An important factor in the run-up to Telangana elections is the efforts by Dalits to assert themselves in the political space. The emergence of Bahujan Left Front (BLF) — an organisation comprising 28 political, social and minority organisations led by the CPM — and the rise of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Telangana signal the aspirations of Dalits.
BSP and BLF have not joined any alliance and are fielding many Dalit candidates. In this scenario, BSP’s announcement that popular Dalit activist and university associate professor Dr Sujatha Surepally will contest from Chennur (SC) Assembly constituency in Mancherial district has come as a big boost to Dalit organisations. Sources in BSP said Sujatha’s name was cleared by BSP chief Mayawati.
In the 2014 elections, despite a wave in favour of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), BSP won two seats in the erstwhile Adilabad district. A Indrakaran Reddy and Koneru Konappa won from Nirmal and Sirpur, respectively, but later joined the ruling TRS. “Besides fielding Dalits in reserved constituencies, we will give tickets to Dalits to contest from unreserved seats too, because we have emerged as a strong alternative. Dalits are fighting for a bigger space in the political sphere. They want more people to represent them in politics and government so BSP has gained a lot of supporters,” Manthapuram Balaiah, president of the Telangana unit of BSP, said.
CPM state secretary Tammineni Veerabhadram said the BLF will give priority to Dalits. “The idea is to encourage Dalits to contest from unreserved seats too, where we think they have a good chance of winning. Due to the divisive politics of BJP, Dalits have been at the receiving end and they want better representation. In Telangana, at least 23 caste-based killings have occurred since 2014. There is an anti-Brahminical wave too. There is more awareness among Dalits in 2018 than in 2014 and as BLF’s platform is social justice, we are getting a lot of support. We have good leaders to contest from the reserved seats too,” Veerabhadram said.
BLF comprises Dalit organisations like Mahajana Socialist Party, Bahujan Rajyam Party and Dalit Praja Front. BSP and BLF are hoping to attract not only the SC vote, which accounts for 18 per cent of the state’s population, but are also targeting the 10 per cent ST vote. However, to the dismay of many Dalit leaders, BLF and BSP could not forge an alliance to prevent splitting of votes. BSP leaders say that as a national party, it is better organised and equipped to fight on its symbol rather than forming an alliance. “BSP’s USP in Telangana is its identity which cannot be lost by tying up with other parties. We will contest on all 119 seats,” Balaiah said.
On introducing Surepally into politics, Balaiah said, “She is a well-known activist, well-educated and capable of representing many issues apart from women’s matters. We received many representations from people to nominate her.”
Surepally is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Satavahana University, Karimnagar. The 46-year-old is an icon among Dalit youths and community circles due to her outspokenness and bold statements on caste discrimination and oppression of Dalits.
Hailing from Suryapet in Nalgonda district, her family moved to Hyderabad after she lost her father at a very young age. She studied Sociology at Osmania University and completed her BEd, and later PhD in 1992. Her doctoral subject was Dalit Women Empowerment and how government programmes affected Dalit women. She started teaching at Satavahana University in 2009 during which time she also started participating in the separate statehood movement. Prior to bifurcation of the state, she took up the cause of people affected by the Polavaram project, displacement of tribals in Araku and those displaced by SEZs in undivided Andhra Pradesh. For organising protests and dharnas against caste discrimination, two cases of obstruction of duty have been filed against her by police.
“Although I was active in taking up social and women’s issues, it was during the separate state agitation that I also got attracted to Dalit oppression, caste and gender discrimination. I am the founder member of Women’s Joint Action Committee,” she told The Indian Express.
Surepally said she is entering politics because after the creation of Telangana, the government has failed to protect marginalised communities. “We did not fight for this kind of Telangana. After the state was formed, it has become feudal. The government is feudal and belongs to the landlords. There is rampant caste discrimination, Dalit oppression and gender bias. Telangana people fought together for the state but now none of the other castes even ask one question when Dalits or other marginalised communities are attacked or discriminated against…,” she said.
“I don’t have funds to finance my election but I am getting a lot of support from my friends and followers here and from abroad. Volunteers have already launched my campaign on social media,” she added.
Surepally is pitted against Balka Suman of the TRS. Suman was elected MP from Peddapalle parliamentary constituency in 2014 and will be contesting from the Chennur Assembly seat this time.