Angered by decades of neglect, leaders in Andhra Pradesh's Rayalaseema region are bracing up to stage a novel protest. As the state heads to the polls next year, local leaders in the districts of Kurnool, Kadapa, Anantapur and Chittoor are planning to campaign not for a politician, but for NOTA.
"Even though the state was bifurcated in 2014, many critical issues of the region were not addressed. Not even a single political party is concerned about the issues plaguing the region. We have been agitating for the last five years but political leaders are still looking at the people of Rayalaseema as a vote bank and treating it as a political issue instead of a socio-economic issue," says Bojja Dasaratha Rami Reddy, President, Rayalaseema Saguneeti Sadhana Samithi.
Rami Reddy says that they decided to campaign for NOTA after making several representations to political parties and their leaders.
"We have identified eight chronic issues from water to unemployment and we personally met several leaders and handed over representations. However, there was no response even though we gave them a deadline. In this way, their stand has also been cleared, that they do not care for the region," he adds.
Those leading the campaign cite the Sribagh Pact, which was signed in 1937 when leaders of Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra met to discuss the possibility of a unified Andhra, after splitting up from Madras state. As leaders in Rayalaseema feared that they would be neglected, the agreement stated that the new capital of the state would be in the Rayalaseema region, while the High Court would be located in one of the other districts.
In 1956, leaders of Telangana, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema signed the Gentlemen's Agreement. One of the issues discussed yet again, was the location of the Executive and Judicial branches of the state. When Andhra Pradesh was first reorganised from the Madras Province, Kurnool was made its capital and the High Court functioned from Guntur until 1956. However, both branches were soon shifted to Hyderabad, leaving Rayalaseema in neglect.
When the state was bifurcated in 2014, leaders in the region saw yet another opportunity to develop their region, but as Amaravati was announced as the capital, dissent brewed yet again. Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naiduâ€™s focus on the Krishna and Godavari delta region has irked many.
Even as the location for the new Andhra Pradesh HC was being decided, massive protests broke out in Kurnool, demanding that the High Court should be set up in the stateâ€™s Rayalaseema area. However, the state government has been insistent on setting up a temporary HC at Amaravati.
Another major issue that leaders rake up, is the rights of the Rayalaseema people not being addressed by the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal.
Stating that even the Polavaram Project, which was conceived with the promise to meet the requirements of the Rayalaseema region, was failing to do so, several leaders of the Rayalaseema Joint Action Committee submitted a representation to the Principal Secretary, Water Resources Department, in October this year. The representation said that there were "clear and unambiguous empirical statistics which proved that even the basic drinking water needs of Rayalaseema had also not been met, let alone the irrigation needs of the region."
However, the leaders allege that the government is yet to act on the representations. Other issues which are of concern here, include the Kadapa steel plant, a railway zone with its headquarters at Guntakal and the funds that were allocated to Rayalaseema as part of a 'backward region' package.
"Many are thinking that we may not be able to get people to vote for NOTA, but they are not taking into consideration, the sentiment on the ground. The ruling party and opposition party has not had any major discussions on how to develop the region in the state's Legislative Assembly. None of them are addressing the changes needed in policy. With our campaign, we hope to change the attitude of political parties," Rami Reddy says.
"We have approached students, women groups, employees, lawyers and all sections of society for support. Even if we don't succeed in 2019 or 2024, we are starting a campaign and awakening the people hoping that future generations will benefit," he adds.