Political parties in Telangana seem to believe that the walkathon is a powerful political weapon that can be used to mobilise the electorate and win the election.

Revanth Reddy, Bandi Sanjay and YS Sharmila
news Politics Thursday, July 15, 2021 - 14:00

Though Telangana’s next Assembly elections are scheduled only in 2023, preparatory work for the polls have already picked up pace in the state. All opposition parties have announced a padayatra (walkathon) in a bid to drum up grassroot support and come into power. Last week, officially announcing the launch of her party — YSR Telangana Party — YS Sharmila, daughter of late united Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), announced that she would undertake a padayatra like her father, who had walked 1,470 kms — covering 11 erstwhile districts of Andhra Pradesh state in 64 days. Not to be left behind in the race to power, BJP president Bandi Sanjay will be taking up a 750-km padayatra from Charminar to Huzurabad on August 9.

Telangana Congress’ new president Revanth Reddy has also devised a similar election strategy to defeat the TRS and bring his party back to power. Revanth already completed a 140-km yatra in February, even before he was appointed the party’s state unit chief. Even Telangana Jana Samithi, a non-entity in the present political scenario, has announced a padayatra to highlight the alleged misrule of the K Chandrasekhar Rao-led TRS government.

Political parties in Telangana seem to believe that the walkathon is a powerful political weapon that can be used to mobilise the electorate and win the election. Observers say that while even figures like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi used the padayatra to propagate his ideas of revolution amongst the masses, YSR has to be credited for redesigning this campaign model into a political weapon in the Telugu states.

At a time when the then Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu was enjoying a larger than life image by dining with popular multi-billionaire and co-founder of software company Microsoft Bill Gates (At Naidu’s insistence in 1997, Microsoft inaugurated their second office outside Seattle, in Hyderabad, India) and being dubbed as a “visionary,” and “technocrat”, the padayatra, a reachout programme, which began at Chevella in Rangareddy district in 2003, helped YSR dethrone Naidu in the 2004 Assembly elections — a game changer in the politics of the Telugu states.

The padayatra made YSR reach out to the farmers, who felt that they were overlooked as Naidu had focussed on transforming Hyderabad into an Information Technology city. The successful campaign ensured that YSR won consecutive terms in 2004 and 2009. “While Mahatma Gandhi used his padayatra to spread his ideology and philosophy during the freedom movement, YSR made it into a political weapon by taking people into confidence,” says Jinka Nagaraju, a senior journalist.

In 2013, before Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated, perhaps picking up from his colleague turned rival, Chandrababu Naidu walked an expanse of 2,800 kms in the state and became the first Chief Minister of the newly created Andhra Pradesh in 2014. YSR’s son and present AP Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy also swept into power on the back of a padayatra. The high success rates of these padayatras in the Telugu states have created a popular notion that whichever party takes up the yatra will come to power.

“Padayatras appeal to the masses. A huge political leader walking on a road under the sun like a common man shunning the luxuries of cars equipped with air conditioners for several hundred kilometers to meet a poor farmer in the remotest of villages creates good will. The leader will address a huge meeting and take their policies to them. These acts influence the electorate,” said author and senior journalist, Kingshuk Nag. Echoing similar views, Nagaraju said, “Padayatras create an emotional intimacy. It affects the public psyche when a big leader hugs and kisses a poor farmer and assures them of help.”

However, both these senior journalists argued that padayatras will soon lose their relevance if all politicians in the state follow the same tested strategy. Kingshuk Nag said, “It has become a joke now, as politicians have started taking up padayatra for 40 km or 100 km. People will also stop taking these yatras seriously and political parties will be forced to abandon these ideas.”

“Previously Mahatma Gandhi had used Satyagraha extensively as a form of protest and now it has lost its relevance. Leaders are now undertaking non-violent protests under a different name and Satyagraha has disappeared from the political dictionary. Similar will be the fate of the padayatras,” Nagaraju predicted. 


 

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