The town of Bhadrachalam in Telangana, situated on the banks of the Godavari River, wore a completely deserted look on Tuesday as all shops and offices downed their shutters in unity.
The reason for the almost complete shutdown of the town, was in response to the call for a bandh by various organizations like Girijana Samkshema Parishath (GSP) and the “Save Bhadradri Committee.”
All these organizations had one demand - to create a new district in Telangana by bringing 24 tribal sub-plan mandals currently under the Khammam district and making Bhadrachalam the district headquarters.
Roads were blocked and a huge rally was taken out in the town's main street.
GSP State convener S. Veeraiah addressed a large gathering in the temple town as he urged the tribal legislators to raise the decades old demand for an 'Adivasi district' on the floor of the house in the State Assembly.
"Tribal population is spread across 24 out of the 44 mandals in the district and four Assembly constituencies have been allotted to tribals in the district. Keeping all the facts in view, the government should declare Bhadrachalam as tribal district," Veeraiah had earlier said, while calling for the bandh.
The overwhelming and voluntary response to the bandh on Tuesday, reflects that the movement is gaining momentum and it may soon become hard for legislators in the Assembly to ignore the rising discontent in the area.
(One of the many 'rasta roko' protests that took place across the city during the bandh)
Before going into the circumstances that led to the demand, the geographical location of the town needs to be understood.
Bhadrachalam, which lies on the banks of the Godavari river, also holds the distinction of sharing borders with three States – Chhattisgarh, Odisha and the residual Andhra Pradesh.
Even before the official bifurcation of the two states, there was a lot of speculation as to which of the two Telugu speaking states will get the Bhadrachalam division.
While the Andhra lobby claimed that prior to the formation of the combined Godavari district in 1825, Bhadrachalam was part of theceded circars and the zamindar of Bhadrachal, who was known for his loyalty to the British, the pro-Telangana lobby claimed that Bhadrachalam was part of the Qutb Shahi kingdom.
However, after bifurcation, nearly 300 villages in seven mandals were merged with Andhra while the town with its famous Lord Rama temple became a part of Telangana's Khammam district.
The need for a separate district and why now?
The state government on September 28, constituted a committee under the chairmanship of chief secretary Rajiv Sharma to recommend the reorganization of administrative units which include districts, revenue divisions and revenue mandals in the state.
Even before the committee was formed, a movement called 'Save Bhadrachalam' was floated last month, to take forward their demand for the "gross injustice that was done to the Bhadrachalam revenue division during bifurcation."
Speaking to The News Minute, Bolishetty Ranga Rao, one of the leaders of the 'Save Bhadrachalam' movement says the demand has to be stepped up as it is "now or never."
"The TRS government has been conveniently ignoring our woes. While the chief minister sanctioned Rs 100 crore for Yadadri, we haven't even got a single penny," he says.
Rao adds that the town also lost all its government offices to AP including the Roads & Buildings wing which was shifted to Sattupally, the irrigation department office which was moved to Charla and the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) office which was set up at Ellandu.
"Around 10,000 people have left the town looking for better jobs as the town is crumbling in neglect. We remained loyal to Telangana when TRS leaders proclaimed that they would develop the entire state, but why is our town in their blind spot?,” Rao asks.
Rao also stresses that Bhadrachalam is also an important Hindu pilgrimage town and still does not get help from the state or the Centre.
"If we get a separate district, at least our voices will be heard and making Bhadrachalam the district headquarters, will also revive the past glory of the temple town," Rao adds.