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Archive for September 2009

Is YS Jaganmohan worthy of his father?

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He surely looks like a match to his father, going by this Tehelka article:

Jagan Reddy is sprouted of this stock. In 2005, he was accused of orchestrating the murder of controversial TDP leader Paritala Ravindra. The police filed an FIR against him, but a CBI enquiry exonerated him. Still, many lesser stories abound of him unleashing his fury on police constables or inspectors who dared stand up to him. In one such incident, a police inspector caught several men hunting rabbits without license in Simhadripuram town. They turned out to be Jagan’s acolytes. When he landed up at the police station to rescue his friends, there was such a violent melee, the inspector locked himself inside the cell, refusing to come out.

Like Rayalseema, Sakshi channel too offers many clues about Jagan. A capacity for violence is only one of the attributes people ascribe to him – the other is meteoric wealth. In June 2008, two months after he had launched his Telugu newspaper, Sakshi, Jagan gave a proud interview to an online publication. “It feels great that Sakshi is currently the largest circulated Telugu daily with a 13 lakh circulation. What Eenadu achieved in 30 years we have accomplished in 60 days,” he said. According to this interview, he also said Deloitte had valued Sakshi at Rs 3,500 crores. But Sakshi newspaper is only part of it. Media professionals also marvel at the money Jagan poured into his television channel. Some quick ballparks tell their own story: an average national channel has 10-12 DSNGs (smaller versions of OB vans) because it is an expensive proposition. Jagan got one each for all 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh and for the four metro bureaus. Jagati Publications, which owns Sakshi newspaper and television, is only Jagan’s most visible venture. He also has interests in power generation plants, uranium and bauxite mining corporations, cement plants and SEZs. There are also real estate investments and mining interests in Karnataka, where he is closely associated with the famous ‘Reddy brothers’ of the mining lobby.

He might have gone through the public charade of asking people to stop clamouring to make him CM. But in private, unperturbed, Jagan continues to assert his right to the post. Meeting TEHELKA briefly at the chief minister’s camp office in Begumpet, Hyderabad, he talks candidly of how he is best placed to carry forward the dreams of his father. With YSR’s towering portraits behind him, he says: “I have observed him at close hand for many years now. I was there at the meetings when people thronged the house, when he went to the villages. I know more than anyone else how he conducted his affairs.”

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Written by jujung

September 19, 2009 at 6:09 PM

Using NREGA for political patronage

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The Congress governments are using the NREGA to benefit their party members and supporters. It has been transformed from a Govt program to a taxpayer funded Congress party program. The party members and their supporters are getting a preference for projects and works allotment.

Union Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Dr. C.P. Joshi wants to re-constitute the employment guarantee council filling up the 30 member council with Congress members, justifying this by saying, “We cannot give the strength and space to other parties.”

According to Mr. Botsa Satyanarayana, Minister for Panchayati Raj, road and drainage works worth Rs.1200 crore are to be taken up under the NREGS. Zilla parishads are being allotted Rs.700 crore for taking up the rural connectivity project and each mandal praja parishad Rs.50 lakh for taking up internal roads, drains and roads to fields etc. “The works shall be entrusted to the implementation-cum-monitoring committee constituted at the village panchayat level.

Loksatta has taken a strong exception to this move for subverting democracy by moving away from the elected panchayats to implement the projects. After already having faced criticism for scams in INDIRAMMA housing schemes, giving the implementation of crores worth of projects to nominated committees instead of elected panchayats hardly inspires any confidence. We can’t be very far from the truth in guessing it means more money from Govt coffers into party coffers.

Apart from this, it’s an open secret that a disproportionate share of the Govt handouts go to the party supporters, irrespective of which party is in power. And not to the actual people in need. This is a direct consequence of the political party in power having excessive control over the executive. And a weak law enforcement combined with a slow and inefficient judicial process completes the vicious circle.

Written by jujung

September 19, 2009 at 11:44 AM

Posted in Criticism, politics

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Families paid to claim YSR shock deaths

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India Today reports:

Families of the “victims” admitted that they were paid Rs 5,000 each by Congress leaders for funeral and other expenses. In return, they were told not to disclose how these people actually died. The Congress leaders also reportedly promised to secure the release of ex-gratia to the families once Jaganmohan became CM. Take, for instance, the death of 70-year-old Uppalaiah, a potter from the remote Lakshmipuram village of Parakala mandal. His poverty-stricken family stays in a small hut. On September 3 afternoon, a few hours after Reddy’s death was confirmed, Uppalaiah died.

