Mahajana Padayatra: Mobilising Support for Development with Social Justice

B Venkat

THE Telangana state committee of CPI(M) has released a perspective paper on alternative development inviting inputs from public. This is in continuation of the Mahajana Padayatra which is aimed at canvassing and mobilising public support for comprehensive development of the state with social justice. The perspective paper focusses on the developmental alternatives available within the limits of constitutional provisions which failed to draw the required attention from the ruling classes till now thereby ending up evolving an exclusive developmental paradigm. The CPI(M) is a constructive opposition which provides alternative development plans benefitting public at large instead of confining to be a constant critique of government policies. The perspective plan on alternative development is in continuation of this tradition. Unfortunately, instead of considering the issues raised by CPI(M), the TRS government of Telangana focused on ridiculing the opposition. Despite such criticism, CPI(M) dared the government to join in the issue on the question of development paradigm adopted by the state.

The Mahajana Padayatra, that kick-started on October 17 at a public meeting addressed by Prakash Ambedkar, completed 60 days on December 16. During these two months, it traversed 2,000 kilometres and crisscrossed more than 600 villages receiving 6,000 representations on issues related to the day-to-day livelihood of ordinary public. The coming into being of Telangana itself was anchored in socio, political and economic exclusion of this region while it was part of undivided Andhra Pradesh. Naturally the slogans that rallied the public and aroused their sentiment focused on this exclusion – exclusion of regions and classes from benefiting the economic development. This enthused the public to plunge into historic protest actions on sustained basis. This resulted in achievement of Telangana as a separate state. This is only half of the target. The second half, achieving Telangana that ensures social justice is yet to be realised. The state committee of CPI(M) embarked on this historic padayatra aiming at this.

The TRS, a party seen as the victor in the struggle for statehood, came to power in the emotionally charged 2014 Assembly election. During its election campaign, TRS took the aspirations of public to a new high with various innovative promises. Once it secured the power, the TRS government proved that there is no difference in terms of policies pursued by TRS government and those of its predecessors. In fact, those were the policies of globalisation and liberalisation that widened the developmental gap between and among various sections of people as well as regions. The TRS government also inclined to travel in the same path rather than implementing alternative policies which is a cause of concern. Not only that. It is branding those who asked for inclusive development policies and put forth alternative development agenda as anti-Telangana. The people can’t find any difference between the government approach and that of its predecessors towards the poor and marginalised sections. The implementation of government schemes became lopsided and turned out to be instruments to cater to TRS cadre only excluding the genuine beneficiaries. It became bone of contention among the public as it is revealing itself in village after village during the padayatra.

When it comes to the development of newly born state, the TRS government is left without any option except following the footsteps of the reforms packages prescribed by the same implementation secretariat which works under the direct guidance of the World Bank. The TDP’sswarnandhra slogan is replaced by TRS’s golden telangana. The previous Congress government bestowed good fortunes to contractors in the name of jalayagnam whereas the TRS government following the same path albeit with a changed name of mission bhageeratha and mission kakatiya.As it was the case with the then TDP and Congress governments in undivided state, the TRS government in Telangana is also becoming impatient when alternative designs with limited submergence and limited need of land acquisition for various irrigation projects re put forth. The farming community in Telangana primarily consists of small and marginal farmers and tenants belonging to ST, SC and Backward Communities. Unless farming becomes a viable enterprise, these farmers are forced to deject cultivation and ends up in agricultural workers or non-agricultural workers.

The cultivators in undivided state used to get some bonus on MSP declared by the central government which was refused by the TRS government now. Unless the farming becomes a viable enterprise, the aspiration of transforming Telangana into number one state is not going to be realised in near future. Jhum cultivation spread in five out of nine rural districts in Telangana is one of the key livelihood source for lakhs of tribal farmers. Instead of taking initiatives to protect this pro-environment cultivation, the TRS government is evicting them and imprisoning those who protested under draconian laws for months together without bail. The whole set of policies initiated by the TRS government are aimed at securing unbridled benefits to upper castes and classes instead of paving way for social justice.

