The lone turmeric farmer from Telangana who was able to file his nomination papers from Varanasi parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has returned home to Nizamabad in Telangana “dejected”.
“Apart from the language problem, people were not very friendly,” Sunnapu Isthari, 74, says. “Turmeric farmers from Nizamabad do not want to oppose Narendra Modi, we just wanted to highlight our demand for a turmeric board and we wanted Modi to know about it. But people there took it otherwise.”
Fifty-four farmers from Nizamabad had gone to Varanasi to file nomination papers. However, only 25 were able to do so, out of which just Sunnapu’s nomination was accepted.
Four farmers from Tamil Nadu who went on a similar quest to Varanasi had returned without filing their nomination.
Sunnapu, who is illiterate, belongs to Yergatla village. The family owns 5 acres, on which they grow turmeric and paddy.
The 74-year-old claims several hurdles were put in their path. “The local election officials did not cooperate with us. They arrived late or delayed accepting our nominations and then raised several objections. At the banks, officials delayed giving us receipts for the deposited money (for surety). Police officials and Intelligence Bureau officials followed us everywhere, even checked our rooms and intimidated us. The local BJP leaders threatened us outright to not contest against Modi.”
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Additional Chief Electoral Officer (ACEO), Uttar Pradesh, Brahma Dev Ram Tiwari said the farmers had failed to file proper papers as they had no idea about the technical aspects of nomination. “No one was stopped from filing nomination. The administration did all that was technically needed,” he said, adding they had sought a report from Varanasi constituency’s returning officer on the matter and forwarded it to the Election Commission on May 7.
Sunnapu says that after their papers were rejected, he and his friends discussed what to do next. Pradeep Reddy, who was one of the farmers who tried filing his nomination papers, says it was funny how one by one they came to know of 24 rejections. “We sat at a lodge to discuss what to do before heading back. Then, we decided, let’s do some sightseeing first.” Adds Sunnapu, “We thought we have come this far, why not go enjoy the sights and food?”
So the 54 farmers went around the city in the bus they had hired from a travel operator in Nizamabad for their Varanasi trip on April 25. Sunnapu laughs that they made quite a “spectacle” as they took the big bus everywhere — first to banks, government offices, and the District Election Officer in a bid to contest, and later to the city’s various temples and ghats. “People would look at us wondering who we were. Unlike tourists, we all had green scarves around our necks.”
Of the temples, ghats, and the dip in the Ganga, Sunnapu most enjoyed the aarti on the banks of the river. “Only after seeing it did we realise how great it is,” he says.
The 74-year-old says he has been to Varanasi once before, but years earlier, and doesn’t remember much from the trip.
As the others stayed put in the lodge, Sunnapu, along with Reddy, decided to give campaigning a shot, now that his name was on the ballot paper. “I walked around a bit one afternoon trying to talk to people, but I cannot speak Hindi fluently so I faced lots of difficulties and decided to return too.”
Turmeric farmers of Nizamabad have been protesting for several months, demanding that the government assure a minimum Rs 9,000 per quintal against the Rs 4,500 being offered now. Anvesh Reddy, chairman of the Telangana Kisan Congress, says a national turmeric board could ensure the farmers a minimum support price and root out middlemen.
Earlier, during the Lok Sabha elections in Telangana, held in one phase on April 11, 179 turmeric farmers had filed their nomination from Nizamabad parliamentary constituency, from where sitting MP K Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, is seeking re-election. Given the number of candidates in the fray, the Election Commission had to make arrangements for special EVMs for voting.
Back home now, Sunnapu doesn’t consider his Varanasi trip a wasted effort. “I don’t have the kind of money needed to campaign, or to even hire a vehicle to travel around. But we can get the satisfaction that by going to Varanasi and filing the nomination papers, we highlighted our plight. I think even the PM is aware of it now.”
Meanwhile, he continues to follow the campaign in Varanasi, which votes on May 19, on TV.