Warangal belies fears of Naxal violence on polling day
J Sesha Sai in Warangal
A thunder of claps clashes with a cloud of dust as the helicopter
touches down. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu
grabs a microphone, reaches for the stars with a 'V' sign, and
goes full blast on his 'sparkling' track record.
Suddenly a man darts towards the podium, holding a bottle in his
hand. A petrol bomb? The chief minister breathes silence into
the microphone. Shockwaves spread... Naidu is still dumbfounded.
But two of his ministerial colleagues pounce on the man. Bundle
him into a car. Zip into a hospital, saving his life.
Cotton farmer Mutyalapati Shivaiah, hailing from Markapur in Prakasam
district, guzzled Methomyl 12.5 E last fortnight. His grouse:
the insecticide failed to protect his crop, letting Spodoptera
Litura feast on his hard work driven by crippling debts.
Nearly 400 km away, in Warangal district, Gundu Sambaiah storms
a pesticide dealer in the town's Station Road. Kicks up a row.
And gulps down the insecticide.
But survives, thanks to timely medical aid. Where is Sambaiah
now, nearly a week after the misadventure? "He has gone back
to his native Gavicherla, about 20 km away from Warangal,"
says pesticide dealer Srinivas Reddy on Saturday.
The bus was empty initially, but it soon begins brimming with
dhoti-clad farmers, college students, loaded gunny bags, vegetable
baskets and milk cans. Besides, there were party workers too,
sporting badges featuring Chandrababu Naidu's photos.
Aren't they aware of the People's War Group Naxalites's poll boycott
call? "The ban doesn't affect us," says a young Telugu
Desam Party worker as if to puncture media claims that the ruling
party has been at the receiving end of the Naxal fury because
of encounter deaths. "The Naxals haven't come to our village."
Look out of the window... Banners and wall posters of the TDP's sitting
MP M Chandulal, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Ch Janga Reddy -- who
defeated P V Narasimha Rao from Hanamkonda
in 1984 -- and the Congress's T Kalpana Devi (Narasimha Rao's son
P V Ranga Rao is contesting the Hanamkonda assembly by-poll) hit
one's eye as the bumpy bus breezes past villages. "No Naxals
here too," one thinks aloud.
At Gavicherla, as one walks towards Sambaiah's house, party workers
distribute voter identification slips among the villagers. Does
the PWG tolerate this? Are the party workers asking for trouble?
"The Naxals steer clear of this area," says the BJP's Gavicherla
unit secretary Yadaiah, guiding one to Sambaiah's place.
With the entire village in tow, one reaches the cotton farmer's
hut. His two little sons, his daughter and son-in-law have been
waiting outside the hut, awaiting the victim's arrival from the
Mahatma Gandhi Memorial hospital in Warangal. "He will be discharged
today," says his daughter.
Endless wait, but no sight of the farmer. And a few disappointed
trudges bring one to the bus stand. A jeep screeches to a halt.
"Is it safe to travel by this vehicle, knowing that Naxals
target jeeps assuming that they are carrying policemen?"
The jeep-load bursts into laughter. "Come, come," says bank
employee Mallesh. "They won't touch people like you and me."
Even if one votes, defying their boycott diktat? Another bout
of sniggers. "I have been working in this area for nearly
five years. I never faced any trouble from them. Nor did I hear
of any such incident. If anything, they may try and help us. As
for people who vote, they have been exercising their franchise
since the late 1980s, when they started giving such boycott calls.
No harm visited such villages."
At the MGM hospital, one searches high and low for Sambaiah. No
trace of the farmer. Has be been discharged just now? No. The
hospital records show that he was discharged on February 17. Where
did he disappear along with his wife, leaving his innocent children
clueless about their whereabouts?
"He is in dire straits," say his villagers. "He
borrowed heavily. The crop has failed, and he has no money to
clear his son-in-law's dowry dues. Nor the village moneylender's
Asked if the entire money has been spent on the damaged cotton
crop, a pesticide dealer says, "Even I grow cotton. The maximum
you spend on an acre is around Rs 10,000. How can farmers like
Sambaiah, who has just three acres, run up huge debts -- between
Rs 60,000 and 100,000? Obviously, they must have borrowed money
due to other personal problems."
