Congress MPs face dilemma at Telangana junction
By G S Vasu | Published: 20th November 2012 09:20 AM |
It’s the first chilly evening of winter in this heartland of Telangana, and a small crowd has gathered at a function hall to celebrate the investiture of the newly-elected office-bearers of the local Padmashali community. The MP from Karimnagar is lost among the bobbing heads on the dais. You don’t notice him until he picks up the mike.
Ponnam Prabhakar is in his element, and he strains his vocal chords to tell the gathering how important it is for the backward classes to work together to force political parties to give them due recognition. “You cant remain where you are and expect any party to offer you positions of power,” he tells them. He does not cite his own case, but it is understood: he rose from being an NSUI leader in the 1980s to being the MP of a Velama-dominated constituency.
In almost a dozen elections that have taken place in this constituency since the Emergency, Ponnam’s victory in 2009 was only the second instance of a BC winning against the odds. The other exception was in 1996 when L Ramana of the TDP defeated the Congress stalwart J Chokka Rao. In all other elections, this seat has always returned a member of the privileged class: M Satyanarayana Rao of the Congress in the 1970s, Ch Vidyasagar Rao of the BJP in the 1990s and K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) of the TRS in the last decade. The parties have changed, the flavour of each election has been different, but the outcome has been the same.
The sentiment of the season is Telangana, and has been so since Dec. 9, 2009. Ponnam is a staunch votary of separate statehood for the region, and is acknowledged for it. As you criss-cross the villages of this district, beginning from Bandankal, 20 km from Siddipet, and right into the district HQ, nice things are said about the MP. But Ponnam’s supporters worry for him. Will they return him? The answer is conditional: Not if he remains in the Congress, and maybe if he quits the party. It’s a hard choice for Ponnam to quit a party in which he has spent 25 years, and throw himself into an election in which at least two other political parties are plugging the Telangana line. He could join them, but where does he fit in in their pecking order? And then, he is a BC in Velamaland.
Ponnam’s dilemma is common to almost all the other Telangana Congress MPs today. To jump is easy, to land on one’s feet is the difficult part.
The Telangana sentiment is hard to miss on the waysides of Karimnagar. It comes to you as you share a cup of a tea at a highway kiosk, as an aside from the farmer sifting through the maize cobs damaged in the recent rains, or as political analysis from a young graduate driving an autorickshaws because he can’t get a job. Who cares who brings Telangana, but come it must.
While their resolve for a separate state is firm, yet they don’t their hide their disappointment with the TRS for not bringing it sooner, particularly its on-off fervour for agitations. At Nanapur village, tea vendor Venkat complains about KCR: “We have to get up and fight when he wants us to and stop when he wants us to.”
The voters of Karimnagar make light of the dilemmas facing Ponnam and his ilk in the Congress. “Let them resign and form another front if they don’t want to join the TRS. We will elect them again,” promises farmer Srinivas Reddy as he packs his maize harvest into bags at Bandakal. And how would poor old Ponnam win without the backing of a major party? Pat comes the answer: “Haven’t the people of Nagarkurnool elected Nagam Janardhan Reddy though he did not join TRS and contested as an Independent?”
Some 50 km away, Swamy, president of the Ghambiraraopet MPTC, who hitched a ride with this correspondent, lays out the calculus for Ponnam: It will be difficult for the TRS to attack Ponnam if he resigned and contested as an Independent.
Ponnam has been active in fighting for a T state while doing all that could be done for the constituency: a special train to Tirupati, electricity sub-stations and model schools in two dozen mandals.
A genuine fighter for Telangana can count on the voter, he says. Plus, there’s a “local feeling” within the broad Telangana regional identity. Ask anyone about B Vinod Kumar, the TRS nominee who was defeated by Ponnam last time, and they immediately point out, “Oh, he’s from Warangal.”
And what of the two padayatris currently pussyfooting around the Telangana issue, Chandrababu Naidu and Sharmila Reddy? The voters of rural Karimnagar seem to have no time for lip sympathy on Telangana, nor in any talk of a placatory package.
”We’ll hear out Chandrababu Naidu when he comes and we will go to see Sharmila. We will take whatever money each party gives. But our vote will be for Telangana,” declares Srinivas Reddy, who did his B. Com (computers) but now runs an auto for living at Purkial village, 25 km from Karimnagar on the state highway.
Adds Balaiah of Venkatapur village on the outskirts of the weaver town of Sircilla: Let Delhi convene an all-party meeting and let it be telecast live. We’ll then know who stands where on Telangana.”
As you travel from the temple town of Vemulawada to Muslim-dominated Korutla, you will find a bus shelter at Konaipally village with the board indicating that it was built under Naidu’s pet scheme, Janmabhoomi. It is one of the few traces of a party that was once dominant in this region.
The local MLA, Ch Ramesh Babu, an NRI, was elected in 2009 on a TDP ticket but moved to the TRS after 2009. The fact that he resigned for the T cause was enough for the people to elect him, despite the fact that he spends most of his time in Germany.
Next to the bus shelter, there is a small portion of a pillar that once had the Praja Rajyam flag flying from it. At the height of the Telangana agitation post-2009, local people forced a few PRP activists to demolish the pillar. The small part of it that is left is covered with a cloth and the owner of a chicken center uses it as a butcher’s block to cut the chicken into small pieces.
Says a bystander Ravi, with obvious relish, “That’s what will become of parties and politicians who do not support a T state.”
Government schemes mean nothing to the people. Congress MPTC Swamy gamely tried to list the welfare schemes -- Indiramma houses, pattas, pensions, etc -- and was stopped in mid-sentence by the riposte: “Are you giving it from your pocket?”
People do remember the schemes launched by the late YSR but they also remember his infamous statement after the 2009 that one might need a “passport” to visit Telangana if the state is divided. In Muslim-dominated pockets in towns such as Korutla, talk of a MIM-YSR Congress combine evokes some support but too little to swing the game.