June 19, 2022

Why this Sudden Interest of Sangh Parivar on Alluri Sitaramaraju?

R Arun Kumar

ALLURI Sitaramaraju is a much venerated revolutionary freedom fighter in both the Telugu speaking states. Along with his associates Gam Gantam Dora, Gam Mallu Dora, Padalu and others, he had waged a war against the British empire. This year, his 125 birth anniversary, coincides with the 75th anniversary of our independence. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar eco-system, as is their nature, are busy trying to appropriate his legacy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a committed cadre of the Sangh Parivar is visiting Andhra Pradesh to unveil his statue, ‘pay tributes’ and he is also keen ‘on developing the areas frequented by the prominent freedom fighter’. Indeed they forget that in spite of the best of their efforts, ‘all the water in Ganga (or the perfumes of Arabia) would not cleanse’ them of their deliberate decision to keep away from the freedom struggle.

Detailing how the BJP intends to capitalise on the occasion, Central Minister for Tourism, Culture and Development of North-East, Kishan Reddy, announced that the ‘Union Government wants to educate the people, especially the youth, about the glorious life and times of Alluri Seetharama Raju’. According to the minister, “the PM himself is evincing interest in the Seetharamaraju Project”, which includes, setting up the Alluri Seetharamaraju Museum at Visakhapatnam, development of Alluri’s birthplace, his place of education and his areas of action. He would thus be glorified as a legendary figure of the freedom struggle.

While these are the advantages of holding State power that the Sangh Parivar is effectively using to further its agenda, its foot-soldiers are not lying idle either. They are busy moving around peddling lies, distorting history and giving a communal slant to the role played by Alluri Sitaramaraju in the struggle against the British oppression. Efforts are on to project him as a ‘Hindu saint’, ‘enlightened ascetic with religious powers’, apart from giving him a precise upper-caste identity derived from the caste and religion in which he was born. Recent Telugu (rather a ‘pan-Indian’) film adopting and romanticising his history is doing them favours than helping in spreading historical facts.

Alluri Sitaramaraju was born in 1897 and a native of Mogallu village in West Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh. He was named Alluri Sri Ramaraju by his parents, but later, ‘Sita’ was added to his name. According to various studies, it was added either in honour of his sister, or the woman he had loved, (but did not marry due to his involvement in the anti-colonial struggle) or it was added in order to ‘canonise’ him.

In fact, as Prof Murali noted, Alluri Sitaramaraju’s ‘image was built up through a number of myths’. He roamed around the tribal inhabited agency region wearing red khaddar long shirt and knickers, distributing medical herbs and also putting to use his pursuits in astrology and palmistry. His austere life-style and helping nature gained respect and admiration from the tribal people, who assigned him magical powers. These myths were tolerated by Raju. Reports indicate that when he was interrogated by the Agency Deputy Superintendent of Police at KD Peta on January 30th, 1922, Raju admitted that the people saw him as “a very holy man” and believed that he was going to start a ‘fituri’. “Everybody comes and asks me about it but most of them do not accept my denial”.

Many freedom fighters, even in the early decades of the twentieth century, used religious imagery and symbols to mobilise people. Annapurnaiah, Raju’s classmate in school states: “He used to deliver spiritual messages, but in the milk of spirituality there was invariably the sugar of patriotism”. This however does not mean Raju is communal or gave precedence to one religion over the other and discriminated others. In fact, going by the facts of Raju’s life, we come to learn that he was tolerant towards various cultural and religious practices and was also against caste hierarchy and discrimination.

Reports quoting one of the descendants of Raju’s family note that his (Raju’s) mother was orthodox and did not allow people from ‘lower castes’ to enter their home. Brought up in this atmosphere, Raju however did not retain such orthodox beliefs, but was on the contrary against such discriminatory practices. He actively mingled with the tribal people, stayed in their houses, ate with them and became one among them. More importantly, he empathised with their socio-economic problems.