Asked if he too has incurred a loss, the dealer says, "No,
if one adopts scientific methods, you can get a good yield. The
illiterate farmers compete with their neighbours, assuming that
higher the pesticide used greater would be the output. As a result,
the pest develops resistance. This year the problem was particularly
bad to due to bad weather -- the pest had reproduced rapidly as
the sky was overcast for considerable time last year -- and drought."
"The yield came tumbling down from 16 quintals per acre to
one or two this year," says another pesticide dealer. "This
would not have happened if the farmer had scientific guidance.
The government is to blame for all this."
Crop failure, however, was the last straw in the case of the poor
farmers who were already reeling under the burden of repeated
price hikes -- among other things the state government had effected
steep tariff hikes -- and personal miseries. "Even the middle
class takes years to recover from the mindboggling expenditure
incurred on daughter's marriage," says a banker. "One
can imagine the farmer's plight if nature suddenly snatches even
Similar circumstances drove G Illaih of Gorragunta, five km from
Warangal, to take the extreme step. "He was so proud that
he did not share his problems with us," says wife Saroja,
wondering how she would pay off the debts and take care of her
two little sons and a daughter. Their eldest daughter had been
married off, but even her dowry dues have to be cleared.
Yet this is not the first time that the state has witnessed such
suicides by farmers. In 1987-88, about 100 cotton growers killed
themselves in Guntur and Prakasam districts.
This year, as many as 200 farmers have already perished. However,
not everyone is so weak-hearted. "Why should I die? Incurring
a loss is quite common in farming," says Tallapalli Yakaih,
35, who was smart enough to devote a portion of his 2-acre land
to maize. The cotton crop failed. But maize saved him from starvation
But the disaster has left even Yakaiah disillusioned, and the
slightest provocation to enough for him to launch a diatribe against
political parties. "Why should we vote?" he asks. "Nobody
should vote. No political party helps us anyway."
Has the reaction been inspired by the Naxal threat? "We have
never seen Naxals, and their poll boycott call does not affect
us," say both Yakaiah and his brother Srinivas.
But the political parties grumble that they were unable to campaign
freely. "In Parkal, several TDP leaders were beaten up,"
says Telugu Yuvatha's local unit secretary T Chander. "But
the police are using surrendered Naxalites to instill confidence
among the voters."
Even the police agree that the party candidates could not go beyond
the mandal headquarters. "Their supporters campaigned stealthily,"
says DSP G Sudheer.
Another police official V Venkateshwarlu says that voting percentages
have been going up despite the boycott call. "Perhaps people
feel like rebelling when they are cornered."
With police encounters depleting the cadres, the PWG militants
seem unable to add more teeth to their threat. "Each of the
PWG dalam, comprising 10 to 15 members, cover an area of about 30 to 40
km," says sub-inspector C R N Reddy. "How much can they
Despite such brave words, the Naxalites unleashed their fury at
several places in the district. At Pulukurti village, about 25
km from Warangal, the Naxals attacked a polling station on Saturday
night and took away ballot boxes, delaying Sunday's polling by
At Narmeta, nearly 30 km from Warangal, they blasted a culvert.
However, luckily, no one was injured.
At Lingalaghanpur, near Parkal, the police had to resort to firing
when the Naxals tried to snatch away ballot boxes. No casualties
have been reported. The polling resumed a little later. However,
polling was countermanded in DC Thanda in Wardhanpur constituency,
where the rival parties tried to indulge in poll malpractices.
Such stray incidents do not seem to affect the morale of the people
who are said to be voting rather fearlessly. With nearly 3,000
armed police personnel and 90 companies of CRPF, nine of BSF
and 40 of the AP Special Force being posted all over the district
the poll was reported to be smooth, barring the stray incident
of course. Warangal district Special Branch official Ayappu Reddy
says, No untoward incident affecting the poll has been reported."
Several villagers, arriving at the Warangal bus stand from various
corners of the district, confirmed this. Even this correspondent,
who visited a couple of villages, saw good crowds at polling stations.
Asked if the Naxalites had prevented him from voting, Salman,
a teacher, says, "All these politicians are Naxals. They
terrorise the people by letting loose their goons, and do nothing
for them. We need a dictator, not Naxals, not leaders!"
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