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Where Naxalites, not cops, rule

A Ganesh Nadar | April 20, 2004 16:57 IST

There is a common element between the two main candidates from the Parkal assembly constituency in Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh.

Both -- the Telugu Desam Party's Dombatti Sambiah and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi's Shara Rani Bhandari -- have a police connection. And in a constituency infested by Naxalites as this one is, that could often mean a quick end.

Parkal is in Telangana region, which is overrun by Naxalites. They ask villagers if they have any problems with the police, zamindars, local politicians and government officials -- in short any figure of authority -- and then solve them in their own way.

So complete is the Naxalites' sway here that most people approach them to solve their problems. The villagers in fact call the Naxalites 'Annalu' (Big Brother in Telugu).

The TDP candidate quit his job as a police inspector to contest the election.

"Before I joined the police I was interested in politics," says Sambiah, who was president of the Malakpet village panchayat and a mandal vice-president. The state does not have talukas; districts are divided into mandals, which are a cluster of about 20 panchayats.

He feels he can serve more people by becoming a legislator than he could as an inspector.

"As part of the police department we were always targeted (by the Naxalites). Right from the home guard to the commissioner," he says. Added to which, there is an extra reason why the Naxalites are gunning for the ruling TDP. "The TDP is fighting the poll on an anti-Naxalite platform. So the Naxalites are targeting the TDP and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party."

Bhandari's links to the police force is more indirect: she is the wife of an assistant commissioner of police. There is another cloud over her head: the mother of two is alleged to have paid TRS leaders Rs 25 lakh for the party ticket.

She denies the allegation and says the party decided to field her because of her caste [the seat is reserved for so-called schedule castes] and the fact that she is a woman.

Bhandari, who is surrounded by policemen -- not party workers -- says she has not received any threat from the Naxalites so far. In fact, she claims, she does not know anything even about their presence in the area.

A graduate in history, she worked as a clerk at the state Housing Corporation in Khammam district for 10 years; she quit her job to be with her husband when he got transferred.

Sitting inside a police station, she says she has so far spent Rs 20 lakh on electioneering.

The main issues in this agricultural area are irrigation, drinking water, power and transport. Coal is also mined here, so miners' welfare is an issue. But for both candidates, it seems, personal safety tops the list.


The Naxalite threat

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