Amaravati: Drying red hot chillies are the metaphor for the elections this scorching summer in the chilli belt of Andhra Pradesh that this reporter visited on Tuesday to assess the mood and opinions of voters.
In Macherla, Gurajala and Sattenapally Assembly constituencies, the fight is between the ruling Telugu Desam and opposition YSR Congress. The issues here are not Pulwama or Balakot or Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from a southern constituency. The Jana Sena is insignificant: Mr Pawan Kalyan will be lucky if his candidates retain their deposits. The voters are not troubled by the possibility of Mr Reddy backing the BJP; did Mr Naidu not do that, they ask. Even the welfare schemes don’t seem to have impressed them much. “It’s our money not his,” they say cannily.
They have nothing against Mr Naidu or his government, but were in favour of giving Mr Reddy a chance this time. A fruit seller in Macherla said, “Ma votu ma Jagan annake (our vote is for our brother Jagan).” In this largely Reddy belt, Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy seems poised to wrest back the seats from the TD which the Reddys had favoured. However, political observers caution that Mr Naidu should not be underestimated as he was capable of swinging the votes in his favour with a last minute announcements.
Some others believe that Mr Naidu is a better choice as the development of the new state should continue.
The influential farmers’ community is very unhappy with the current dispensation because of the drought situation they have suffered for many years. Farmers in Gurajala said they have had no rains for the past five years. In the election season, this too is seen as a government failure.
The Pasupu-Kumkuma scheme implemented by the Naidu government, has had some impact on women, but the waiver of farm loans has had no impact on farmers as the state government was paying out in a phased manner. Farmers who have outstanding loans of Rs 50,000 are happy as their loan burden has been cleared. But those with loans of Rs 1.5 lakh are worried.
So far, the government has paid Rs 90,000 in three instalments, and has to pay another Rs 60,000 to these farmers. The farmers said that if the government had paid it in one instalment, it would have benefited them.
In Nadikudi village in the Gurajala Assembly constituency, farmers are unhappy because they are unable to get a remunerative price for chilli, which is a major crop here. They get about Rs 7,000 per quintal, but with field workers having to be paid Rs 200-300 per day, that is not much. These farmers, however, said that the welfare schemes of the Naidu government were helping poor people.
There are fears that if Mr Reddy comes to power, he may shift the capital city from Amaravati. Asked about this, farmer Narasiah of Ibrahimpatnam said, “What is there to shift from Amaravati? What has Naidu constructed in Amaravati in five years except some sheds?”
One interesting point is that people still cherish memories of former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy who was the architect of many welfare schemes. He is still alive in the hearts of the people and this is helping the YSRC to a great extent.
YSRC Sattenapally Assembly candidate Ambati Rambabu was seen campaigning in Rajulapalem village. He told DC that he was confident about his victory, though he lost by 800 votes the last time. In the same village, groups of Telugu Desam and BJP leaders were also campaigning.
The YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam have different strategies to attract voters. While the YSRC is giving funds to communities, the TD is giving it to individuals. In Macherla there are three important and deciding sections of voters: Muslims, Christians and Vadderas. The people of Macherla said that the YSRC has given Rs 15 lakh to each of the three communities. Christians were given the money for the construction of a church, Muslims for the construction of a masjid, and Vadderas for the construction of a Ram temple in the village. The TD has distributed coupons to people to have meals in hotels.