Telangana Polls: Gaddar’s Naxal Ideology Vs KCR’s Principles

Gaddar, KCR - Sakshi Post

By T S Sudhir

In July, Gummadi Vittal Rao, more popularly known to the world as Gaddar, enrolled himself as a voter in Toopran in Medak district of Telangana. Gaddar now close to 70, has never voted in an election. Not surprising since the balladeer was associated with the erstwhile naxal outfit, the People's War that did not believe in the electoral process. Today he says he won't mind contesting against Telangana caretaker chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao in Gajwel assembly constituency.

I asked him if the decision to contest elections is not a U-turn considering the fact that the Maoists profess that power flows only from the barrel of a gun, not from the EVM. After all, during his innings with the Maoist outfit, Gaddar had supported their calls for boycott of elections.

"This is not a U-turn," argued Gaddar. "This is moving forward. When I asked for bill on formation of Telangana in Parliament, was that a U-turn? If the entire Maoist party participated in elections, that will be a U-turn."

This decision by a former member of the erstwhile People's War to embrace the ballot comes even as the outlaws continue to stay in love with the bullet. This weekend, the Maoists in a written statement asked those living in the coal belt area of Mancherial to boycott the December assembly elections. It decried all the political outfits—the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the BJP, the Congress—as opportunistic and vowed not to let them campaign in the region.

At the same time, their compatriots operating in the Andhra-Odisha Border zone upped the ante last month when they gunned down two Telugu Desam leaders, one of them, an MLA from Araku. A letter released subsequently revealed the killing was to 'punish' him kangaroo court style, for involvement in bauxite mining in the area. Kidari Sarveshwar Rao, the MLA, was on the radar, having received a threat letter from the Maoists in April this year. In July, tribals protested demanding the cancellation of a mining lease obtained by Rao in the name of his brother-in-law. Rao was accused of securing the license using political clout, without the mandatory approval of the gram sabha.

If you read them separately, these three instances are not directly connected. Yet they provide a reading of the Maoist mind.

Rewind to over a decade ago when the Maoist might ran convincingly over large parts of united Andhra Pradesh. Most parts of Telangana and areas like the Nallamalla forests covering parts of Guntur and the AOB, were considered Maoist territory. Political killings were routine and even Chandrababu Naidu when he was CM, was the target of an assassination attack. Posters pasted on walls calling for a poll boycott were taken seriously and their informers were present in several villages. Not all of them were on the side of the outlaws out of choice, most of them were caught between the police and the naxal gun and feared incurring the wrath of either.

The late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, using a combination of political guile and strategic intel gathering managed to get the better of the outlaws between 2004 and 2006. If Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have been free of Red terror that used to browbeat citizens, extort from business houses and target the police and the political class in the last decade, the Telugu states owe their gratitude to YSR.

During the Telangana agitation, the Maoists supported the cause of statehood for the region, a few of them even joining the political mainstream. Despite the fears of those who opposed bifurcation that Maoists will have a free run in Telangana if statehood was granted, the Reds have been largely kept at bay by the men in uniform.

I see the run-up to the 2018 elections as a turning point. When the CPI(Maoist) issues a poll boycott call, it essentially reveals that it is today a unit that has run out of ideas, practically living on borrowed time. Its ideas are hackneyed, beyond their expiry date and its decision to force the people not to vote reflect a refusal to change with the times, an obdurate approach to what the people desire on the ground.

Which is why Gaddar's decision to embrace the electoral process is welcome, given that for decades he was practically the poster boy of naxalism in Andhra Pradesh. Gaddar who was part of the Jana Natya Mandali, formed in the early 1970s, emerged as the voice of the socially marginalised classes and those in agrarian distress in the times that the naxal movement was gaining strength. Travelling shirtless with just a sheepwool blanket on his shoulder, Gaddar would hold a stick tied with a red flag and anklet bells and with his street performances with song and dance and drumbeat, articulate about caste oppression in Telangana. With the naxals looking to exploit the pain of the victims of oppression, Gaddar's lyrics like "Podamuro Janasena lo kalisi, podamuro errasenalo kalisi" (Let us join the people's army, let us join the Red army) spurred aggrieved youth to join the movement and pick up the gun.

In no time, Gaddar acquired cult status. He even went underground in the 1980s. After differences cropped up with the People's War, the naxal leadership suspended him from the party in the 90s but chose him as its emissary in 2002 for preparing the path for peace talks with the then Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh.

In April 1997, Gaddar was shot at by three unknown assailants at his house in Hyderabad, with one bullet still lodged inside his spine. The poet has always maintained that it was an attack sponsored by the Andhra police, to convey a message to the outlaws that they could target their most high-profile sympathiser, a charge the cops always denied. More than two decades later, Gaddar says not a single arrest has been made in the case.

Earlier this year, Gaddar's wife wrote to the President of India, seeking a CBI probe into the assassination attempt. Rashtrapati Bhavan forwarded the letter to the Prime Minister's Office which further sent it to the Telangana government. Three months ago, Gaddar wrote a separate letter to KCR, seeking time to explain his case but still has not managed to get an audience.

Last week, Gaddar met Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. But I do not see it merely from the prism of Telangana or Congress politics. Whether he takes on KCR electorally or not is immaterial as the photo-op has significance beyond the borders of Telangana. It marks a shift in the mind of a former Maoist ideologue. It is a moment to celebrate for Indian democracy that despite all its flaws, there has come a realisation that this path is the only one to achieve the goals of progress and social equity.

During the struggle for a separate Telangana, Gaddar had also articulated that the fight should not be merely for statehood. It should also be for a more equitable society. He now says he is vindicated that in the last four years, one community rule has been replaced by another in Telangana, bringing no great good to the marginalised sections of society. While that part may be debatable, the fact that one of the most prominent proponents of naxal ideology in mainstream society thinks a seat in the Telangana legislature is the way to fight for real empowerment of people and represent the underprivileged, is extremely significant.

Gaddar who formally severed his relationship with the Maoist party in 2017, will make his foray into active politics at a time when the national discourse has introduced a new term into the lexicon—urban naxals. I think the likes of Gaddar with their understanding of life on the ground, should be called the 'Neo Naxals' as they can enrich the national discourse by talking the language of the downtrodden and focus the debate on real, meaningful development.

During a conversation, the balladeer recounted to me the instance of a former DGP of Andhra Pradesh telling Gaddar that he is "mentally armed" because he provokes people to pick up the gun with his songs. Gaddar's argument is that such people should read the Bhagvad Gita because Lord Krishna also was mentally armed.

One of Gaddar's most popular songs in Hindi is—"Aag hai yeh aag hai, yeh bhooke pet ke aag hai" (This is the fire of an empty stomach). I also see the return of the naxal as a new fire that has been ignited.

Also Read:Telangana Assembly Elections: KCR Vs Gaddar In Gajwel?

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