Political flip-flop: Is Rahul Gandhi’s AP padayatra opportunistic opposition to bauxite mining?

Local politicians allege that the major parties take up the mining issue only when they are in the opposition
Political flip-flop: Is Rahul Gandhi’s AP padayatra opportunistic opposition to bauxite mining?
Political flip-flop: Is Rahul Gandhi’s AP padayatra opportunistic opposition to bauxite mining?
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On August 17, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi will be leading a padayatra in the Visakha Agency Area against bauxite mining and in support of tribal communities.

With this padayatra, he joins the line of leaders who have protested against bauxite mining at various points of time. However, some local politicians allege that all of these protests, including Gandhi’s planned padayatra, are political opportunism – only done when the parties are in the opposition.

Chandrababu Naidu first initiated mining in the Agency Area in 1998. Soon tribal communities and opposition leaders rose up in protest and the mining came to a halt that very year.

The issue came into prominence again in 2004, when former CM YS Rajashekar Reddy came into power. Under his regime, bauxite mining was restarted and has continued since, in the face of continuous opposition from adivasi communities.  

Later, in 2012, Kishore Chandra Deo, the Union Cabinet Minister for Tribal Affairs at the time, wrote to Dinesh Patel, then Union Mining Minister, asking him to cancel mining permissions in Andhra Pradesh.

This letter, MVS Sarma, an Independent MLC from Andhra Pradesh, told The News Minute, provides the Congress its point of legitimacy. “The sole advantage Congress carries forward is Kishore Chandra Deo’s letter to the centre asking them to cancel mining permissions.”

However, says Narsing Rao, activist and CPI State Secretariat Member, the main parties have only taken up the fight when it suited their interests. “When Congress was in power, they made efforts to build industries based on bauxite mining. Like every other political opportunist, Rahul Gandhi is trying to gain mileage by doing Padayatra in the Visakha agency.”

Pointing to protests and agitations organised by the CPI, he adds, “We have been genuinely fighting for the rights of adivasi communities.”

The Congress, however, dismisses allegations of being opportunistic. Nadendla Manohar, Congress legislator and ex-speaker for the Legislative Assembly says, “We are fighting for the rights of tribal communities just like them. We don’t mind working together but such allegations should not be made. We took a decision in favor of mining but later realized the loss and revoked our decision to continue with the mining work. We are committed to work for them and that is why Rahul Gandhi is coming to Visakha Agency.”  

The ruling Telugu Desam Party has its own share of reversals on the issue. Before the 2014 elections the party had protested against mining, only for the Naidu government to issue GO 97 on November 5, 2015, which allows for forest land to be allotted to Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation.

On August 9, World Tribal Day, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu visited the Pedalabudu village in the Agency Area, which he had adopted two years ago. However, alleges Narsing Rao, he avoided any mention of mining. “Chandrababu Naidu came to Visakha Agency but never spoke about mining. He is a coward, He was against bauxite mining before the election and now he is in favor of it,” he alleges.

Meanwhile, there have been incidents where adivasis have been picked up by police officials on allegations of being Maoists. Some activists allege that false cases are being foisted on adivasis in order to intimidate them and evacuate the area. A disproportionately large police force is being deployed in the Agency Area, these activists allege.

Talking about police forces in the area, Rao says, “There are police atrocities recorded in this region. Many of our activists also were harassed and booked on false cases by police.”

Some adivasis, on the other hand, are being targeted by Maoist forces on the claim that they are working as informers for the police. In January, The New Indian Express reported that Maoists had gunned down a tribal in Sariyapalli village in Manchangiputta mandal for allegedly working as a spy for police. Following such incidents, police in the Agency Area have been on high alert and conduct regular combing operations.

Between these various forces, not only are adivasis facing the loss of livelihoods, but also the threat of environmental disaster. Bauxite mining will result in destroying thousands of acres of agriculture land in three hundred villages of the Agency Area as toxic dust from mining operations will poison the farm and forest land, allege activists. Sharda river which flows into the plains from the hills of the Agency Area is also under threat of toxic pollution.

“The destruction of wildlife and environment will result in extinction of some rare animal species which are found in these forests,” says MVS Sharma.

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