Surrounded by picturesque hills is the sleepy village of Livitiputtu, a tiny Adivasi hamlet in Araku Valley that borders Odisha. The hamlet with nearly 100 families has a host of basic problems including malnutrition. However, Livitiputtu, which rarely makes headlines, became the epicenter of news coverage last September when Araku sitting MLA and government whip Kidari Sarvesweswara Rao and ex-MLA Siveri Soma were gunned down by Maoists.
CPI (Maoist), a banned outfit justified the killings claiming that the legislator and their aides allowed illegal mining of bauxite in the agency area and jeopardized the dwellers by polluting the water bodies.
On September 23, both Sarveswara Rao and Siveri Soma were visiting Livitiputtu as part of a grama darsini programme when they were waylaid and shot dead in broad daylight. One police official had stated that a group of Maoists, who had come along with the villagers, blocked their cars, snatched the AK-47 rifles belonging to the personal security officers of the two leaders, before killing Rao and Soma.
According to locals, at least 50 Maoists were involved in the incident. The killings created panic and tension in the region, which was earlier presumed to be free of Maoists. Seven months later, residents of Livitiputtu are suspicious of the movement of non-residents.
Afraid of being caught in the crossfire between the police and Maoists, residents are unwilling to speak with the media about the incident. After the incident, police detained locals suspecting their involvement in the killing. Nandu*, one resident who hesitant to talk about the attack says, â€śWe donâ€™t want to get into any trouble. After the incident, we were enquired by the police. They detained us early in the morning. They treated us like suspects. Who takes people into custody for questioning at 4 am?â€ť
And while police stepped up their vigil soon after the attack, it was months before normalcy returned to the village.
Now seven months on, the Assembly Elections has put the spotlight back on the hamlet of Livitiputtu. Slain MLA Sarveswara Rao's son Sravan Kumar, who was inducted into the Chandrababu Naidu cabinet after the attack, is contesting from his father's Araku Valley constituency, hoping there will be a wave of sympathy. Sarveswara Rao, who had successfully contested on a YSRCP ticket, later defected to the TDP in 2016.
Araku valley is an ST reserved constituency with six mandals--Anantagiri, Araku, Dumbriguda, Hukumpet, Pedabayalu and Munchangiputtu.
Walls and shops across Araku Valley and Dumbriguda, which is just 2 kms away from Livitiputtu are plastered with TDP posters featuring Sravan Kumar and his father Sarveswara, a constant reminder of the tragedy.
The TDP campaign does find some resonance from the locals. Kumari, a resident of Dumbriguda says, â€śThe MLA must have committed some wrongs, but he must have done some good also. Besides, how is killing justified. Shouldnâ€™t they have warned them and let them off?â€ť
A honey vendor who has been residing in Araku for the past six years, however, says, â€śPeople are not going to vote for candidates because of emotions. The sympathy has died down. People are going to vote for winning candidates. Presently, the wave is with YSRCP.â€ť
YSRCP has put up Chetti Palguna, a local to take on Sravan. And while the tragic attack on his father may garner Sravan sympathy votes, it wonâ€™t be a smooth ride for him as he fights the outsider tag and lack of experience in this reserved constituency.
*Name changed on request.