Firstpost Ground Report: KCR’s abundant display of wealth in drought-hit Telangana reeks of bad governance
KCR’s Maha Yaagam is wasteful, gaudy — the drought stricken mandals and families that have lost their breadwinners — wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, stand out like a sore thumb. Sore, they are, from years of negligence towards their needs and conditions not just by the TRS government, but by the five different political parties that were in power before.
According to reports, K Chandrasekhar Rao’s (KCR) puranic religious ceremony was performed after centuries — a ritual even the Mysore Maharaja fell short of conducting. This ceremony was done to alleviate severe drought in the state of Telangana, for the well-being of its people and world peace. ‘Ayutha’ stands for 10000; the mantras in praise of Chandi (Goddess Bhadrakali) were recited 10000 times over five days.
Close to 2000 priests were enlisted to perform the ritual using 108 homagundams (sacred fireplaces). The yaagam was performed twice during the all the five days (23 December to 27 December): once between 7 am and noon, another between 3.45 pm and 7 pm. Four tonnes of ghee (four thousand kilos), 16 tonnes of wood and 12 tonnes of paramannam (payasam/sweet rice prepared with milk and jaggery) was offered in the homams. Arrangements were made for seating 10,000 people with LED screens that showed the rituals being performed inside.
Local language media, including the local editions of English language national dailies such as The Hindu, Times of India and Deccan Chronicle carried extensive coverage of the event. Newspapers such as Eenadu, Sakshi and Andhra Jyoti carried multiple premium space stories on the their front pages, full spreads on inside pages, centre spreads (of city supplements). The media created an image of a fantastic religious event — creating lakhs of devouts who thronged to his farmhouse in Erravalli to pay obeisance to Goddess Bhadrakali. According to a report in The New Indian Express, the chief minister hoped to thank the Goddess for helping with the cause of separate statehood for Telangana. This is a promise he had made on many occasions during his campaigns. The report also suggests that KCR will soon be facing GHMC polls in Hyderabad, where Andhra voters could be deciding the future of the ruling government.
The agrarian crisis in Telangana has not been attended to by the TRS government, GV Ramanjaneyulu added that TRS's promises of loan waivers in their manifesto, benefited only a very small section of the people. Most families, I interviewed said that they did not get their loans cancelled.
On the last day of the yaagam, a fire mishap occurred when one of the pandals caught fire. According to a report in The Indian Express, religious seer, Swarupananda Swamy told KCR that the fire mishap was not a hindrance to his vow, in fact that the “yaagashaala was offered to Lord Agni” and this was a way in which “Goddress Chandi blessed Rao.” Just after the conclusion of this five-day event, KCR called it a ‘huge success’ and said that he would be performing a ‘Prayutha Chandi Maha Yaagam’ at an “appropriate time”. This new yaagam would entail 10,00,000 recitations of the Chandi mantra.
KCR clarified to the press that the 7 crore Yaagam was performed from his own personal fortune and that it was a ‘private event’ and not a single penny was spent from the public exchequer. However, close to 3000 state police, hyderabad traffic police were engaged to look after the security arrangements for the event — to take care of the 40,000 VIP and VVIP invitees to the event. At the event, the VVIP entrance had the DIG and Nizamabad collector overseeing the security arrangements. At the parking lot, I saw a number of cars that had government of India signage on the front and rear windows of the cars. Five helipads and parking area for 20,000 cars/vehicles was created near the farmhouse.
This puja, KCR said on numerous occasions to the press, is for the benefit of the people of Telangana, and humanity. The Gods have been rather unkind to the state. The meteorological department estimated the rainfall deficit of 34 percent in 2014 and 20 percent in 2015. The state announced Telangana’s 231 mandals (out of 443) as drought hit, but a week later, KCR began his five-day spiritual appeasement exercise. The government ought to have declared Telangana as drought hit much earlier than they did, according to GV Ramanjaneyulu, executive director at the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. The negative impact of the drought could have been reduced, had the government not be “apathetic” in its response to the issue, according to Ramanjaneyulu. “This year they declared the drought only in November, whereas they could have done so in August,” he adds. According to the government's handbook on drought, areas with a shortfall of rain by 20 percent are considered for drought relief measures, however, because the government did not declare last year as drought, the areas which received a little over 20 percent were not covered under this year’s declaration. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2014, a total of 5650 farmers committed suicide across India; Telangana accounts for 31.1 percent of those deaths.
