The wobbly road to Podichedu village in Mothkur Mandal in Nalgonda district is decked with acres of agricultural lands on either side, in addition to the steady stream of cattle traffic. As evening falls, the quiet village is glued to their TV screens, watching the evening news in petty shops, rice mandis and their homes. With elections in Telangana in less than a fortnight, the villagers are sitting around, debating the prospects for the future of the state.
Shankaramma, the 46-year-old mother of Srikanth Chary, waits for us in her bright green two-storey home, tucked away in a one-lane road in the village, amidst tall, dust-strewn bushes. Srikanth Chary, her son, was among the first to set himself ablaze, demanding the bifurcation of Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh. The student of pharmacology from Nalgonda succumbed to his burn injuries on December 3, 2009. His death, along with many others after him, ignited students across erstwhile united-Andhra Pradesh to agitate in support of an independent state.
Pointing to the various posthumous citations and awards that her son has received, Shankaramma, a Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader, is visibly upset that her son and his sacrifice are being forgotten though his death was a pivotal moment in the agitation. “Telangana exists today because of Srikantha Chary’s sacrifice,” she says, “There is no justice for the family of such a man. Imagine, if his own mother is begging and dying. There is no justice for me.”
The NRI who replaced Shankaramma
When the demand for a separate state of Telangana was finally realised in December 2014, KCR showed his gratitude to the families of martyrs by honouring Shankaramma with a ticket to the Huzurnagar Legislative Assembly. She was pitted against Congress’s Uttam Kumar Reddy, a three-time MLA. Shankaramma polled an impressive 45,955 votes – however, the Congress leader got 69,879 and won the election. For the past four years, Shankaramma says she has been working for the party in the constituency to honour her son’s legacy – but come election time, and the ticket for the Assembly seat was given by the party to a man with money, she alleges.
A Canadian NRI, Saidi Reddy, has been given the Huzurnagar seat by the TRS, much to the chagrin of Shankaramma. “In 2014, I was given a ticket by KCR very late. Despite that, I polled 46,000 votes. There were not many party workers then in Huzurnagar. Half of them are settlers from Andhra. I have been in touch with the workers there and trying to save the party these past four years. But this (giving ticket to Saidi Reddy) happened without our knowledge,” she says.
“They have come through Ankireddy Foundation, that uses his father’s name,” Shankaramma says.
The Foundation that Shankaramma is referring to is an NGO run by Saidi Reddy and his father, Sivaji Reddy Kathram. The NGO simply defines itself as an organisation that raises awareness and promotes initiatives to “serve the people of Telangana who need them most.” “But they have not done any work for the objectives and ideals of the TRS party,” claims Shankaramma.
She further alleges, “Suddenly, they have got a ticket saying that they have the support of the party workers. They are coming up with money, by giving people beer and biryani. When we asked ministers, they said that the father-son duo have money, and he (Saidi Reddy) has his father’s name.”
‘No Telangana without Srikanth Chary’
Shankaramma says she is dejected not because she wants power, but because the TRS has been progressively ignoring the sacrifice that her son made. “Professor Jayashankar is the ideologue of the Telangana Movement. Srikantha Chary is the foundation of Telangana state. You can give anything for a cause but my son gave his own life. Those who occupy the limelight now did not give their lives. Only girls and boys of the BC community have died. Among these people, Srikanth Chary was first,” she says.
Getting personal about the moments before her son’s demise, Shankaramma reveals that all he had wanted was for KCR to be ‘saved.’ Srikanth Chary’s self-immolation was in response to KCR’s arrest.
“Without Srikanth Chary, there is no Telangana state. It was only when he set himself ablaze, that everyone – from students to labourers to the common man on the streets – woke up. Forty minutes before his death, he told me to save KCR. “If KCR is saved, Telangana state will be safe. It’s okay if I die, save KCR,” he said. He died just forty minutes after this,” says the upset mother.
‘No respect for martyrs anymore’
Shankaramma believes that a lot has changed in the last four years of the TRS rule.
“First there was a lot of respect, whether it was giving money or giving jobs,” she says, “KCR even had a lot of affection towards the families of the martyrs.”
“But now, even when he comes to Srikanth Chary’s zilla, he doesn’t take Srikanth Chary’s name. They hold so many public meetings – it pains me that my son’s sacrifice is being forgotten,” Shankaramma laments, “Before, at every meeting, martyrs’ families would be invited. At every meeting, my son’s name would be evoked. But now, that has changed. Neither my son’s name nor the names of other martyrs are mentioned. As a mother, this pains me greatly.”
‘It’s not about power’
“A post or money is not important for me,” Shankaramma says. The Huzurnagar seat may not make much of a difference to KCR’s fortunes in the state, but giving her the ticket would have made a difference to the families of martyrs, she asserts.
“There are 119 seats. The CM has the power to give me one seat and make me win. The formation of a new government is not contingent upon this one seat. Giving me this seat would have been a way to do right by all Telangana martyrs. One thousand people have martyred themselves for the cause of Telangana but see, not one of them has come up. That pains me,” Shankaramma says.
“The government gave us Rs 10 lakh as soon as they come to power. They have given government jobs to the siblings of the martyrs. But they also promised to build a house for us, they said they would give 5 acres of land. They have not delivered on these promises,” she explains.
While she wishes to tell KCR that her family needs justice, she still wants him to win. She says, “At no opportunity should my son Srikanth Chary’s sacrifice be forgotten. That’s all I want. I am confident that KCR will win. He should come to power and do justice to all sections of society. We are confident that he will come back to power.”
But will she campaign for her party this time round? “If they send me somewhere, I will go. I will not go on my own,” she says.
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