His son Mallaiah claimed the old man had “suddenly died” of a heart attack on the day Reddy’s body was found. But, his wife Lakshamma said that Uppalaiah had been ailing for over a month and was suffering from breathlessness.

Inquiries revealed how local Congress leaders had got into the act to show the old man had died of shock following the news of Reddy’s accident. A local Congressman had called up a reporter of Sakshi television channel, owned by Jaganmohan, to say that Uppalaiah had died of a heart attack after watching the news of Reddy’s death on television.

Within minutes, this appeared on the scrolling on Sakshi TV. Then, other media organisations too picked up the news. The YSR shock deaths myth was slowly being built.

Further on the tactics of the student wing NSUI of Congress to create a hype for Jagan to be made the CM:

The death of 25-year-old Teegala Chiranjeevi at Peddammagadda in Hanamkonda is interesting. Local residents said he was a vagabond and mentally deranged. On September 5, he committed suicide by setting himself on fire.

Since there was no one to take care of him, local NSUI workers informed the media that the man had immolated himself demanding that Jaganmohan be made chief minister. The police, however, registered the case of suicide.

“We know that 90 per cent of these deaths are natural. But nobody would speak the truth either out of respect towards YSR or fear of reprisal from Congress leaders. The family members of these victims too do not reveal the facts because they have been promised ex gratia by the leaders,” a mandal parishad member said.

Loksatta’s JP, while talking about high-level corruption, responds to a caller’s question on the succession drama going on in the Congress: part 1, part 2 and part 3. The problem is not just restricted to any single party, but is pervasive across most states and traditional parties. The common man has long become accustomed to viewing elections as a competition for power between several individuals/families, rather than as a selection process for him to choose the best people to run the administration.

Written by jujung

September 17, 2009 at 5:58 AM

Andhra Pradesh: Beyond Media Images

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This article appeared in the Economic and Political Weekly, after YSR led Congress’ victory in the AP state assembly elections in 2004. This article very accurately warns against the media’s possible myth-making about YSR, just as it had done earlier with CBN. While the media-made myth about Babu lay shattered after his massive electoral defeat, YSR seems to have almost become God after his mid-term accidental death. In light of these events, it’s only appropriate to revisit his actual rise to political power before getting all misty-eyed by the media portrayals. The article also tells the interesting history of the origins of factionism in Rayalaseema.

YSR was forced to respond to this when Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta challenged him on it in a televised interview. Of course, YSR dismissed it as entirely untrue.

Andhra Pradesh: Beyond Media Images

Author: K. Balagopal
Publication: The Economic and Political Weekly
Date: June 12, 2004

Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the new chief minister has given the impression of being a man who cares for the classes neglected by Chandrababu Naidu’s model of development. Whether that is really so, is extremely doubtful. That those classes have reposed trust in the Congress Party under his leadership is clear: the issues of irrigation and employment appear to have contributed to the defeat of the Telugu Desam Party, augmented by the desire for a separate state in the Telangana region. Having realised his debt to the dissatisfaction, the new chief minister has already promised heavy investment in major irrigation projects and free power to farmers. And as for Telangana, YSR has made no secret of the fact that he has neither any understanding of the cause nor any sympathy for it.

Chandrababu Naidu’s defeat is the kind of event that lends itself so well to analysis by hindsight that the effort would be too tiresome. In any case, analysts attached to the Left parties have done that as ably as hindsight alone permits, and there is no need to add to their wisdom (by which it is not intended that they are altogether wrong). In fact, Naidu (or ‘Babu’ as he is known to his admirers in the state) is a classic instance of a phenomenon that the west is probably already very familiar with, but we are only just waking up to: a pervasive media creates a celebrity out of almost nothing, and then calls in experts to explain why its creation turned out to be nothing. Chandrababu is merely an ambitious political schemer who has managed to con quite a lot of intelligent people because he knows that their hunger for the image he has put on – a third world politician in the mould of a corporate executive spewing IT jargon and the verbiage of the World Bank’s development policy prejudices – is too acute for the normal functioning of their other senses.

