Under a 12 noon sun, Konda Surekha is beating down on the voters of Vellampalli in Parkal Constituency in Warangal district. She’s in the shade of an ancient banyan and the audience of a handful of women AWOL from NREGA work squat under the sun, shielding their faces and squinting up at the speaker.
The YSR Congress leader is explaining why she is a candidate for the only overtly integrationist party in a byelection in this heartland of the Telangana movement. She’s making a fine distinction: “I resigned as minister for the sake of Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. But I resigned as an MLA for the sake of Telangana,” she says. In other words, in a state where repeated byelections have been caused by MLAs committing hara-kiri for sundry causes, she’s a martyr twice over.
The youth of this part of Warangal district tend to be brusque in their declaration of faith in the Telangana. So Surekha cuts no ice with Rajesh, a YSRC worker from Damera village who was at hand to do errands at the banyan tree meeting. “Surekha resigned for the sake of Jagan,” declares the 25-year-old man, a farmhand at other times. “She has nothing to do with Telangana.”
Talk of Telangana is everywhere in Parkal, including among the youth who have jumped onto the Jagan bandwagon. But within the YSRC you’ve got to weigh your words, and Rajesh is loath to giving his full name. “I work for the YSRC. But I’ll vote for the TRS,” he signs off.
Surekha’s double martyrdom is not working in Parkal. To her, she’s the frontrunner in the bypoll, but perception beyond the shade of the banyan tree is different – as different as J is to T.
Twenty-four-hour television has made images from far and wide accessible in the remotest of villages, and a few images of Surekha have left an impress in the minds of the voters here. One is of her throwing stones at Telangana supporters from platform no. 1 of the Mahbubabad railway station when they rioted to prevent Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Odarpu Yatra in this very district. Another is of her handing an affectionate glass of lemon juice to Y S Vijayamma to break her recent protest fast. “Wasn’t she the one who gave lemon juice to Vijayamma? Didn’t she do it?” argues a student on the sidelines.
Parkal is the odd one out of the 18 Assembly — and one Lok Sabha — byelections going to the vote on June 12. It’s the only one in Telangana and it is taking place in the neighbourhood of the Mahbubabad mayhem to decide the fate of the star actor of that drama. Surekha is one of only a few Telangana legislators or political busybodies who have declared themselves for Jagan Mohan Reddy. Many other J campers are thought to lurk in the shadows but in this hotbed of the separatist sentiment, Jagan is a name you take in whispers.
Of the baker’s dozen constituencies going to the polls, this is the only one where the J factor is far behind the T factor. Echoes of this are to be had in the spiel spewed by all the candidates, including Surekha herself. So in this town that has no time for polite salutations, you are given an impatient brushoff if you ask a stupid question like will Jagan in jail make a difference to the vote.
“What do you expect? You think they’ll give you a prize for pocketing someone’s money,” retorts Sammaiah, an aged farmer, as we walk along a dirt track leading to Nagaram village. A self-help worker walking along adds her bit: “All others who loot public money will meet the same fate ultimately.”
During the YSR years, Surekha was the smart woman of Warangal politics. Her husband Konda Murali grew from local importance/infamy in Geesukonda to become a member of the Jagan cabal operating around the late chief minister, and going on to bigger things in Sayampet, Hanmakonda, Warangal and then Hyderabad. Yet, Murali’s past in the nether zones continues to colour popular perception of them.
Says Sankar a small hotel keeper in Geesukonda, “This is the first time that the Konda couple are facing rough weather for their goondaism.” But then Surekha has the Robin Hood story. “Tell me, tell me if this isn’t true,” she gees up the crowd in Vellampalli. “If there’s a marriage or a death in a family, we give `5,000 for the expenses. We provide free education to poor students. We donated funds to build temples. Is that goondaism? Tell me?”
How the Parties Stand
Parakal is also different for another reason. The hierarchy of contenders here does not follow the same pattern as in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema byelections. There it’s a triangular dog fight among the YSRC, the Congress and the TDP. Here, the TRS is top dog followed by the BJP and Surekha representing YSRC. The Congress and the TDP bring up the rear.
The BJP has jumped into the fray encouraged by its David v Goliath success in the Mahbubnagar byelection but with the TRS winning the endorsement of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC), its candidate is nowhere in the picture in Parakal.
Although the TJAC decided to support the TRS after much dillydallying, it has counted for the Pink Party. While youth seem to flock to Surekha’s campaign activities, they declare themselves as YSRCP workers and TRS voters. The surprising fact is that even strong supporters of the TRS admit that the TDP has a strong vote bank here and that is is intact. Most of the voters still believe that TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu has been fighting on real issues. They remember the development that took place during his nine-year rule. If the TDP works hard, it may compete with the YSRC for second place. The Congress vote bank seems to have migrated en masse to YSRC with Surekha. Congress govt may have to be satisfied with the fourth position at best, pushing the BJP to fifth place.
By V V Balakrishna