Sitting inside a mosque, where a room has been opened for all communities, a group of men and women, mostly from the Reddy community, talk about how work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has changed their lives.
They thank the Congress for launching the scheme in 2006, “admire Narendra Modi for the way he dealt with Pakistan” and are vociferous in their support for Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP. Inside a Dalit cluster nearby, a resident has one word to describe the central government: “Bad.” They are reluctant to open up but admit that schemes launched by N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP government have “touched” them.
In a nutshell, this is what this Lok Sabha election is all about in Bandlapalli, a village in the southern tip of Andhra Pradesh — now famous as the spot from where the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi launched MGNREGA 13 years ago.
Surrounded by parched fields and rock formations, the village is part of the Singanamala assembly segment, one of the seven inside the Anantapur Lok Sabha constituency, all of which go to vote in the first phase on April 11.
This time, too, the BJP has very little presence, the Congress is almost invisible and the electoral battle is mainly between the TDP and the YSRCP. Naidu’s party holds the Lok Sabha seat and six of the seven assembly spots in this constituency — the YSRCP claimed one in 2014.
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But in Bandlapalli today, it’s the national narrative that’s playing out here — on YouTube.
Gangadhar Reddy, the most articulate among the group inside the mosque, says he is a fan of Modi. Ask him why, and his reply is short. “Jai Hind,” he says, punching the air. According to Reddy, “if the Congress had been in power, some Pakistani prisoners would have been released to secure the return” of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, whose fighter jet was shot down while responding to an air foray by Pakistan after Balakot.
Others chime in to say that “Modi has handled national security well”. They support the Prime Minister’s demonetisation policy, too. “It was a crackdown on corruption,” says Ramakrishna Reddy, who is part of the group.
Gangadhar Reddy, meanwhile, says he has got “all the information from YouTube” — the TDP government has provided Internet connections at subsidised rates to villages. “YouTube… it is anytime news… The women, too, don’t watch TV serials these days. They watch cookery shows, and shows on how to design dresses on YouTube… I prefer to watch devotional programmes,” he says.
With availability of water a big challenge — apart from MGNREGA, the village depends on alternative livelihood schemes run by Anantapur-based NGO Rural Development Trust (RDT) — the talk veers back to the rural jobs guarantee scheme.
Here, residents still remember that day in 2016 when they gathered at the high school ground to welcome Congress president Rahul Gandhi who had arrived to mark the tenth anniversary of the scheme’s launch.
Residents say almost 600-700 people of the village, with a population of over 2,715, earn their living from MGNREGA, besides agriculture and livestock. But now, they say, the delay in payment of wages is a concern — and many blame the central government.
According to MGNREGA norms, each rural household can demand 100 days of work from the government and 150 days in conditions of drought. In Bandlapalli, residents say they get 150 days of work but payments have been delayed by “two to three months”.
“We make trenches, bunds to collect the rainwater. Those working in NREGA are divided into teams with a group leader. After working from morning to afternoon, they work in the fields or do other odd jobs,” says Vishwanath Reddy, who is part of the group at the mosque.
Inside the Dalit households, residents say the RDT has built 60 houses for Scheduled Castes. And all of them say the village is united, and there is no religious or caste divide — adjoining the mosque is the Pedamma temple. This time, the TDP has nominated sitting MLA B Yamini Bala in Singanamala, and sitting MP J C Diwakar Reddy’s son Pavan Kumar Reddy for the Lok Sabha. The YSRCP has fielded Talari Rangaiah, a former bureaucrat.
Inside the mosque, Gangadhar Reddy speaks up once again for the group: “Modi in Delhi and Jagan in Andhra.”