Polepally protesters sway poll outcome


They made history by standing as 13 independent candidates fighting the same Assembly seat but contesting for, not against, one another. They did it again on Sunday — by helping defeat the sitting Telangana Rashtra Samithi MLA, even as every one of them lost his or her own security deposit.

 

The 13 farmers contesting the Jadcherla seat in Telangana — who lost their lands to the Polepally Pharma Special Economic Zone — together drew a total of over 8,000 votes. That is, four times Congress candidate Mallu Ravi’s victory margin over the Telugu Desam Party’s Erra Sekhar.

 

The effort of these mainly Dalit, backward caste and Adivasi farmers — a protest to draw attention to their loss of land — torpedoed the sitting TRS MLA, Lakshma Reddy. He drew less than 21,000 votes and came third. Both his Congress and TDP rivals drew more than twice that number each.

 

As many as 350 families have lost all their land — some 969 acres — to the Pharma SEZ (The Hindu, May 26, 2008). But even if these families had three votes each, the Jadcherla 13 drew several times that number in sympathy. That is, there is clear evidence of a much wider sympathy for them. Not only did they lose their land, they got no compensation beyond a pittance per acre.

 

The land acquired by the government for the SEZ is adjacent to the national highway. It is also not far from the Shamshabad airport. Land rates in the region are thus well above Rs.20 lakh per acre. Often even higher than that. But the displaced farmers got sums ranging from Rs.18,000 to Rs.50,000 an acre, way below the prevailing market rates.

 

Common manifesto

 

Though rival contenders for the seat, these farmers fought on a common manifesto and campaigned jointly. Their declared aim was "to lower the votes of the main parties." An aim they appear to have achieved. As one of the 13, Lingaiah, told The Hindu: "Actually, we wanted to put 150 candidates." Which would certainly have drawn away even more votes from the major parties. But they could not as most could not afford the Rs.5,000 security deposit required.

 

Of them, Mala Jangilamma — who has sold four head of cattle in distress for just Rs.1,000 — netted the highest number of votes, 1771.

 

Chandi, an Adivasi, got 892. Together with their contesting colleagues — and two other independents who backed them — the Jadcherla 13 pulled in over 8,000 votes. Their manifesto made no promises and their only demand was and remains "we get our lands back, we get our lives back."

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