This is an effort, in part, to introduce his successor. For if someone does not do so now, a new myth could soon be in the making, and if the analysts of Left parties participate in its creation, as a homage to coalition politics, one may have to spend a lot of time disabusing the public of it. It is so easy to clothe Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, MBBS with the image of the good doctor who has turned to politics to cure society, that even without the help of such expertise, the media may itself involuntarily do so. Reforms with a human face, which appears to be the current slogan of the Congress, suits the image so well.

The man is anything but a vendor of humane visages. His rise in politics has been accompanied by more bloodshed than that of any other politician in this state. Not bloodshed for some avowed ‘higher cause’, but bloodshed for the narrowest possible cause: the rise of one individual to political power and prominence. The recent elections may very well have meant many things in terms of popular aspirations, and one has no desire to be cynical on that score. But in the matter of the change of helmsmen, it has merely replaced a man who would find nothing too crooked if it is in his political interest, with one who would find nothing too brutal. And for both, the goal is the same: Power. Such precisely are the men neo-liberalism wishes to find in power in countries such as ours which it wants to subordinate to its logic and interests. It would be imprudent to regard this as an irrelevant consideration on the ground of the Congress Party’s avowal of a ‘human face’, for firstly that expression has no precise meaning, secondly Congressmen are known to be capable of changing course mid-stream, and thirdly India’s rulers irrespective of party have knowingly put themselves in a position where they have little leeway in matters of policy.

YSR (as he is known in short) belongs to Cuddapah district of the Rayalaseema region of the state. His constituency, Pulivendula, exhibits a most distressing topography: endless stretches of nude soil studded with gravel and relieved by rocks that are even more bare. It is watered, using the expression figuratively, by the Chitravati, a tributary of the Penna (called Pennair in most maps), itself hardly a river worth the name. Today YSR wishes to be seen as a politician who has responded to the needs of farmers and is determined to do well by them, but in the nearly three decades of his political life, he has not been instrumental in adding one acre of assured irrigation to the parched lands of the constituency that has again and again returned him or his brother (when YSR chose to go to parliament instead) to the state sssembly.

His father Raja Reddy was, to begin with, an ordinary farmer and a small time civil contractor. He got converted to Christianity in the days when even upper castes thought there may be material benefit in doing so, and was ostracised by the Reddys of his native village, Balapanur. He shifted to Pulivendula, the tahsil head-quarters. He quickly made a name for himself as a rough and violent man with whom one had better not get into a quarrel. To understand how Raja Reddy took advantage of that and paved the way for his son’s rise in politics, one must know something about Rayalaseema.

Viewing Rayalaseema

The Rayalaseema districts of Andhra Pradesh are known for severe water-scarcity. Though as a matter of convention the four districts of Anantapur, Cuddapah, Kurnool and Chittoor are said to comprise the region, in physical, social and historical terms, only the Madanapalle division of Chittoor district can be talked of in the company of the other three. The rest of Chittoor is in every sense, including average rainfall precipitation, a distinct entity. The other three districts have an average annual rainfall of 618 mm, which is among the lowest in the country. They lie in the basins of the Tungabhadra and Penna rivers, which popular memory associates with bounteous waters once upon a time, but are today mere apologies of streams. The catchment of these rivers gives only a moderate yield, much of which has already been dammed, rendering the river-beds dry along most of the length of the rivers. But the canals from the dams serve only about 4 per cent of the cultivable land in the districts.

The major irrigation source of Rayalaseema, however, used to be the excellent system of tanks constructed by the Rayas of Vijayanagar, from whom the region gets its name. Like the rulers of Hyderabad and Warangal to the north, the Rayas of Vijayanagar got constructed a system of tanks all over the region to husband the scarce water resources and channel them to the fields. Indeed, most of the kings who ruled the various parts of the Deccan, and not merely the Telugu country, built such tanks to provide water for drinking and irrigation to the populace. A characteristic of the irrigation tanks of Rayalaseema is their huge size, probably because rainfall there is even more scarce, and demands even more comprehensive husbanding of water than elsewhere in the Deccan.

