“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,” this African proverb fits Gattaiah’s family, who have seemingly become victims of local politics in Telangana’s Chennur. The residents of Indaram, a small village in Chennur, Mancherial district are mourning the death of Regunta Gattaiah, a resident of Indaram, supporter of Chennur sitting Telangana Rashtra Samithi MLA, Nallala Odelu. After Odelu was denied the Chennur seat, Gattaiah threatened immolation and accidently burnt himself. Gattaiah’s death has become a lesson for the blind supporters of political leaders, and has also become an electoral issue as the Bahujan Samaj Party kicked off their campaign from his residence.
On September 12, Gattaiah, a Rural Medical Practitioner doused himself with petrol and threatened suicide when Pedapalle MP Balka Suman visited Indaram for a road laying foundation ceremony, and also as part of his electoral campaign. Gattaiah was agitated over the fact that the TRS offered the Chennur seat to Balka Suman and not to Odelu.
According to eyewitnesses, when the crowd had gathered to meet Suman, Gattaiah barged into the crowd carrying a bottle of petrol. He then allegedly doused himself with the petrol, which spilled on others around him, too. However, in a freakish accident, when the women in the crowd were giving Arathi to Suman, the fire engulfed Gattaiah. Sixteen others also suffered injuries, including a policeman who was providing security to Suman.
Though the residents allege that the incident was an accident, Gattaiah’s family aren’t convinced, and demand a thorough probe into the incident. Fueling their suspicion, Suman who witnessed the entire episode, alleged that someone in the crowd deliberately flicked a matchstick on Gattaiah.
“We want a CBI inquiry into the incident,” demands Regunta Tirupathi, Gattaiah’s younger brother. Gattaiah’s nephew, Regunta Surya adds, “It was a planned killing. My uncle is not a coward, he just wanted to threaten Suman, but someone in the crowd lit him up.”
‘We are the victims of politics’
In the political game between Balka Suman and Odelu, Gattaiah’s sacrifice had no meaning, as Odelu, who had initially started a rebellion, quickly joined hands with Suman after TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao’s intervention.
Gattaiah is survived by his wife, Vijaya and his two children. Vijaya says, “I lost my husband because of this politics. I feel that we are victims of politics.”
Sensing trouble, Vijaya says that she doesn’t want to speak further about politics and hopes that someone provides her with a government job. She works at the local Zilla Parishad school as a sweeper and is uncertain of how she can survive without a permanent job.
“My only concern is that I have to take care of my daughter and son. It would be great if someone provides me with a permanent job in the school. Presently, as an outsourced employee, I only get Rs 2,500 every month, and as it is a contract job, the income is not regular; we sometimes get money only after three-four months,” Vijaya rues.
Relationship of Gattaiah and Odelu
According to the residents, Gattaiah as a social worker would often organise blood donation camps. During one such occasion, he invited Odelu to inaugurate the campaign, which led to a mentor and mentee relationship between the two.
“Gattaiah lost his father at a young age and didn’t have any godfather to help him. He made his living on his own,” recalls a teary-eyed Ammakka, Gattaiah’s mother.
According to Surya, once Gattaiah fell ill and he didn’t have money for his medical expenses. “Odelu gave Rs 20,000 for the treatment. Since then he (Gattaiah) became his loyal supporter,” he says.
Post the death of Gattaiah
After a week of availing treatment at Yashoda Hospital, Gattaiah who suffered 70% burns injuries, succumbed on September 18. After paying the medical expenses and the expense of his funeral, Odelu never came to meet them, Gattaiah’s family alleges.
“He never came back, and never checked upon us. He didn’t even give any compensation for us,” laments, Gattaiah’s wife, Vijaya.
As compensation, Balka Suman gave the family Rs 5 lakh, while Odelu who promised of Rs 10 lakh never lived up to it.
As the death of Gattaiah is still afresh in the memories of his family and children, Tirupathi appeals to politicians to not play ‘death politics’. “Political leaders are making our tragedy a leverage for their political agenda. Everyone is coming, taking photos and making statements using my brother, but nobody is helping us financially. They are playing cheap politics. My brother didn’t make a penny by being in this useless politics,” he laments.