Banking on Illiteracy
Venkupalem is a small village 27 km west of the coastal city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. It has a population of about thousand people, mostly engaged in small farming activities, many of them illiterate, ten of whom were in Delhi to protest against their lands being taken by the local government with the compensation for it diverted from them to fake owners.
(Farmers & supporters from Venkupalem)
In the middle of last year, local farmers were informed that their land was required to develop a horticultural research center. They were promised suitable compensation of Rs. 6 to 10 lakh for an acre up. The farmers allege that Rs. 7 crore, 60 lakh have been released for this purpose, but they say, the money has been sanctioned off to bogus beneficiaries, with many genuine farmers cut out from the picture altogether.
In November, the aggrieved farmers submitted their complaint to the district tehsildar and the revenue divisional officer, but to no avail. Then they sought the help of the Janasena Party to have their voices heard.
(Kundala Lovaraju, one of the aggrieved farmer)
Janasena was founded by Telegu actor Pawan Kalyan in 2014 to fight elections in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. With no representation in Parliament yet, they do form a vocal opposition, and K. Seetaram, the local Janasena leader from Visakhapatnam spearheaded the farmers’ march to Delhi, which has been a long and wretched one to the cold, rainy climes of Delhi.
“We need to have our voices heard,” says Seetaram. Along with the farmers, he had participated in a 39-day long, relay hunger strike in Venkupalem from December to January recently. They even met Chandrababu Naidu, the Telegu Desam Chief Minister of the state on his flying visit to the area last month.
“It is not just a case of diverted compensation, there is rampant corruption in the entire process that needs to be properly investigated,” says Sheikh Omar, another Janasena party member. While work on the horticultural center has not begun, money for laying roads has been released for roads that already exist!
[Sheikh Omar (right), Janasena party member]
The case seems a classic one on how political parties close ranks tightly when it comes to corruption: the local MLA is Y. Visweswara Reddy from the YSR Congress Party (Yuvajana Shramika Tyrhu Congress Party), the MP from Visakhapatnam is K Hari Babu from the BJP, and state government is under the Telegu Desam party!
Janasena proclaims its motto to be to: “Fight for the Rights of each and every Common Person”, which will be put to test in the upcoming elections if they win seats to power.