This tank system, as indeed everywhere in the Deccan, is however in a shambles, now. Almost nothing has been done for their upkeep during the last several decades. Because of the denudation of the land around, even the slightest rainfall causes inrush of water into the tanks, breaching the poorly maintained bund. The breaches merit only the most cosmetic of repairs, and as a result, the tank bunds are but bundles of ill-repaired breaches. For the same reason, all the tanks are heavily silted, so heavily indeed that they look more like irregular-shaped football fields than irrigation tanks. In the days before chemical fertilisers, the silt was prized by farmers as a source of fertile topsoil, but now nobody is interested in taking the silt to fertilise their fields, and so de-silting, if it is to be done comprehensively, would be akin to a mass waste-removal exercise. As such, it is too costly for the funds governments are willing to spare for the upkeep of traditional irrigation systems.

The upshot is reliance on increasing use of groundwater, through deeper and deeper borewells. But this is a self-destructive game, for the deeper farmers dig wells in competition with each other, the deeper they will have to dig next time round. The scarce rainfall cannot sustain this technology-driven thirst for groundwater. In 2002, in the midst of the second successive year of drought, a middle class farmer of YSR’s Cuddapah district had dug a borewell 1,000 feet deep, and still did not find water. (“If only I had persevered a little more, I may have struck oil” was, however, the farmer’s only response to commiseration, for a sense of humour rarely forsakes farmers, even in the worst of adversities).

Violence-Prone Society

A harsh physical environment does not necessarily lead to a harsh social life – there is no such homology – but the peculiar history of Rayalaseema combined with the region’s scanty endowment has led to a violence-ridden society. The kingdom of the rayas was characterised by devolution of the power of administration, more particularly that of ‘law and order’, down to the lowest level. This was even more true of the border areas which were administered by men whom the British Gazetteers called polegars (‘palegadu’ in Telugu and ‘palayakkaran’ in Tamil). They (often) had small forts, and an armed retinue of men, with whose help they maintained order and assisted the collection of revenue. Except in the most well-administered periods, these men were not bound by any known rules of conduct, not to speak of anything resembling law. They behaved like – and in fact were – war-lords. With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire most of them became sovereigns over a handful of villages and incessantly raided neighbouring domains for booty and territory. It is said – though there is no hard evidence in this regard – that the villagers caught in this conflict sought refuge with village strongmen who could gather a retinue behind them and play the role of protector. But of course, when they did so, the villagers had to pay for the protection by living in accordance with the protector’s writ.

As the fall of the Vijayanagar empire was followed by conflict between the British Indian rulers and the rulers of Hyderabad and Mysore, much of which took place over the Rayalaseema districts, the warlords as well as any villager who could gather an armed group around him carried a double premium: the battling armies wooed them, and the local people too needed their help to protect them against the marauding soldiers from outside the region. At the end, by the time the British brought the entire region into their control by the beginning of the 19th century, there was left this residue of a social practice: men of the dominant sections would gather an armed gang around them to assert their power, enforce their writ in the village and fight off challengers to their power over society. While the polegars were mostly of non-cultivating communities such as boya and patra, the practice of establishing dominance and exercising power through the force of armed gangs became a characteristic feature of powerful landed communities, generically described as kapu (husbandsman) but mainly of the reddy caste in recent decades. The British, who successfully put an end to the polegars by a carrot-and-stick policy, found to their dismay that this residue continued to disturb their notion of rule of law. They christened these gangs ‘village factions’, a name that continues to be used to this day.

The typical village faction was that of the village headman, called reddy in Rayalaseema. That appellation today refers to a dominant caste which is present all over the state, and men of the caste tag on reddy behind their names. But that is a phenomenon of recent decades, more particularly the latter three-quarters of the 20th century. The word has a complex history, one moment of which is that it designated the village headman in the Rayalaseema districts, in the days when village administration was presided over by the institution of hereditary headmen. This reddy would protect his primacy in the affairs of the village with the most aggressive zealousness. Any challenger to his importance would have to contend with a violent response from him. Though we spoke above of a retinue maintained by such strongmen, it was not a permanent gang maintained only for fighting. Most of the retinue would be ordinary farmers or labourers who come to the aid of the Reddy when called upon to do so. They would, it goes without saying, benefit in matters where the reddy had the final say, but passionate loyalty of the reddy’s followers is a characteristic of village factions. Their attachment was never merely a matter of rational calculation.

