On Andhra roads, drama unfolds in three acts
By G S Vasu
Published: 13th Oct 2013 06:00:00 AM
Sonia, Villain in Andhra Talkies
Weather advisory for Seemandhra for April-May, 2014: The “depression” in the Bay of Bengal is likely to develop into a severe cyclonic storm. Congress camps will definitely be wiped out. Shift to safer homes.
“The best option for Congressmen is to declare for themselves a political holiday for five years. Those who have the option of joining YSRC or Telugu Desam, may do so without losing time”— an aged family member of an Andhra minister thus summed up the political situation in the region after the Congress decided to divide the State.
He has a reason. The disgust among people over the manner in which the Congress-ruled Central and state governments have been functioning for five years has turned into hatred. As one travels in the hinterland of Andhra, one can hear people using choicest of abuses, unprintable, for Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Posters derisive of Congress MPs are commonplace. But, make no mistake. The Congress would have been an object of hate even if it had not come out with the division proposal. “Even otherwise, we will not vote for Congress. See how prices are going up. Land allotted for weaker sections before YSR died are yet to be distributed. Even the subsidy towards gas cylinders is not being remitted properly,” complains Nageswara Rao, a Yadava farmer, sitting on a cement platform outside a shop at Punadipadu village in Penamalur constituency.
Ask anyone in any village or town as to who is responsible for separation of the state. Pat comes the reply: Congress and primarily, Sonia. “Every other party may have given letters one way or the other. But, who took the decision? Is it not Congress?” reasons Addanki Nageswara Rao of Kanagala in Bapatla Lok Sabha constituency. Cut across to Penumantra on the way to Tanuku. Dharma Raju, a Madiga, accuses Congress MPs of behaving like slaves. “They are falling at her feet and making grand statements. Shameless fellows!” he fumes.
The villain has been identified but whether the 2014 election movie will have one or more heroes is something that is not clear.
“That the Congress is dead is known. But, whether it will be YSRC or TDP, we don’t know,” admits Swarajyam, a guard at Mogulturu, native of Union Minister Chiranjeevi, where he is detested.
It is apparent that Congress knew its game in AP was up. When you can’t win, muddy waters and leave players in confusion, which is what the Congress seems to have done. Sooner than later, fissures within the Seemandhra camps in parties will widen as they wrangle to share the booty generated out of the Samaikyandhra movement.
For now, notwithstanding his diatribe against the party, Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy is still not emerging a hero. “We appreciate what he says. But he should have opposed the proposal the moment he came to know of it. What is the point now?” is a common refrain. His repeated challenges to the leadership, however, have damaged the prospects of the party, already blamed for the bifurcation move. But, the scene could change dramatically if he sacrifices his chair for the sake of United Andhra, enough evidence of which is already in his own words.
This throws up the question if there is another wheel within the wheel. For the “suspects” in Congress who have only been waiting for the right time to shift loyalties to YSRC or TDP, the division proposal has come in handy to justify the switch. The problem, if at all, is for “loyalists” or those who cannot move. Will Kiran emerge as their messiah? Does he have it in him to pick up the gauntlet? The answers may come out as the bifurcation politics gains momentum.
Water Fuels Panic Attack
It’s fear psychosis.As you cross the border between Telangana and Coastal Andhra in Nalgonda, you come across Tallapally. It’s the first of hundreds of villages that are served by the right branch of Nagarjunasagar, Andhra Pradesh’s first major irrigation project. Farmer Satyanarayana, ill for the last three days but tending to his one-acre farm, doesn’t care whether the state is divided as long as his farm continues to get water. “Water is everything. We can’t live without it. Let them solve water issues first.” You hear the refrain 500 km away, at Gavarlapalem in Tanuku constituency in Coastal Andhra. Farmer Adinarayana owns three acres, and water is all he cares for. “We have nothing to do with Hyderabad,” he says. “Water is the issue.” Opposite to where Adinarayana sits, you see a poster lampooning Botcha Satyanarayana. The PCC president, seen as doing nothing to stop the bifurcation, is shown in the attire of a woman. Another poster hails Jagga Reddy, the only Telangana MLA who supports an united Andhra.
A staffer of Gramasri, an NGO in Chirala, echoes fears of the people of Coastal Andhra. “It will take years to develop a city like Hyderabad. Who knows how much funds we’ll get? What future will our students have if they are shut out of Hyderabad?” At a village outside Macherla in Guntur, farmer Sambasiva Rao says: “I’ve never been to Hyderabad. But where will our educated sons and daughters go?”
