Telangana polls: RS Praveen Kumar banks on local Bahujan history to win Sirpur

In July 2023, Telangana BSP chief RS Praveen Kumar, announced that he would be contesting in the upcoming Telangana Assembly elections from Sirpur, a constituency in Telangana’s Komaram Bheem Asifabad district.
Telangana Bahujan Samaj Party chief RS Praveen Kumar.
Telangana Bahujan Samaj Party chief RS Praveen Kumar.
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“Sirpur, as a constituency, is drenched with Bahujanwaad,” declares Telangana BSP chief RS Praveen Kumar as he explains the politics of Sirpur, located in Telangana’s Komaram Bheem Asifabad district. In July, Kumar took everyone by surprise when he announced his candidacy from Sirpur for the Telangana Assembly polls to be held on November 30. Until the announcement, it was speculated and assumed that he would contest from Alampur, one of the two constituencies in Jogulamba Gadwal district and Kumar’s home turf.

BSP members attributed various reasons for his choice of constituency. Pallavi, a member of the BSP’s IT cell, says that residents of Sirpur, an unreserved constituency, asked Praveen to contest, and he agreed. Another member, Aruna Queen, says that the constituency is a fitting choice as it borders Maharashtra, and a strong Bahujan wave will ensure Praveen’s victory. 

Kumar, an ex-IPS officer, is known for his work in uplifting marginalised students as the Secretary of the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS). He is also a member of the Scheduled Caste (Madiga) community. As such his July announcement got local media dubbing his Sirpur contestation as a ‘bold choice’. 

“It isn’t going to be easy for him. The incumbent Sirpur MLA Koneru Konappa, is a veteran and has won the constituency thrice. Praveen has a solid base, but Alampur might have been a better fit as it is an SC constituency,” says a reporter based out of Sirpur. 

Kumar states that he is unwilling to differentiate between an SC and an unreserved constituency. “A candidate is a candidate irrespective of their social markers. Besides, I do not want to capitulate to a stereotype that a Dalit man can only contest from an SC constituency.” However, Kumar is keeping Alampur as another option. “Alampur is not off the table. I am considering contesting from two constituencies in the upcoming polls, but nothing is certain yet,” he remarks. 

The what and why of contesting from Sirpur

Explaining his decision to contest from Sirpur, Kumar lists out names of Bahujan leaders to explain the influence they have had in the constituency. “The land has witnessed the influence of Komaram Bheem, Sardar Sarvai Pappanna, even Dr BR Ambedkar and Jyothiba Phule, owing to the border it shares with Maharashtra. What Sirpur people currently desire is to be liberated from the clutches of Andhra landlords. The constituency needs Bahujan politics,” says Kumar. 

The reference to landlords is presumably a veiled dig at the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) MLA Koneru Konappa, among others, whom the BSP has accused of extortion, corruption and harassing forest officials. 

Attacking Kumar, Konappa has repeatedly told local channels that unlike Kumar, who hails from the southernmost tip of Telangana’s Jogulamba Gadwal, he lives in northern Telangana’s Sirpur. “I will tell you my address. What is his (Kumar’s)?” he asked in an interview with Telugu channel RTV. BSP witnessed its first electoral victory in Telangana in 2014 when Konappa won from Sirpur. Soon after that, he defected to the BRS in March 2015. 

Sirpur is part of a district which has been classified as one of the 112 most backward districts in the country by Niti Aayog with people suffering from lack of basic infrastructure. Kumar states that his current attempt in Sirpur and subsequently Telangana, akin to BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s, is to bring together marginalised communities in Telangana and ensure their upliftment. 

Kanshi Ram had, in fact, organised rallies in united Andhra during the 90s, in districts like Hyderabad, Nalgonda and Vizag, to solidify a base. While it didn’t take off, Kumar claims the deceased leader’s presence is far from gone. 

“Every district, every mandal in Telangana has Kanshi Ram advisors in their 50s and 60s. They are also very happy that another person with a similar view to Kanshi Ram’s pragmatism is working for the same cause,” says Kumar. “I am trying to unite Yadavs suppressed by Telangana Energy Minister Jagadish Reddy and others, Gouds, members of Budaga Jangam, who still have to beg or collect scraps to earn a living. They are victims of atrocious crimes like rape and murder,” he told TNM.  

Kumar has also been working on bridging the gap between the SC sub-castes of Mala and Madiga in Telangana since he joined BSP in 2021. Madigas, for several years now, have been demanding SC categorisation on the grounds that the Malas have been enjoying all the benefits. 

Like Telangana Congress Chief Revanth Reddy or Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), Praveen too has relied on history to explain his politics. “We have a lot of Bahujan icons in Telangana. But their history was never known to the people of their communities. We discovered that there was a Bahujan ruler 352 years ago. His name was Sardar Sarvai Papanna. He fought the Mughal emperors and established his small kingdom in Telangana. He was assassinated, punished by the Mughal rulers,” he said in an interview with The Caravan in February 2023. 

This becomes all the more important considering Sirpur is a part of Komaram Bheem Asifabad district, named after the revolutionary Gond leader. Under the Nizams in erstwhile Hyderabad state, the mokhasis, who were under the Gond rajas, enjoyed independence, which took a hit with the imposition of the Nizam rule. “At the time, Komaram Bheem declared the twelve villages around Jodeghat (65 kilometres away from modern-day Sirpur) as ‘Gond Raj’ and sent an ultimatum to the authorities. The idea of Gond Raj, in fact, shook the Hyderabad State,” writes Bhangya Bhukya in his book The Roots of the Periphery: A History of the Gonds in Deccan India. 

In the contemporary political setting, RS Praveen Kumar is inclined to shake up the established system in favour of the deprived castes. One acre of land to every landless house, assigning podu lands, creation of one lakh jobs in five years, and free health care are all part of the Telangana BSP’s promises. 

He is drawing from local history and has made it clear that he is doing so in several interviews to explain his politics of wiping out Manuvad. “Sirpur has already given one wave to the Bahujan Samaj in 2014. As such, contesting from there is appropriate, and we are getting a lot of traction. Also, Mayawati trusts me to follow Kanshi Ram’s politics and hence declared me the Chief Ministerial face,” he concludes.

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