The dominance of the reddy would often be challenged by someone in the village. He would invariably be either a big landowner, or an otherwise powerful man, e g, by virtue of his closeness to the ruler of the area. From about the time that the word reddy started signifying a caste and not just hereditary headmanship, it is seen that in most cases, the challenger is also a reddy by caste, though there have been important exceptions, especially where the militant boya community is numerous. That man would gather a group of villagers behind him and fight the group of the ‘reddy’. The people to gather behind him would include, of course, his kith and kin, his tenants and sharecroppers; it would include persons who have suffered at the hands of the ‘reddy’; it would also include persons who have conflicts of interest or ego with the followers of the ‘reddy’; it would even include people who are obliged to the challenger for their day to day life or livelihood, even to the extent of people who, by virtue of the village topography, have to pass by his house or fields to reach their own house or fields.

Once such a challenger emerges, or in the course of his emergence, street fights between the two groups break out at every conceivable instance. The slightest material interest of every member of the group has to be protected or realised by force, and the slightest injury to every ego has to be avenged by force. But everything turns around the primary interest: the leader’s pre-eminence in the village, his honour, his writ, his word. For this, lives are sacrificed in a spiral of killings. Every death has to be avenged with a death, every burnt house or haystack with a burnt house or haystack, and every devastated acre of land with a devastated acre. The implements of fighting in the old days were stones, sticks, and every implement made by the human race for taming nature and making it yield fruit. It was after the 1950s that crude explosives, crude firearms and lately more sophisticated weapons entered village factions. It is an interesting aside that at each stage it was the communists that were, in all innocence, responsible for modernising the weaponry of faction fights.

The village factionist of yore, as can be imagined, was hardly an epitome of rationality. By the time he was through with his energies he would also be through with much of the property he had: it costs a lot to fight court cases, look after injured followers, repair burnt down dwellings and replace hacked orchards, all to keep his manly pride and moustaches intact. But after the introduction of panchayat raj democracy and rural development works, the brutality of village factions acquired the sheen of instrumental rationality. It was quickly realised by the village factionists that the methods used by them to protect the elusive social prominence or importance, could be put to more practical use for rigging polls and winning panchayat elections at the village or block level, and monopolising road and other public works contracts in the village. This started earnestly in the 1960s.

The next and natural step was for a leader to emerge from among the village factionists of an area or from a town nearby, who would gather support of all the powerful factionists of the area, create factionists to fight the recalcitrant, assist the faithful in defeating their rivals, protect their crimes and make it worth their while to indulge in crimes of violence on his account in addition to theirs, and make that the base of his rise in politics at the district level and beyond, and the guarantee of a monopoly of not small or local public works but substantial civil contracts. It took a new generation of men to see this possibility and realise it. YSR was one of the pioneers of this change, which has terrorised and devastated the social and political life of the Rayalaseema districts.

Communists as Catalysts

The communists played a peculiar catalyst’s role in all this. The undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) had some base in the Rayalaseema districts. Its leader Eswara Reddy was elected MP from Cuddapah on four occasions starting with the first parliament. It fought – or sought to fight – feudal domination in the villages, but had to contend with the culture of village factions. The communists, from that day to this, have unfortunately understood factionism as merely a rather violent form of feudal domination, which may only require a more violent response, and nothing more. That village factions divide all classes in the village vertically, from absentee landlords to the poorest labourers, which vertical division is accompanied by a degree of felt loyalty to the factionist at the top, thereby reproducing the animosity at the top all the way down the line, and that such a state of affairs is seen as the natural ordering of society by all classes, has never been adequately understood by them.

And so when the communists found it difficult to organise the masses to fight a feudal landlord, they encouraged and supported any upstart who was willing to challenge the landlord’s dominance. All that they achieved was to create a new factionist, who would discard the communists once his purpose was done. Pulivendula was dominated in the early years after independence by Devireddy Nagi Reddy (known as D N Reddy), a somewhat haughty landlord, mill owner, some time zilla parishad chairman, and some time MP. YSR’s father Raja Reddy was willing to take on D N Reddy, and the CPI assisted him by helping him to win the block level panchayat elections. Today, the CPI has all but left the district, but Raja Reddy’s legacy continues in the form of his powerful son.

