On the day of the vote count, we received 1.20 lakh votes. The competition between the Congress and the TDP was intense, and with the introduction of EVMs, the defeated TDP candidate, frustrated by the narrow margin of loss, threatened me with harm. Interestingly, KCR remarked that our significant vote count indicated not only the support of Telanganites but also that of the people from Andhra Pradesh. Despite minimal campaigning, people voted for us.

Setting up Akshara School
Due to my busy life, my wife Saritha Rao, feeling restless, expressed her desire to start a business. With her strong academic background and postgraduate qualifications, she aimed to establish a school. Initially, I suggested she gain experience by working in a school. She spent a year at Vignan School before deciding to pursue her dream of starting her own. Appreciating her enthusiasm, I, along with a few friends, embarked on establishing a school on our property in Kukatpally. Well before the completion of the school’s building, we were inundated with 700-800 admissions, indicating its potential profitability. Over the years, the number of admissions continued to grow steadily. What started as a single school in Kukatpally expanded to include branches in Suchitra Chintal, LB Nagar, and eventually, we grew to operate eight branches with over 10,000 students. The name ‘Akshara’, symbolising education, was chosen by me and my family to encapsulate our commitment to providing quality education. Through Asara Foundation, helped in developing school in my Dandumailaram.

Blend of love and arranged marriage
Our marriage is a blend of love and arrangement. My wife happens to be my uncle’s daughter. I was determined to marry her, though her father initially had reservations. I proposed the idea to her, and she agreed. After three years, I suggested to my elder uncle to formalize our marriage rather than continue portraying it as a love marriage. In 2000, we tied the knot. My wife is incredibly active and intelligent, and together, we make a wonderful pair. In 2007, we were blessed with twins, a son and a daughter, born just two minutes apart. Our son Pridhvi Mohan Rao attends Bengaluru International School, while our daughter Manvi Mohan Rao is enrolled in Srinidhi International School. As a father, I am not overly strict, but our dynamics with our children mirror those of many Telangana parents.

Becoming sports administrator
Just when I was aspiring to become a sports administrator, the Telangana Handball Association approached me seeking assistance in organizing an international event. After lending a helping hand, with support from others, I was nominated as the president of the association. Additionally, I provided financial support to various sports bodies across Telangana, including throwball, athletics, mountaineering, boxing, and table tennis. For the KCR Cup, I was appointed as the chairman of the organizing committee. During a T20 tournament in Telangana, the Telangana Premier League was organized. I owned a team, the Medak Mavericks, and we were runners-up. Similarly, when a league was established in Mumbai by Sachin Tendulkar, I also fielded a team in that competition.

Vision for HCA
Cricket, being particularly lucrative, remained a focus, and I aimed to become the president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA). I actively worked towards this goal, believing it would happen in due time. During the tumultuous period within the HCA, I endeavored to bring about normalcy. With no suitable candidate for the presidency, one group urged me to contest. Despite winning by a single vote, my victory was decisive. Interestingly, throughout my life, the number 63 has held significance, appearing in my house number, phone number, bank account details, and even reflecting the number of votes I received. As the head of the HCA, my vision is ambitious and yet clear: to see 3-4 players from Telangana representing the Indian cricket team, and 15-20 members in IPL teams hailing from our state. I aim to establish a sprawling 100-acre stadium in Hyderabad, along with a minimum of 15 acres for gymkhana grounds in each of the erstwhile 10 districts. My tenure seeks to restore the glory of the HCA to its former splendor.

100-acre stadium
Despite the general trend of empty stands during non-test matches, Hyderabad’s love for chai, biryani, and cricket ensures packed stadiums, drawing crowds of up to 1 lakh spectators. When test match happened, people complained of toilets, but by the time IPL matches came, people were happy with amenities provided. At the HCA Annual General Body meeting held on February 18, a remarkable transformation was witnessed. Despite challenges in recruiting top players post-Laxman era, emerging talents like Siraj and Tilak show promise, yet we strive for more. When I met Jay Shah, his encouragement was unwavering. Spending four to five hours with me, he discussed various aspects, offering guidance on the necessary steps to be taken. He emphasized the importance of maintaining cricket activities to uplift Hyderabad’s reputation and eliminate any negative associations. I boldly requested another 100-acre stadium, to which he chuckled, remarking on the audacity of my request in our first meeting. Nonetheless, he expressed interest in exploring the Shamshabad area with government assistance for potential development. With the acquisition of land, realizing this vision is indeed feasible, and I am determined to make it a significant asset during my tenure.

Rapid fire
Fav colour – Black
Fav movies – Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava, Siva
Fav actress- Aishwarya Rai
Fav Song- Jabilli kosam akasham, Telangana agitation
Fav food – Paradise chicken biryani
Quote that you use – Sky is the limit
Advise given to you – Don’t be scared of anything
Happiest moment – when I became father to twins
Sad moment – when I realised I cannot be a policeman, nor become IPS
Fav sportsperson – Chetan Sharma. I was a bowler.
Fav holiday destination- Dubai
Hobbies – I love to cook
Bad habit – Anger
Good habit – Friendly person
Ambition – I want to be BCCI president.

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