A TDP flag flies on top of the panchayat office in Telangana's Etigadda-Kishtapur, roughly a 100 kms from the state capital of Hyderabad. "It was right here, where he sat for two days on a hunger strike," says a villager, referring to TDP leader Revanth Reddy's visit last month to protest against the TRS government's Mallannasagar reservoir plan.
Revanth Reddy, a close aide of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, is just one of the politicians who have seen political opportunity in the anger of the farmers who will lose their land.
(A poster in the village announcing Reddy's hunger strike)
The Mallannasagar reservoir is proposed to be constructed in Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's home district of Medak and aims to divert water to drought-hit regions of the state. However, around 10 villages would be submerged in the process.
While this has presented itself as the first major political challenge for KCR, many political parties have been eager to cash in on the protest by the farmers, including the state unit of the Congress.
The Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) working president Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka on Wednesday hit out at the state government and said "The government is ignoring the law and taking land away from people on its own terms. Such acquisition is happening across the state in an illegal manner. The Congress will not let the government continue with such plans and will launch programmes across the state against the government's land policy."
On Monday, the Telangana police foiled the Congress party's 'Chalo Mallannasagar' protest after it detained a large number of party leaders and workers in Hyderabad and Medak district.
The party's protest was in response to police allegedly lathicharging many villagers in the district's Erravalli, a day earlier when they gathered to protest against the reservoir.
The state unit of the Congress, historically, has never been weaker as it only managed to win two MP seats in the 2014 state elections, out of which one defected to the TRS earlier this year.
All top leaders of the party's state unit have now taken up the cause.
Writing for Telugu360, T S Sudhir writes:
The Congress does not want to lose the momentum it is gaining in Mallanna Sagar. All constituency incharges were asked to be on the road on Monday to ensure that the bandh was a success, in an attempt to embarrass KCR and drive a wedge between the CM and his nephew. Specific leaders have been asked to reach out to the youth to co-opt them in their anti-TRS missive. Youth Congress leaders have been asked to speak on the subject in colleges so that this does not remain confined only to the 14 villages but becomes a pan-Medak and pan-Telangana issue.
"The leaders really rile up the people. Even though it's a people protest, one political leader from the opposition party can really charge things up," a resident of Erravalli admits, as he talks about section 144 being implemented in the village.
On Monday, many political leaders including TJAC chairman Kodandram and Revanth Reddy were detained by the police as they tried to enter the villages.
Worried over leaders still finding their way into the villages and creating unrest, the police have reportedly intensified security all along the borders of the district, erecting 12 check posts.
"We have been told to ensure peace and order. That's all," a policeman posted between the villages of Erravalli and Pallepahad says, as other policemen in camouflaged uniform look on from behind him.
However, villagers of Etigadda-Kishtapur say that they do not care for the politics as long as their voices are heard.
"It doesn't matter if it is the TDP or the Congress. They will come now and run away from sight when they are in power. But they bring a lot of media attention with them, which helps us," says one villager, refusing to be identified.
"That being said, this is not a political protest. This is farmer protest led by us," the villager adds.
Lashing out at the opposition in a media conference, the state's irrigation minister Harish Rao, who is personally in-charge of the project claimed that all villagers were cooperating with the government in giving their land for the project.
"The violence erupted because TDP workers pelted stones at police officials and in order to control them, firing and lathicharge took place, in which innocent villagers got hurt. Opposition wants to make this an issue to gain political mileage,” he said.
The villagers claim otherwise.
"If people were really giving away all the land, would there be a need for all the police check posts? Every party is doing what it does for political mileage and finally, we are the ones that will suffer," another youngster from Etigadda-Kishtapur adds.
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