The leaders of three parties vying for power in the next Andhra elections have hit the road, in Lottos like Chandrababu Naidu, and Sharmila, and in an official car like Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy. The chief minister’s meets are more like ad hoc complaint centres. Meet Mahesh from Paturu village. “I tethered my three buffaloes to the borewell in my farm last week. When I went back there in the evening, I found they had been stolen. I lodged a complaint with the police. But they are not showing any interest,” he says.
It’s tough being the chief minister. No one asks Naidu and Sharmila to find buffaloes. Congress workers toiled to rustle up the crowds and whip up a festive mood for the three-day Indiramma Baata programme this week. They bused in voters from far and near, and town squares in Dubbak, Toopran, Medak, Narayankhed, Zaheerabad, Sadasivpet, Sangareddy and Patancheru were given the festoonery fit for a chief minister. And with K Chandrasekhar Rao taking a breather from agitational politics, TRS cadres did not turn up in any strength to shout down Kiran Kumar’s raspy spiel.
But the crowd was a distracted or disgruntled lot. Take this shepherd from Rudraram village buffeted about by the milling thousands at Narayankhed. He is 75 and his two sons have abandoned him. He has a few sheep, tending to which makes his day. “I have nothing else to do at home so I came here,” he said above the mikes blaring songs of glorious government works.
Such being the quality of the crowd, the chief minister’s litany of work done, targets attained and vistas yet to be reached hardly reach the ears of the self-help group women in the audience busy tending to babies. “Earlier you used to go to your husband or son or brother and seek money if you had to participate in Batukamma or visit a jatara. Now, it is the men who are coming to you seeking money, isn’t it?” the chief minister asks and gets a scattered ayes. Pink Panther KCR may be hibernating, but an undercurrent of Telangana sentiment is hard to miss in the crowd. Many want Telangana but they are here to pick up a ration card or too along the way. Tenant farmer Rami Reddy from Paturu, a village near Toopran, said he will vote for Telangana anyway but he is here to see if he can get a crop loan waiver in the meantime. “I grow cotton on my six acres. This year, I lost most of my crop. The CM says tenant farmers too will get loan and interest waivers too but where is it?”
But the crowd is large and the CM is happy. He is not at his best while reeling off dreary stats from the lectern but quite in his element when he gets close to the crowd and does the touchy-feely stuff that has now become de riguer for politicians on the stump. Even Chandrababu Naidu tests his lungs on a blacksmith’s bellows these days. So Kiran gets up close and personal with the throng, pumping handshakes and giving avuncular pats on the head, a campaign style patented by the late YSR.
Lately, Kiran Kumar has added hot rhetoric to his arsenal of campaign tactics, berating Naidu and Jagan for an assortment of mischievous acts and promises. “Chandrababu, how are you going to waives loans amounting to `70,000 crore?” he asks the TDP president who is 300 miles away. And to Vijayamma he has the poser: If your son is so good, why is he in prison?”