He was elected thrice to the undivided Andhra Pradesh Assembly in 1985, 1989 and 1994 from Metpalli in his native Karimnagar district of Telangana. Rao was floor leader of BJP in the Legislative Assembly from 1985 to 1998.
He successfully contested the Lok Sabha poll in 1998 and was re-elected from Karimnagar in 1999 and found a berth in Vajpayee's Cabinet.
However, Rao had lost the recent Lok Sabha election from Karimnagar. He was president of the then Andhra Pradesh unit of BJP in 1999.
A member of the BJP's student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), he was elected as president of the student body at Osmania University Law College in 1972.
He was arrested under the MISA Act during the Emergency in 1975 and a played key role in the Jan Sangh and in BJP subsequently.
He undertook a 'padayatra' in 1998 for construction of irrigation project on Godavari river to prevent wastage of water. Rao also led an agitation demanding official celebration of September 17 as Telangana Liberation Day (from Nizam rule).