Raja Reddy established his credentials as a man to fear by an incident that people still talk of, nearly 50 years later. The town of Pulivendula has a sizable colony of Erukalas, a scheduled tribe, some of whom were known for their unruly ways. They were despised but feared by the higher castes, though it is rumoured that D N Reddy was not above using their crimes for his ends. One day one of them, Oosanna, tried to steal the ornaments worn by a woman of the reddy caste in the bazaar. When the woman struggled, that man cleverly exclaimed that she was his wife and was being disobedient. By the time people realised he was telling a lie, he had slipped away. Later in the day, Raja Reddy reportedly caught hold of Oosanna, dragged him to a public place, poured kerosene on him and burnt him alive. This incident made Raja Reddy a feared man, and people became willing to gather behind him in his conflicts with established leaders. By and by he established immense dominance in the area.

But he lacked money of the kind that would sustain his further rise in politics. This problem was resolved by a combination of chance and brutality just about the time that YSR entered politics. Cuddapah has deposits of the mineral barytes, which was once upon a time not a highly priced mineral. One of the mining leases was held by Venkatasubbaiah of the balija caste. Raja Reddy joined him as a junior partner/supervisor (it is not clear which), reportedly because Venkatasubbaiah believed he would be useful in controlling the workmen. Round about the mid-1970s, however, it was discovered that barytes has use in petroleum refining, and its price shot up. Raja Reddy wanted Venkatasubbaiah to hand over the mining lease to him and go. A prominent CPI leader and writer, Gajjela Malla Reddy, brokered a deal whereby Venkatasubbaiah would take Rs 11 lakh and leave the mining lease to Raja Reddy. Venkatasubbaiah refused, and was killed. The mining lease, passed into YSR’s hands.

For many years in the later half of the 1980s and the early half of the 1990s, YSR’s barytes mining operation was the subject of one scandal after another. Lease – or sub- lease, after barytes mining became formally the monopoly of the A P Mineral Development Corporation, only to be sub-leased to the same previous lessees – would be taken for a certain extent, but many times more land around would be mined. Even a piece of land on which stood a protected monument so notified by the Archaeological Survey of India was mined, and one and a half lakh tonnes of the mineral (priced at Rs 600 per tonne) was taken away by the time the government woke up and put a stop to it. And there was the case of a villager, Vivekanandam, whose private land of 1.8 acres was also sub-leased to YSR by the Corporation. Though that man went to court and obtained an injunction against the sub-lease, YSR continued with the mining and took away mineral worth Rs 5 crore. The maternal uncle of the said Vivekanandam, a retired government employee, Rajagopal, set out to Hyderabad, to express his protest to the then chief minister Janardhan Reddy, and to move the high court again. The old man was set upon by a gang in the middle of the state’s capital, and had his hands and legs broken. This was as recently as 1992.

With the money flowing from the barytes mines in his pockets, YSR was in a position to undertake the transformation of ‘village factions’ into full-fledged instruments of political and economic domination at the highest level. There were others of his period – the post-emergency breed of educated, intelligent and utterly cynical politicians – who made money from other sources, such as for instance excise contracts, and used that wealth in the same manner as YSR to rise to prominence in Rayalaseema politics. The money was used to buy the support of village factionists. The factionist would be helped to overcome his rivals and establish unchallenged power over his area of operation. If a factionist was too adamant and did not heed the call, a rival would be funded to rise against him. A lot of lives would of course be lost in the process, but then that was, for these gentlemen, a matter of no moment. Once a sufficient monopoly of control over the local factionists was established, the leader’s political-economic future was ensured. Elections would be concluded in his favour, and his muscle-power would ensure that he monopolised all the civil/excise contracts he coveted. This sounds bland when stated in this fashion, but the process involved tremendous amount of violence and inaugurated a veritable regime of terror in the area.

