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September 3, 1999


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Campaign Trail/ Cuddapah

In the killing fields of Rayalseema, fear dominates the election scene

J S Sai in Anantapur, Cuddapah and Pulivendla

Kurnool. 1970. Dust swirls about the neighbour's place as a housewife sweeps her house. An argument breaks out, and then a fight, resulting in a murder.

Cuddapah. July 1999. A farmer hires gangsters to kill his brother and nephew. He tries to grab their land. But the brother's wife, in a smart move, sells the land to a faction leader. The farmer is now scared out of his wits….

"Yes, several people die unsung, unwept as the faction wars continue," says P Sambasivaiah, a leading advocate in Cuddapah.

But why is Rayalaseema so volatile? "The composition and character of the soil is such that people tend to be militant," says Sambasivaiah. "They get irritated easily, with rampant illiteracy playing havoc with their mood swings."

"Egoism and the race for supremacy add to the region's woes with simple things being blown out of proportion," says S Sultan Ahmed, a lecturer at the Government Degree College, Cuddapah. "What is worse they do not want reconciliation."

"Politicians including Communists have been creating differences among the people," says A G Siva Sankara Reddy of the Government Degree College, Anantapur. "What do they achieve by winning an election? They feel as if they have won a war!’’

Even nature seems to be rather harsh on Rayalaseema. As they battle with droughts due to an indifferent monsoon, the temperature hovers around 38 degrees Centigrade even during the rainy season, with the oppressive heat increasing their irritability and frustration.

"Droughts are the major cause of faction wars in Anantapur," says Siva Sankara Reddy. Asked why faction wars have been crippling Cuddapah and Kurnool though they do not face such acute water scarcity, he says, "In Cuddapah, the issue is control of the baryte mines. In Kurnool, it is because of granite mines and industries. However, if there is enough water people will steer clear of faction wars in Anantapur."

However, Alur Chandrasekhar, convener, Human Rights Forum, finds this prescription ludicrous. "They are not an offshoot of droughts," he says. "While Anantapur has been reeling under drought for almost a century, the faction wars originated in the district around 1960s. Hence, it is ridiculous to say that only water is bad, and that the people are very nice. I don't believe that where there's water there the people are more cultured. That is how they are trying to put Rayalaseema into a backward bracket, and say we have no culture."

His colleague at the HRF, S L Basha, an environmentalist, goes a step further. "We get one good crop in three years, and, in that year, faction wars touch the pinnacle," he says. "If there is no crop, there are no faction wars."

So are they fighting over the spoils? "No. They can afford to indulge in such things when they strike gold," says Chandrasekhar. "They have enough time to go around the courts, the police."

He says that not all faction wars have been sparked by politics. While the violence in Dharmavaram and Penukonda talukas of Anantpur district has acquired caste and political colour, Tadipatri (in the same district) has no political history. In Penukonda (where senior Telugu Desam Party leader Paritala Ravi is in the fray), the erstwhile factions of Channa Reddy, Baddamcheruvu Narayan Reddy (both of the Congress party) and Paritala Sriram in the 1960s (Ravi's father had a Communist background) were steeped in party politics. And differences had cropped at the panchayat election.

Why were they so keen on panchayat elections? "Panchayats were supposed to decentralise the administration," says Chandrasekhar. "It had for the first time brought money into the village. But the money has not gone to the people’s programmes, as desired by the government, but to the panchayat president. Second, money had been accumulating at the contractor level due to arrack contracts. This accumulation has led to a struggle for the control of economic resources.

"In drought-prone areas," asks the human rights activist, "what are the resources? There won't be any industries, so the question of controlling labour unions and thereby dictating terms to the managements does not arise. Land is not a viable resource. So the only source of money is government programmes. Thus, if you want to sustain your economic base, you have to have a monopoly over these resources. One of the ways of achieving this is to eliminate your rivals."

Despite such faction wars, a stranger visiting the area has nothing to fear, even during an election. Unless s/he is caught in a crossfire, the chances are that he will end up feeling why Rayalaseema is portrayed in such a poor light when the people are so nice. In fact, they willingly go out of their way to help strangers, even trying to speak their language even if they are not familiar with it.

Moreover, not all areas in Rayalaseema have been affected by faction wars. While western Cuddapah comprising Cuddapah town, Jammalamadugu, Kamalapuram, Maidukur, Proddatur and Pulivendla are considered the worst-hit areas, eastern Cuddapah including Rajampet (known for its bountiful lime harvests and baryte mines), Badwel, Kodur and Rayachotti reflect the Tamil Nadu and Nellore culture due to their proximity to these areas. In the western areas, one finds ferocious Reddy-dominated communities who do not mind killing and getting killed, says Sambasivaiah.

The realisation that faction wars do not get them anywhere seems to be sinking in. "Most villages still have factions. But they are dormant because of financial problems and the awareness created by the media. Little wonder their number is coming down," says former Pulivendla Jan Sangh unit vice-president Y Konda Reddy, a leading advocate.

The former Telugu Desam Party MP from Cuddapah, Dr D Narasimha Reddy, agrees. "Earlier, one in every 10 villages used to have severe factions. Now, especially in the last 10 years, their number is coming down. Now perhaps we have two or three factions in every 100 villages. One reason is the growing literacy rate. So, if left alone, peace will reign in the villages. But, in the last 10 years, politicians have begun to meddle in the villages. They have been providing them with weapons, vehicles and money… Politicians can canvass in the villages, but they should stop abetting violence."

Says Anjaneyulu, a bus conductor from Pulivendla, "The faction wars are on the wane. The Election Commission has done a good thing by disallowing wall posters etc. Earlier, they used to fight over petty things like reservation of walls for posters… With the police stepping up vigilance, the situation will improve soon. But I do not understand one thing. Why is everyone blaming only Rayalaseema when the Andhra region seems to be worse. Can there be anything worse than a minister allegedly making bombs at his home (four people died when one of the bombs went off earlier this week)?"

Though many say the Rayalaseema situation is improving, the police are not taking any chances. Nearly 20,000 policemen and a large contingent of paramilitary forces have been deployed in the region for poll duty. This correspondent had seen vehicles being checked thoroughly at various check-posts established in the routes leading to the 2,000-odd sensitive villages.

While the police grapple with security arrangements, the Cuddapah Lok Sabha constituency, which missed Congress president Sonia Gandhi's nomination by a whisker, is caught in a dilemma. On the one hand is its loyalty to Andhra Pradesh Congress president Dr Y S Rajasekhar Reddy, who represented the constituency for four consecutive terms. And on the other is their sympathy for Kandula Rajmohan Reddy who had lost twice against YSR (by 5,400 votes in 1996 and 48,000 votes in 1998).

YSR has fielded his brother Y S Vivekananda Reddy for the Cuddapah Lok Sabha seat – the AP Congress chief is in the fray in the Pulivendla assembly constituency, considered the family bastion. He faces 11 opponents including those belonging to the Telugu Desam Party (Vempalli mandal president Singareddy Satish Kumar Reddy who has been named in the first information report filed in the murder of YSR's father Y S Raja Reddy) and the Anna Telugu Desam Party.

With there being little doubt about YSR's victory in Pulivendla, the debates in the area revolve around his victory margin. Vivekananda is not so fortunate, with his brother's charisma eluding him. But Cuddapah may not like to disappoint YSR as he is now making a serious bid for the chief minister’s post.

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