A few hundred kilometers away from the site of the puja in an idyllic rural setting, in what seems like a village slowly getting out of slumber, there is an enclosure of mud-houses around. Some of these houses in Guruvanapetta, a village with 80 families, are in the middle of getting upgraded to superior quality cement constructions. Somewhere in the middle of the enclosure, is a mud-house will blue doors. The off-white walls of the house have a number of cracks and faded red mud accents. Outside, wheat grains are spread out on a sheet of tarpaulin. A child, (who I would later come to call as Ruthvik) no more than one year old is crawling on the grains, playing and sometimes putting a tiny fistful in his mouth. His mother, Chakkala Anjali, all of 24, has lost her brother-in-law and father-in-law.
Chakkala Kanakayya, Anjali’s brother-in-law had taken on multiple loans for his agricultural land, however there were little to no returns. With the mounting debts and being unable to repay them, Kanakkaya sought hung himself in October 2011. A number of loan sharks showed up to his father’s door, unable to manage the money, his son’s debts and his own debts, Chakkala Uppalayya committed suicide by ingesting pesticide. “We were not generating enough yield, there was not enough money to pay our lenders, so when people came home and created a ruckus, my brother-in-law could not take it, he committed suicide. Three years after he died, my father-in-law also committed suicide because the loans kept increasing,” said Anjali. The Chakkala family undertook loans worth Rs 2 lakhs from private moneylenders with premium interest and government institutions.
It has been four years since the first such agrarian suicide in the family of ten, but the compensation for either suicides under the government’s scheme to alleviate such families, has still not reached them. Under the latest revisions, the family is owed more than Rs 3 lakh in compensation from the government of Telangana. When asked if any officials or officers from the mandal had come to check on their plight, she said that no one had come, other than the police to take statements. No other investigation was done.
Not too far away from Gurruvannapeta, on the outskirts, I met Alakuntla Kanakamma’s family who had consumed pesticide and died in January 2013, leaving behind her husband and four daughters. In a mud-house that was barely standing, Alakuntla Mysayya was repairing the broken tiles on his roof. Kanakkama had taken a cooperative loan with a few other women, she paid for borewells, however the bores didn’t fall through — with severe lack of water, she recieved poor yield. “We fought a lot about the mounting loans, we were unable to pay them back for all most eight months, one day, she said that she was going to pick up the children, turns out she had consumed pesticide,” said Mysayya.
In Chityala, Irumulla Yadava’s son, Ramudu told me about how his 50-year-old mother, the sole breadwinner of the family — looking after her blind husband and mentally challenged son, committed suicide by jumping into a well. She was neck-deep in debts — money she used for her 2 acre land, her corn crops had dried up completely. Yadava’s neighbour, Mekala Narasayya, a 36-year-old man committed suicide in October 2013 due to mounting debts and inability to pay. Narasayya took loans of 4 lakhs for agricultural reasons. Other than that, he had also taken loans to pay for his daughter’s wedding. “One night, he got some money (probably to pay moneylenders), he said he would buy a buffalo, but that night he came without one, next day I saw that he had ingested pesticide. I knew it was because of the money,” said Ballava, his wife.
There are many families like this in the Cheriyala mandal in various villages. According to Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), the number of ‘farmer suicides’ in Warangal district as of December 2015 has been pegged at 280; one of the families we were about to make a visit to in Ainapur was still conducting the 11th day funeral rites for Jandhyala Tirumala Reddy who consumed pesticide and died on 18 December 2015, roughly a week before KCR’s epic yaagam was set to begin. Most ‘farmer suicides’ happened due to mounting debts and lack of relief measures provided by the government. The dry spell and lacking of an extension system in place has heightened the agrarian problem in Telangana.
However, a report in The Economic Times published on December 26, KCR had started work on projects such as restoring 46000 irrigation tanks, however, severe drought conditions have led to rendering the project of little to no use. A comprehensive agricultural plan is lacking, additionally, extension systems are not in place. “The government needs to rework and restructure its idea of development to fit the needs of the Telangana people better, the focus cannot be just on irrigation,” said Ramanjaneyulu.
KCR’s Maha Yaagam, perhaps hoped to implicate the role of God in people’s misfortunes, hence, he called for the entire state to join him in his ‘personal’ appeasement to God — to save his state, his people and the world. KCR’s Maha Yaagam is wasteful, gaudy — the drought stricken mandals and families that have lost their breadwinners — wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, stand out like a sore thumb. Sore, they are, from years of negligence towards their needs and conditions not just by the TRS government, but by the five different political parties that were in power before.
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