Manipulation of Election Process

Political parties and programmes have meant nothing in Rayalaseema, more particularly Cuddapah district. The only distinction in that district has been: with YSR and against YSR. Those who are with him can be in his party or in any other party – not excluding the CPI – and similarly those who are against him. On more than one occasion he has exhibited his capacity to ensure that a candidate to the assembly from his own party who has got a ticket against his will is defeated by a candidate of his choice contesting on a Telugu Desam ticket. Elections in Rayalaseema have meant open violence on polling day to scare away voters and leave the field open to bogus voting, taking away the ballot box to stuff it with ballot papers stamped elsewhere, preventing voters of the rival candidate from entering the polling station, forcing voters to show the stamped ballot paper to the local factionist’s man before putting it in the box, and other acts of like nature.

Until recently, a rule followed by the Election Commission was that in the event of death of any candidate, the election would be postponed. Killing defenceless candidates to get the poll postponed is a method not unknown in the more violent parts of our country. Rayalaseema is no exception. In the assembly polls of 1989, YSR’s follower Nagi Reddy fought the Telugu Desam’s Palakondarayudu at Raychoti in Cuddapah district. In the parliament polls of 1985, Palakondarayudu, who was then a candidate for parliament, was unsure of the support of the two main local factions that ruled Raychoti town. So he is said to have got an independent candidate, Guvvala Subbarayudu killed and got the election postponed. He thus gained time to rope in the two factions, and succeeded in winning the election held later. In 1989, polls were held simultaneously for assembly and parliament. Palakondarayudu was this time a candidate for the assembly. Apprehensive that he may repeat his victorious performance, YSR’s man Nagi Reddy set up a pliant man of their own faction, Avula Subba Reddy by name, as an independent candidate, and allegedly killed him the day before the election to get the election to the assembly postponed. It is inconceivable that this could have happened without the knowledge and consent of YSR. In the parliament poll that took place that day as scheduled, there was an orgy of violence in which five persons were killed in Raychoti town including a polling officer by name Ahmedullah. The polling officer was dragged out of the polling station and murdered. The Congress candidate was elected to parliament. The terror created by YSR’s group on that day was sufficient for his candidate Nagi Reddy to carry the day when the assembly poll for the postponed Raychoti segment was later held.

Parallel with establishing themselves in power by such means, these leaders set themselves up as representatives of the region who would fight the rulers of the state for justice to water-scarce Rayalaseema. It has been the tragedy of Rayalaseema that, unlike Telangana for instance which has a vibrant political climate that throws up activists close to the people, the same leaders who have devastated the region’s social and political life with their strategies of gang warfare have time and again doubled as saviours of the people. But as their interest is merely the furtherance of their political careers, such espousal is short-lived and fruitless.

For about three to four years in the early part of the 1980s, these leaders led major agitations for irrigation water to the region. They held lengthy ‘padayatras’ and boisterous protest meetings. YSR was among those in the forefront. But their interest tapered off once they succeeded in putting pressure upon N T Rama Rao to sanction the extension of the Telugu Ganga project to provide irrigation water to parts of Cuddapah district. Later, the Congress came to power in the state, and many of the agitators became ministers, but they did precious little for the irrigation needs they had agitated for. Subsequently the Telugu Desam Party came back to power again, but this time YSR took care not to be seen agitating for the rights of one region. He had aimed his sights higher. He would dislodge Chandrababu and become chief minister of the state. Power, and power alone has been his guiding light, at each stage of his career, much like Chandrababu. Given the peculiar nature of Rayalaseema society, brute force served YSR’s purpose in the initial stages, much as unscrupulous manipulation did in Chandrababu’s case. But once he set his sights on Hyderabad, he knew that other methods would have to be tried out, and he has been game for that.

He worked quite systematically towards this end and has succeeded. In the process he has given the impression of being a man who cares for the classes neglected by Chandrababu’s model of development. Whether that is really so is, to put it politely, extremely doubtful. That those classes have reposed trust in the Congress Party under his leadership is clear: all analysis as well as impressionistic views point to the issues of irrigation and employment as central to the defeat of the Telugu Desam Party, augmented by the desire for a separate state in the Telangana region. Economists too are agreed that poor growth of employment opportunities, and poor capital formation in agriculture, the latter mainly because of low public investment, are two among the negative characteristics of the Indian economy’s performance in recent years. Too categorical an analysis of voters’ preferences is a risky business, but it appears reasonable to suppose that the dissatisfaction generated by these factors lies behind the victory of the Congress. YSR realised it in the course of his pre-election padayatra which brought him face to face with much dissatisfaction regarding issues on which – barring free power to farmers – he had never taken any stand till then. Having realised his debt to the dissatisfaction, he has already gone on record promising heavy investment in major irrigation projects, and free power to farmers, which will encourage private investment to the same end. If he has not issued any immediate policy statements in the matter of employment, that will be declared to be understandable because it is by no means an easy matter. And as for Telangana, YSR has made no secret of the fact that he has neither any understanding of nor sympathy for that cause.