The CPI(M) welcomes the government’s aspiration to ensure number one slot for the state but questions its dependence solely on laying red carpet for foreign direct investment, instead of investing in enhancing human development capabilities. The state is filled with invaluable amount of natural resources and human resources. The policy direction of the TRS government over the past two-and-a-half years is only to ensure private monopolisation of natural resource use rather than putting them to use with an aim of inclusive development. Instead of focusing on revitalising and resurrecting the closed public and cooperative sector industries, the government is focusing on handing over lakhs of fertile lands to domestic and foreign private capital in the name of industrialisation rendering crores of farmers and agricultural workers jobless.

The TRS announced during election campaign that it will uproot the contract and outsource system once it comes to power. But now, its policies are aiming at dispensing the contract and outsourcing workers. On the other hand, utterly disregarding its own electoral promises, it has not initiated any move to implement reservations in private sector which receives huge dole-outs from public resources.

Telangana is still a backward state in terms of human resource development. Recently, it decided to appoint an experts committee to develop human development report. Without moving away from the current policy paradigm, we are not going to achieve the desired levels of human development. The education and health sectors in the state have become fiefdom of private managements. Unless the state expands the footprint of public funded health and educational infrastructure, it is unlikely to improve its tally in human development index. CPI(M) strongly feels that common school system which gives equal treatment to all sections of students is the only way out to improve the quality of education.

Issues Identified

The perspective paper on inclusive development with social justice discusses several such other aspects of Telangana’s socio-economic conditions. Canvassing the themes contained in this perspective paper is one of the main purpose of the ongoing padayatra. The government’s electoral promises such as double-bedroom houses, regularising all contract and outsourcing employees, increasing wages for anganwadi workers, reservations for Muslims, notifying tribal villages as panchayats, proportionate representation for STs, etc. are still hanging fruits for the people. A new setup of village development committees are put in place to continue the semi-feudal client relationships in the villages. Despite high decibel campaign on Swachh Bharat, hundreds of villages the padayatra passed through, nearly 90 per cent of socially excluded and marginalised households could not afford to own a latrine. The rural development campaigns and programmes became the fiefdom of the ruling TRS cronies. In almost all the villages, the padayatra came across MNREGA workers whose wage arrears are pending for up to six months. The renovation of water bodies turned out to be money-minting scheme for contractors with close links to the highest possible levels with leading family of TRS. The land acquisition act of 2013 is made into fiasco. Lands of dalits and other marginalised sections are being taken away forcibly in the name of development whereas lands belonging to upper castes and classes are well-protected. Padayatra also encountered various social groups that are yet to be notified as backward in deep pockets of backward regions of the state. These are some issues of importance to be mentioned here. On all these aspects, Tammineni Veerabhadram has written letters to the Chief Minister and other ministers and departments concerned, drawing their attention to the conditions of people in the villages.

Organisation of the Yatra

Every day, the padayatra begins at around 8 AM and concludes around 9-10 PM, walking 24 kilometres per day on an average. Before the yatra team reaches a village, a pilot team will do a spot survey of the main issues in the village and hands over a brief to the team. Also the pilot team will look for mobilising solidarity and support from different socio-political actors present in the village. Leaders representing various political affiliations often take part in the meeting organised in the village. The team receives representations in writing and does a brief analysis and passes over to the district committee members concerned who are attached to the yatra. It is mandatory for the district committee to reflect and respond on all such representations received during the yatra and organise delegations to the respective departments. A weekly report on the delegations and their outcome at district administration level is being compiled. An interesting part of the yatra is that in majority of the villages,  most of them are villages without party units, local people are joining in the padayata.

Support and Solidarity

Apart from prominent leaders of CPI(M), a number of important political personalities participated in the yatra and expressed their solidarity. Prof. Kodanda Ram, Telangana Joint Action Committee convener, MRPS president Manda Krishna Madiga,  Revanth Reddy of TDP, R Krishnaiah, MLA and prominent BC leader,  Ravula Chandrasekhar Reddy, TDP Polit bureau member, Kottakota Dayakara Reddy, ex-MLA, senior Congress leader Kondanda Reddy, Belya Naik, president of Lambada Hakkula Porata Committee, DBF president Shankar, Mysaiah, Ambedkar Youth Organisation and others participated in and expressed solidarity with the padayatra. From CPI(M), General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member B V Raghavulu, Central Secretariat member V Srinivasa Rao, CITU President R Hemalatha, AIAWU working committee member Veeraiah Konduri have participated in the yatra till now. 

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