Tiny Bandlapalle in Rayalseema was where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in February 2006. So one would expect this village with a population of less than 2,000 to be loyal to the Congress. But walk through the village,40 km from Anantapur town,and you realise the only thing that matters here is party factionalism. And on that count,its advantage TDP in Bandlapalle with a faction leader calling the shots.
In Rayalseema,factionalism is the only issue that matters every election. The strength of the warring factions of the Reddys and Kammas always decides who wins. In Anantapur,home of the late TDP leader Paritala Ravi,local issues dont count because,as I M Venkat Rao puts it,all that everyone talks about is which faction is supporting which candidate… what faction leaders decide runs like a writ. This explains why when matinee idol Chiranjeevi talks of lack of development in Rayalseema,he hardly gets the response he does elsewhere.
Even in Bandlapalle,the NREGS launch cannot guarantee votes to the Congress. Due to the NREGS,we dont have to borrow money during the agriculture off-season. We receive payment every week. But the TDP leader here is very strong and we are all his supporters, says Rameswara Reddy,a Commerce graduate.
Though the village is dominated by Reddys who are strong supporters of the Congress elsewhere,Bandlapalles political inclinations are not born out of loyalty but out of fear of faction leaders. A couple of years ago,seven supporters of a rival faction were hacked to death in a nearby village. There is constant struggle to gain and maintain control over their respective areas and this leads to merciless killings, says village sarpanch Prasad Reddy.
If Bandlapalle was selected to launch the NREGS because of it remoteness and backwardness,nothing much has changed in the village. The foundation stones laid by the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi do not stand there anymore. There is only a bare white wall from which the stones have been taken out.
The foundation stones have been removed and kept under the staircase of a school. Nobody knows who has done it and why, says an attendant at the school.
Peddanna,who stopped working under the NREG last year,remembers Singh and Gandhi came here for the launch. I dont know why this place was selected but when the programme was launched,many people took job cards and went for work. They dont do that anymore. The farmers mostly want to do work that will benefit their fields but that is not always allowed. Some people make a trip to Bangalore for construction work where they get more money.
Villagers say lack of irrigation force them to go out in search of work during the summer when cultivation is not possible. Many villagers have stopped working under the NREGS.
Of the 715 job cards issued in the village,302 people actually use it and work under the NREGS, says
Additional Project Director P Srinivasulu of the District Water Management Agency,the nodal agency for implementation of the NREGS here. A few villagers who gathered at the gram panchayat office complained about delayed payments but the agency maintains that the delay is never more than a week.
Before 2004,faction leaders owning allegiance to the TDP were very powerful but after the Congress government came to power,at least 35 faction leaders of TDP were killed in two years. Even Paritala Ravi was shot dead on January 24,2005 outside the TDP office in Anantapur. These killings have also intensified the rivalry between factions. The rivalry is not only between Reddys and Kammas or Reddys and Boyas or Kammas and Boyas. Even within the Reddys and Kammas,there are factions, says M P Singh,SP of Anantapur district. There are some villages where even brothers have their own factions,constantly at each others throat. Singh says that in 50 villages of Anantapur,factionalism is still a way of life.
While Congress candidate and sitting MP B Ananta Venkataram Reddy maintains that the government has initiated a number of irrigation schemes including construction of a canal to bring water,develop roads and infrastructure,the TDP hopes to encash the discontentment among the Reddys over lack of development and irrigation.
Corruption is the biggest issue here. Everyone is fed up of it. There is absolutely no development in the region, says TDP candidate Kalava Srinivasulu. The TDP also appears to have gained a lot of ground in Anantapur Assembly constituency area where Paritala Ravi was killed in 2005.