But it is doubtful that he has any real convictions in regard to the first two issues too, other than the realisation that they have been useful instruments in his ascension to power. If freedom to all prisoners were to serve that purpose, he would equally readily have emptied all the state’s jails, without holding any philosophy of punishment commensurate with the act. These may appear to be points not worth labouring at length, and it may even be cleverly said, as the Hindi saying goes, that we are concerned that the fruit be a mango, and not that the tree be a mango tree.

But if correcting economic policy distortions is what the aspirations revealed by the elections are about, we must note that change in irrigation policy from Chandrababu’s exclusive espousal of drip irrigation to a more realistic programme is not sufficient by itself. Such change is not by itself inimical to the ruling policies being prescribed in the name of reforms. The whole gamut of the policies concerning resources, opportunities and governmental responsibilities will have to be addressed, even if they have not been voted about in bringing YSR to power. There is little evidence that YSR is committed to a different view of these matters than Chandrababu, or that he is willing to devise ways of standing up to the pressure that the World Bank and other instrumentalities of neo-liberalism have been exerting in these matters. Much of what he is now heard saying against Chandra babu’ s brand of neo-liberal economic philosophy he picked up in the run up to the elections, and was never part of his way of looking at the economy.

It is also to be noted that the forces distorting India’s economy to serve a variety of external interests inimical to those of the poor and needy, have not been content with prescribing any transparent economic policy imperatives at all to suit their ends. They have indulged in a number of devious measures behind the backs of the people, with the active connivance of the rulers. Chandrababu was a willing collaborator in this, and YSR is not proof against it. The economic philosophy ruling the world, namely that resources, opportunities and governmental assistance of all kinds are optimally distributed when they are put unreservedly at the service of those who can augment them with the most investment and generate from them the most income, is easily understood when it is plainly stated, and easily dissented from if one has the slightest conviction that progress should be everybody’s progress, not at some unspecified date in the future, but with reasonable immediacy. But that policy prescription has not been content with such transparent debates. It has sought to work itself into our polity by opaque devices and has succeeded wherever it has found local collaborators among those in power. Those who believe that YSR will resist where Chandrababu was willing are fooling themselves.

Written by jujung

September 10, 2009 at 8:44 PM

Democracy or political feudalism

with one comment

The accidental death of YSR is tragic, but the current political shenanigans to propel his inexperienced son YS Jagan as the CM are disgusting. This is another expression of the feudalistic attitude of the people in the country:

“Most people see the Govt services as a favor of the ruling party/Govt to the people – a result of the Colonial/feudalistic hangover when the people were subjects of the state/ruling elite, rather than the state being people’s representation.”

Excerpts from The Hindu editorial:

“At a time of irreparable loss, the family of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy needs sympathy and support from the Congress party and the people of Andhra Pradesh. But what middle-level State leaders of the party have put on display in the hours following confirmation of the death of YSR is not emotional support but political feudalism, an unseemly display of calculated and self-serving fealty to the First Family of the State.”

Of course there is another important aspect of securing the financial and political interests of the people in power, by propelling the family:

“In the five years of YSR rule, some big business interests benefited hugely from concessions handed out in a corruption-ridden environment; these have figured in the documented allegations levelled by Opposition leader N. Chandrababu Naidu against the Congress government. What is clear is that vested interests that have wielded enormous influence in the State administration and have much to lose would like to see continuity in the ways of governance. In their eyes, Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy is the best bet to preserve the status quo; anyone else in the Chief Minister’s chair would mean taking a chance.”

Update:

Written by jujung

September 7, 2009 at 9:40 AM