The attempts of RSS-BJP to appropriate Raju as a ‘Hindu leader’ is a grave injustice to his legacy. Similarly, the attempts made by certain caste organisations to assign a caste to Raju on the basis of his birth is also a crime and nothing but negates his broad humanitarian world view.

Raju’s rebellion against the British was a reflection of people’s radical reaction against the colonial rule during that period (early 1920s). Raju had helped in the growth of the political consciousness of the tribal peoples in the Manyam region, which remained the base for his actions. He used the grievances of the tribal people, to rouse them and channelised their anger against the British. Manyam region had witnessed many plots and intrigues against exploitation of the tribals from the 1860s onwards. But the 1922-1924 rebellion led by Raju differs from them qualitatively, not only because of the two long years, but also due to its character. Murali writes: “Unlike in the course of the earlier series of uprisings, Raju was able to fuse the individual grievances with anti-colonial ideology and thereby, create a new collective political consciousness among the hillmen. This is what made his rebellion a true people’s rebellion”.

Raju’s rebellion is principally against colonial State, which banned podu cultivation and usurped the right of collecting even minor forest produce. It was also against the exploitation of the contractors who worked for the British and employed the tribals for various forest operations, including road laying. According to an exhaustive report on the causes of the rebellion prepared by AJ Happell, Officer Commanding Agency Operations, “forced labour on the government’s road-laying projects, agrarian crisis and grievances of ex-village munsifs and ex-muttadars against Bastian had created a combustible environment in the Agency, jolting the tribesmen into action”. It is against the socio-economic exploitation that the tribal people had rebelled against the British. The British were rattled by the rebellion and heaved a sigh of relief only after Raju was captured and shot in 1924, at an age of 27 years.

Raju’s legacy lies in his opposition to economic exploitation, caste discrimination and standing for tolerance of all kinds. The Sangh Parivar woefully fails on all these counts. It has no history of fighting the British colonial rule. In fact, there are various reports that quote the founding leaders of the RSS urging people to not participate in the freedom struggle. Moreover, instead of standing by the traditions of our freedom struggle and taking steps towards the realisation of the dreams of our freedom fighters, the BJP led government is hell-bent on compromising our hard-earned sovereignity and independence. The abject surrender before the US, opening up of our economy for multinational corporations and the withdrawal of the State from its public responsibilities, all negate the ideals of our freedom struggle.

In spite of all its tall talk of building a homogenous, inclusive society, the actions of RSS-BJP indicate that it stands for ‘upper-caste’ supremacy. There support for anti-reservation agitations, both overt and covert support to the attacks and atrocities committed on dalits and adivasis across the country, systematic denial of governmental support to various welfare schemes intended to benefit dalits and adivasis, including the refusal to legislate providing reservations in the private sector all prove their inherent bias against the so-called lower castes.

The current attack on minorities, conscious attempts to drive a wedge between people of the basis of their religious beliefs, how they dress and what they eat are antithetical to what Raju stood for. For all the above said reasons, the RSS-BJP does not have any locus standi to talk about Alluri Sitaramaraju, leave alone the right to appropriate him.

Using the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, the BJP government is trying hard to re-write history, distort facts and interpolate historical records through the introduction of myths like Sangh Parivar’s role in freedom struggle. In the name of bringing to light the lives of unsung freedom fighters, it is trying to appropriate the legacies of various valiant fighters who stood for a country that not only remains free from colonial rule, but also from obscurantist practices and ideas that discriminate people on the basis of their religion and caste. It is dreaming that by appropiating Raju, a revered freedom fighter, it could gain a foothold among Telugus. This occasion is being used by the BJP to erase from people’s memory the failures of their government, including its failure to honour promises made after the bifurcation of the state, its attempts to privatise the Vizag steel plant and the dilution of Forest Rights Act.

Alas, the BJP fails to realise that neither people’s memory is short, nor are they in the mood to forget and forgive. People remember well what Alluri Sitaramaraju taught: ‘for the well-being of the country, you have got nothing else to do, but carry on the struggle’.