After thorough contemplation and weighing in options, Telugu Desam Party’s supremo and AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu allotted the Mangalagiri Assembly constituency to his son Nara Lokesh for his poll debut, apparently expecting an easy victory. However, things on the ground seem to paint a different picture.
Some observers say that if everything goes as per Naidu’s plan, his son Lokesh will become the next Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and Naidu might play a role in national politics, his big dream. Lokesh was inducted into the AP cabinet in 2017 and given the Panchayat Raj, Rural Development and Information Technology portfolios.
Politics in Andhra Pradesh is often considered blatantly casteist as a candidate's victory or loss is largely determined by their caste.
The Mangalagiri constituency has a majority vote share of the Padmashali (weaver) community; most people from the community are not too keen to elect Lokesh as their legislator. Lokesh’s upper caste identity (Kamma) is one of the primary reasons they are opposed to electing him.
The constituency has had Padmashali MLAs from 1989 to 2009. In all the three elections, the Congress fielded Padmashali candidates, including a woman. In 2014 too, the TDP fielded Ganji Chiranjeevi, a Padmashali, who lost the election by a mere 12 votes to Alla Ramakrishna Reddy of the YSRCP.
Many Padmashalis migrated to the town from different parts of the state some 50 years ago, as the textile business was flourishing due to the popular Mangalagiri sarees sold in the region. Irrespective of their political ideologies, their primary demand is to have a representative from their community. The common perception among the Padmashalis is that the Mangalagiri Assembly segment is reserved for them. However, there is no such provision guaranteed in the Constitution. According to community leaders, they have more than 55,000 votes in the constituency, with most voters residing in Mangalagiri town.
Fear of eviction?
Besides Lokesh’s caste identity, the hostility towards him also stems from the assumption that he would evict them if elected. Scores of families belonging to the Padmashali community have been living on assigned land at Ratnayya Cheruvu, a locality in the outskirts of the town. As many as 5,000 people live here.
“The government registered some assigned land to corporates who built apartments in the town. But when we ask for registration, we were denied our right,” said Beeraka Janaki, a handloom weaver.
Without registration of any assets, it is difficult to get a loan for business purposes, said Pillalamarri Nageswar Rao, vice-president of Chenetha Karmika Sangam (Handloom Workers Association). With the textile industry facing trouble due to market competition, the youngsters of the community have shifted to goldsmith work to earn a living.
Denial of pension and other benefits
Though many of the workers are eligible for the handloom pension provided by the state government, only about 3,000 people actually get the pension, sources said. The officials are denying pension for eligible candidates and remain incommunicado, they allege.
Bitra Sambayya (73), who lives along with his sexagenarian wife, weaves dupattas and makes Rs 100 daily. The government gives him a pension of Rs 2,000 per month. His wife, who holds a weaver identity card issued by the government, is also eligible for pension but it has not been approved by the authorities.
The weavers also allege that they do not get the 10% subsidy they are entitled to while buying yarn. “Only co-operative society members and power loom operators are getting the subsidy, and not the tiny handloom operators,” said J Nageswar Rao.
Many workers suffer from tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases. However, they are not covered under the state government’s Aarogyasri scheme, said Pillalamarri Nageswar Rao.
One of the major demands of the Padmashalis was for a textile park to be built at Mangalagiri, which has not happened during the current government’s tenure, and there is not much confidence that the TDP would build one in the near future.
Apart from all these factors, Lokesh’s slip-of-the-tongue statements might likely impact voters.
“The other day, he said that Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao would take away Machilipatnam port if Jagan was voted to power,” said Thota Sambashiva Rao, Congress party constituency in-charge, pointing out that Telangana was a land-locked state and it was physically impossible for this to happen.
Kartheek is an independent journalist based out of Telangana, who is presently in Andhra Pradesh covering the state elections.