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February 21, 1998


Former rulers battle for public approval

Their royal titles gone, the scions of what was once the princely families of Kurupam and Chinna Merengi are now crossing swords in the Parvathipuram (ST) constituency of north coastal Andhra Pradesh.

Byrichalla Pradeep Kumar Deo, popularly known as Kurupam Raja and a member of the dissolved Lok Sabha, is the Congress candidate, and Satrucharla Vijayrama Raju, the former ruler of Chinna Merangi, is the TDP choice.

The TDP dumped Viswaraya Narasimha Rao, known as Vandava Dora, its candidate in 1996, for Satrucharla Vijayarama Raju, who unsuccessfully contested the last election on an NTR-TDP ticket.

Vijayarama Raju, famed for his ability to switch parties, is a veteran of many an electoral battle and has been an MLA thrice and an MP twice. In 1996, when he failed to get a Congress ticket, he contested, and lost, on an NTR-TDP ticket.

He recently joined the ruling TDP and managed to get a party ticket, much to the chagrin of Vandava Dora and many TDP district leaders. Pradeep Kumar Deo polled 231,000 votes in 1996, Vandava Dera about 220,000 votes and Vijayarama Raju over 100,000.

Though the TDP has made inroads into north coastal Andhra, the Parvathipuram seat has remained beyond its grasp. The Congresss has represented this reserved constituency seven times since 1952; the now defunct Swatantra Party, Congress (U), the Congress (S) and Independents all have represented it one apiece. But the Communists, who over three decades launched many struggles in the tribal constituency against the ruling classes, has failed to win it even once.

Of the constituency's seven assembly segments, six are represented by the ruling TDP while Congress MLA P Rajasekharam represents Vunukuru segment. The seven segments are Kotturu (ST), Naguru (ST), Palakonda (ST), Paravathipuram, Pathepatnam, B Salur (ST) and Vunukuru.

While Naguru, Parvathipuram, Saluru and Vunukuru are carved out of Vizianagaram district, Kotturu, Pathapatnam and Palakonda were carved out of the neighbouring Srikaulam district.

The 25,000 tribals in the 911,621 strong electorate are expected to tilt the scales in this constituency. Several tribal organisations and coolie unions have pledged support to any party that fields a 'real' tribal as its nominee. Both rulers are not real tribals they claim, a charge both Pradeep Kumar Deo and Vijayarama Raju reject.

Pradeep Kumar Deo has some clout in the area, part of it accruing from his father, Vyricharla Chandra Dhoodamani Deo, who had a long political career representing Naguru and Parvathipuram assembly constituencies till his death. And some from his brother, Vyricharla Kishore Chandra Deo, who was elected a member of Parliament thrice in 1977, 1980 and 1984, first as a Congress (U) candidate, then as a Congress (S) nominee and lastly as an Independent supported by the TDP. Now he is a Rajya Sabha MP belonging to the Congress.

K C Deo was the first Union minister from north Andhra -- he was a member of Charan Singh's caretaker government in 1979. Pradeep Kumar Deo claims that in the last 18 months, he has solved many problems in the constituency with his brother helping with the funds allocated to him for various welfare and developmental schemes.

He claims he was responsible for the Rayagada-Visakhapatnam diesel multiple unit train and that he had attended every district development review committee meeting in both Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts. Quizzed in more detail, he admitted he had not met people in the villages as he had no time left after attending to his work at Delhi as an MP.

The young Pradeep Kumar Deo is assisted in his campaign by his wife, Sudhani Deo, daughter of P V S Raju, the late maharaja of Vizianagaram. Sudhani Deo's brother, Ashok Gajapathi Raju, is the state finance minister and number two in the TDP government.

Local TDP leaders are worried about Vandava Dora's support since he has been denied a party ticket this time. There were rumours that Dora would team up with the Congress to spike the TDP leadership. The TDP leaders have some trouble working with Vijayarama Raju, who has opposed them on several occasions before, when he was in the Congress and later in the NTR-TDP.

But Vijayarama Raju is a shrewd politician who knows what the people want and is more accessible. One villager from Chinna Merangi Samasthanam said, "Pradeep Kumar Deo is a good man, but Satrucharla is always available when we face problems."

Pradeep Kumar Deo also has to contend with the fact that no top Congress leaders, either from Delhi or in the state, have canvassed for him while Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has vigorously campaigned for Vijayarama Raju.

In this largely tribal constituency, electioneering has lacked punch, with only local issues being debated. No national issues, such as stability, the state of the economy etc, came up at any campaign meeting.

Besides Pradeep Kumar Deo and Vijayaram Raju, V Mutyalu (Jan Sakthi) and A Gumpaswamy (UCCRI-ML) are the other candidates in the fray. But they are not expected to have much effect on the ranks of the royalty.


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