These are questions you hear all along the right branch of Nagarjunasagar on Krishna river, or for that matter anywhere in the Godavari basin. Some fears are genuine, some perceived. The fear factor is the result of the Seemandhra agitation that has been going on for 59 days since Congress gave assent to division of the state. In every mandal headquarter town in Coastal Andhra, one finds a protest tent pitched by local committees, largely apolitical groups that have coalesced all across to stop the bifurcation. In each tent, five to 10 protesters, representing various social sections, hunker down each day for a day of fasting, accompanied by songs extolling the unity of the Telugu race. All government machinery and transportation systems have come to a standstill thanks to the strike by government staff. But the agitation is so calibrated as not to affect the livelihood of daily wagers. Shops close for an hour or two to make a point and then it is business as usual.
In Karamchedu, a village fabled for producing millionaires and notorious for the massacre of Dalits, I asked Nayudamma, a tobacco farmer, “Why will anyone be asked to leave Hyderabad after bifurcation?” The farmer admonished me. “Have you not heard what was said on television? They (Telangana leaders) have already declared that Hyderabad is theirs and that employees from Coastal Andhra will have to leave.” He pointed out that he used to cultivate tobacco at Mahadevapur in Warangal district of Telangana and never in 40 years had he faced any difficulty on account of his being from Coastal Andhra. So why be apprehensive now? Nayudamma blames Telangana leaders for inciting fears but to any seasoned observer of bifurcation politics it is not difficult to discern the unstated fear that division of Andhra will change the gatekeepers of the processes of government recruitment and award of contracts, which are now to the advantage of some sections and may not be so later.
Before entering Guntur, I met Srinivas, a Nagarjunasagar contractor, and asked him about the fear that water will not be released downstream if the state is bifurcated. He told me, “How can we keep the water if the dam is full? The allocations are clear and water will have to be released accordingly into two canals—Left and Right.”
Down the road, at Angalur village in Macherla mandal, farmer Venkateswarlu is afraid that water will be impounded by Telangana people. Used to raising two/three crops in years of a good monsoon, he is threatened by the prospect of losing that privilege.
At Karamchedu though, kirana shop owner P Koteswara Rao tells you what is in the minds of many: “If the head of the family decides to split it, he will give details of the assets and then will explain how he intends to divide them. If the same method had been adopted, things would not have come to this pass.” It was something that Congress could have indeed done but chose not to, at least in respect of key areas like education, employment and water, when it came out with the July 30 announcement. However, there are also sections of people—farm workers, daily wagers, petty businessmen—who appeared unconcerned by the brouhaha. In fact, Seemandhra protests have been muted in areas that have no canal irrigation.
In Prakasam, people owning drylands are salivating over the prospect of real estate values soaring if the capital of Seemandhra comes up in and around Ongole.
You also notice those who believe that separation might be good for them. Outside Andhra Evangelical Church at Hyderpet, Dalit auto driver Raju says: “In my heart of hearts, I feel that division will be good. My children will gain.” He participates in the agitation, perhaps not to break ranks.
Jagan Faces Tough Questions, Naidu Tough Choices
Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, the man occupying Lotus Pond Residence: Faces internal problems, lack of coordination among key cadre, missing euphoria over his release from jail and importantly, the big question over his anti-Congress/Sonia position—the foundation on which he built his edifice.
N Chandrababu Naidu, Road 65, Jubilee Hills: Ahead of do or die battle in 2014, the two-time CM can take solace from signs of an upswing but needs to build greater support. Tie-up with Modi-led BJP might help turn the tide but the extent of his gains from the alliance will depend on whether the state remains united or divided.
As you travel along the districts fed by Krishna and Godavari, the only aspect that is clear is there is no wave in favour of either TDP or YSRC, with the Congress, in any case, reduced to being an also-ran.
Interestingly, none of these two parties are gaining from whatever stand they have taken on the issue of division, whether it is Jagan’s demand that the state be kept united or Naidu’s that equal justice be done to regions.
Just as the ‘breaking news’ of bail to Jagan was being flashed on TV screens, we were at a coffee centre in the heart of Tenali in Guntur. There were about half-a-dozen people sipping tea or coffee. They watched the news and walked away. In the days that followed, there was no evidence of extreme jubilation over the release — barring one motorcycle rally in Narsapur and a couple of flexis on the outskirts of Vijayawada. However, in the midst of the ongoing agitation, Jagan’s release after 16 months in jail became a subject of animated discussion in almost all protest camps.
Ramesh, a political observer in Narsapur, gave me this insight: “Rahul can never emerge a good leader as long as he works under the shadow of his mother. Likewise, Jagan emerged a hero when he took on the might of the dynasty. But, if people sense that he left the keys of Lotus Pond at 10, Janpath to secure bail, their perception is bound to change.”
Ramesh also throws up another question that is playing on minds—the sanctity of Samaikyandhra slogan embraced by YSRC. “Jagan’s party has virtually abandoned the Telangana region which has 119 seats. In other words, his focus is only on the 175 seats in Andhra and Rayalaseema. Does it gel with the united AP slogan?”
Overall, it appears TDP and YSRC are on an even keel but that is for now. Whether the state will remain united or divided and how political equations play out in the coming months will determine which of the two will gain the edge, closer to the elections.