“I will vote for TDP not because they paid me up and my family beforehand, but because of their ‘development agenda’,” says the old man who doesn’t want his name to be revealed fearing repercussions for having spoken the ‘truth’.
When this reporter criss-crossed the constituency during the campaign, many people confessed to have received money, quite publicly.
However, the amount changed with identities, with some Muslim families even receiving as high as Rs 5,000 per vote. Muslims – the single largest community in the constituency – constitute 40,000 votes out of the total of 2,15,000 votes.
However, the money power is an open secret with activists and leaders from both the parties confessing off the record, about the role money is playing in this election.
Each side is only keen on showcasing that the other side is more corrupt than their own. Long gone are the days when parties tried to project a clean image against corruption.
(A statue that has been covered up as part of the election code)
The bye-election was necessitated by the death of Bhuma Nagi Reddy, a local faction leader and the sitting Nandyal legislator, who switched sides from the YSRCP to the TDP after the 2014 Assembly elections, along with his daughter and Allagadda MLA, Akhila Priya.
In 2014, Bhuma contested on the YSRCP ticket and won over his arch rival and businessman Silpa Mohan Reddy, who is now contesting the same Assembly seat from the YSRCP this time. After the death of Bhuma, Akhila Priya was made the Minister for Tourism and Culture in Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s cabinet.
This has been a high-stake election with both the parties pumping all their energies into winning this election as it has become a virtual semi-final before the 2019 Assembly elections. Even by conservative estimates by the locals, both the parties have spent over Rs 100 crore, with at least a dozen ministers and 50 MLAs campaigning at one point in the last month.
As the old man succinctly put it, the agenda behind the elections has been revolving around ‘development’. But, what kind of development, for whom and in what context is a question that remains to be asked.
The ruling party announced a number of developmental activities and welfare measures for the people of Nandyal to woo them. As part of these activities, the government took up road widening in Nandyal, which has been on cards for the past few years, but has been put on the back burner due to stiff opposition from the victims.
The timing of the road widening during the rainy season, without a comprehensive plan, which happened on July 18, days before the election notification raises eye-brows about the political nature of the decision.
Displacement was orchestrated and victims were created by the ruling party, just with the sole idea of winning the election and create an illusion of development.
Around 1,000 buildings – both commercial establishments and houses – on the either side of the road leading from Gandhi chowk to Saibaba Colony were demolished. Even as all of these structures were being brought down, two temples were untouched and they are right now in the middle of the road.
34 -year-old Chand Basha runs his auto garage on this road and employs a few youngsters to work for him. Ever since July 18, he hardly has any business which has forced him to close down the shop.
As a result, Basha and the youth have lost their livelihood. “I should now go in search of livelihood now. I will go to some bike or car showroom and work as a mechanic there,” says Basha, who is collecting all the old unused parts in his shop, to sell them.
“Since the shop has no shutter, I have lost many things in my shop to thieves. If I sell the remaining, I will get Rs 400, which will help me survive at least today,” he adds.
Just like Chand Basha and his employees, there are around 3,000 people who lost their livelihood either directly or indirectly and 350 families who lost their home. Some of them have set up tables on the edges of the road in a hope to salvage some business, before they are finally thrown out.
(Chand Basha, his friend, and an employee, carrying the scrap)
They were promised compensation of one hundredth of the actual market value. However, not even a single penny of compensation was paid to the victims even after a month of their displacement.
The victims of ‘development’ are not really such, but victims of the whims and fancies of the TDP to use ‘development’ as a weapon to win this election.
Even the developmental works which were taken up were neither completed nor were they in the process of completion.
“The road widening works were half done and halted to send across an impression amongst the people that they will not be taken up if they didn’t elect the TDP candidate. There were also roads dug up in other parts of the Nandyal town to create an illusion that development is not just confined to one road but to the whole of Nandyal,” says Bhaskar, a resident of Nandyal and an employee with an NGO.
The fear that the TDP government will be displeased with the people of Nandyal if they don’t elect the TDP candidate is palpable.
There are already enough indications from none other than the Chief Minister, when he lashed out at the people saying that they should vote for him because they are ‘taking his pensions and walking on the roads built by him’.
In various public meetings held in the constituency, the Chief Minister and his cabinet ministers have given enough signals that the developmental works – road widening or building 13,000 houses or Rs 1,200 crore in development funds – will only be granted if the people elect their candidate.
“The people are voting for the TDP only in the fear of development being halted but not in the hope of development. There is a sea of difference between the two,” says an MPhil graduate from SV University who hails from a tribal hamlet in the constituency.
Silpa Mohan Reddy, who has been in TDP till very recently and is now fighting TDP candidate Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy on a YSRCP ticket is a real estate businessman with many ventures in Kurnool district.
Though the Bhuma family is no match for Silpa in financial terms, the TDP is using all the political power at its dispense to turn the tide in its favour. There were allegations that the police and revenue departments are being used by the ruling party in full force to aid their chances. Rowdy-sheeters were being let off with the promise of their votes while Self Help Groups (SHG’s), DWACRA Groups and employees are being coaxed to vote for the TDP by showing some undue benefits.
All in all, the Nandyal election could probably be one of the most expensive bye-elections in recent times, on par with the RK Nagar bye-election in Tamil Nadu, which was postponed after the Election Commission took cognizance of the fact that money was being heavily distributed.
Though many complaints have been submitted by both the parties, the EC hasn’t taken any significant step to cut short the influence of money and political power.
Just as both the parties are supposed to be held accountable, the EC also needs to answer some tough questions as to why it has been a mute spectator while so many irregularities have been happening right under its nose.