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'You will be killed, go back to Hindustan' - The Sunday Times of India

Pushpa Iyengar ()
27 July 1997

Title: 'You will be killed, go back to Hindustan'
Author: Pushpa Iyengar
Publication: The Sunday Times of India
Date: July 27, 1997

He is Germany's first non-white mayor. And, he's an Indian. More to the
point, a Hyderabadi. But his way of ending every sentence with a "Ja"
leaves little doubt as to where he has spent most of his life.

When he was elected the mayor of Altlandsberg, a town near Berlin, in 1993,
Dr Ravindra Gujjula was the only foreigner in this historic place of 6,000
people. Today, the town boasts of seven or eight foreigners including a
Brit. "We are planning to start a cricket team," Ravindra grins.

In fact it is because he wants to continue his "connection with foreigners"
that he will choose to "remain partyless" if he decides to go into politics
when his tenure as mayor ends in a little over a year from now.

The decision of course depends on whether he chooses politics at all. Or
decides to opt for medicine full-time (he is a successful cardiac surgeon).
In the toss-up, if politics wins, he will probably strike an independent
stance, as he did in the recent parliamentary elections when he refused a
ticket from the National Law Party. Difficult though it may be this time
around, when both the Christian Democratic Union and the Greens want him to
join them.

Mind you, with a father who was an MLA thrice and an MP for a term,
politics is not new turf for Gujjula Jr. But there is a vast difference
between fighting on home ground and in a foreign country. As his tale

In 1989, when the winds of glasnost swept through Germany, Ravindra decided
to try his luck in the local elections. His application was rejected
despite the fact he qualified because of his five-year domicile. He shot
off a letter of protest to the then chief of election commission, Egon
Kranz. The protest cost him his job as the head of the cardiac station at
the district hospital. During the lay-off, he came to India to look for a

Not finding a suitable one, he went back. With east Germans crossing the
border in droves, hospitals needed doctors and Ravindra was back at the
same district hospital in the out-patient department. Working here led to
a fierce desire to "represent people in the health industry".

When the local elections came round again in 1990 (the 1989 poll was
cancelled), he contested as an independent and became one of the 15
councillors. In December 1993, the local poll was called again, but not
being a German citizen, he could not contest. In his application for
citizenship he made it clear that if he wasn't granted citizenship before
the elections, he didn't "want it". In a rare gesture, usually made to
football stars, he was granted citizenship in four months. He threw his hat
in the ring for mayoral candidate and emerged the winner.

"I did not realise the implications of the victory till I went to take
charge at the Rathaus (town hall)," he says. The place was choc-a-bloc
with journalists from 25 countries agog to meet the man who became
Germany's first non-white mayor at a time when parts of the country had
seen attacks against immigrants. "I gave 43 interviews on the first day,"
he says. When walking to the town hall one day, he found a 12-member group
of Africans staring at the building. It turned out they were members of the
African National Congress and wanted to meet the mayor, who, incidentally
had organised a fund collection for Nelson Mandela while he was still in jail.

But making history has had its downside too. Apart from stacks of hate mail
from neo-Nazi and other right-wing groups, he once received a letter
written in blood in Hindi: "You will be killed; go back to Hindustan."
While doing a Sunday talk show, 20 of the phone-ins were threatening calls.
Even today, when Hitler's birthday comes round, he gets threatening calls
and letters. "No one is in a position to secure life. But the police do
patrol the area where I live and work," he says. But what he does ensure
is that his son Rico (18) and daughter Priya (14) are safe. If Rico has a
late night in Berlin, Ravindra picks him up rather than risk him coming
home on the metro alone.

His wife, currently pursuing a course in psychology at Berlin university,
has learnt to live with it. As she has learnt to live with him. Ulrike and
he "met on the road" and Cupid struck while the two were reading a map.
During those early days when he was a student at the University of
Greifswald and she at, Humboldt, romance was reserved for the weekends.
"But my teachers noticed that I cut classes every Monday morning," he says

By 1981, Ravindra got his Diplome Mediziner (the equivalent of the MBBS)
and decided to specialise in cardiology. In 1982, he and Ulrike got
married. "I was the first foreigner to visit her village," he remembers.
Did his in-laws accept him? "In the beginning they were tentative but
today I am my mother-in-law's pet," he smiles.

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