Controversy
Koteshwara’s death has become a contentious issue with political parties claiming that he died following police torture for refusing to give up his land for a helipad for the CM.

It was on February 18 that Pitla Koteshwara Rao, a native of Putlakota village in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district, went into his field with a bottle of pesticide. Just a few km away, massive security arrangements were taking place for the visit of state Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. The police said that Koteshwara was discovered after he had consumed more than half the bottle, when an agricultural worker noticed that he had not returned for over 30 minutes.

Koteshwara’s death has become a contentious issue in the poll-bound state as leaders of all political parties descended on the village and claimed that he had died after the police allegedly tortured him for refusing to give up his land for a temporary helipad and other security arrangements for the CM’s visit.   

While a group of leaders from the YSRCP and actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena party were quick to rush and meet Koteshwara’s grieving family and demanding justice, what has perhaps been lost amidst all the press statements and protests, is that Koteshwara seems to have become just another tool for parties to further their political agenda.

“While we still have to establish what exactly led to the death of the farmer, it is condemnable that parties in the state are using it for their own benefit. Such incidents where the lands of small farmers are snatched away because of some government function is common and have taken place irrespective of which party is in power. There have even been incidents where a field ready for harvest has been flattened,” says Pedi Reddy, from the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam, an organisation that works for farmers in the state.

With the elections coming up and more such meetings likely to take place, Reddy says that a meeting should be held with farmers whose land might be needed, well in advance, so that due compensation is also given. He also says that the outrage over farmer deaths should not be selective.

“There should be a similar amount of outrage over each farmer death in the state. We should look at policy-level changes in agriculture to help farmers instead of using them as pawns for your own political agenda,” he adds.

Parties continue to politicise issue

While the Chief Minister announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh on the same day as ex-gratia for Koteshwara’s family, opposition leaders were not satisfied. On Wednesday, the YSRCP sent a three-member fact-finding committee led by senior leader and MLC Ummareddy Venkateshwarlu, while Jana Sena leader and former state minister Ravela Kishore Babu met the family and demanded a judicial probe into the ‘suspicious’ death.

Taking to Twitter on Wednesday night, state IT Minister Nara Lokesh, who is also Naidu’s son, hit back at YSRCP chief Jagan and called his party’s attempts an orchestrated campaign.

Armed with screenshots, Nara Lokesh pointed out that the issue was first picked up around 9 am on Tuesday by social media pages that supported the YSRCP. By 11 am, YSRCP chief Jagan had tweeted on the issue, while by around 12.30 pm, Sakshi TV (considered a YSRCP mouthpiece) had started a debate on the farmer’s death. By Tuesday evening, the state BJP had also picked up the issue and lashed out at the TDP government in a series of tweets and shot off a letter to Union Minister Rajnath Singh. 

Police deny allegations of brutality

Meanwhile, the police denied any involvement in the incident and rued that the entire issue has been muddled due to the involvement of political parties.

“He consumed poison in his field, which is far away from where the police were deployed for the CM’s visit. The place where the deceased consumed poison was not visible to the police,” Narasaraopeta DSP Ramavarma tells TNM.

“When the worker went inside the 14-acre field, he saw Koteshwara consuming pesticide and had almost finished half a bottle. Soon, Koteshwara fell to the ground and started thrashing about before he began foaming at the mouth. At that stage, the farmer’s son was called, who in turn called the police. It was a police officer who carried Koteshwara to a vehicle and rushed him to the hospital accompanied by the son and the worker,” he adds.

Koteshwara Rao was rushed to a private hospital nearby, where he was declared brought dead, following which his body was taken back to his house.

“There is not a single injury on his body except the foam at the mouth. There was a little blood as well because once the lungs rupture, blood also oozes out. Some people saw that and accused the police of assaulting him, which is not true. Despite this, because the family has made an allegation, we immediately set up an inquiry committee to impartially investigate if any officials were involved. We are probing all angles. We have sent samples to the Forensic Science Laboratory as well. The police are investigating without any fear or favour and within the letter and spirit of the law. The investigation will conclude in a few days and we will submit our findings in court,” the investigating official says.