Garidepally (Huzurnagar): As the sun sets after a hot humid day over the small town, a small convoy of Congress campaign vehicles drives slowly to the central junction and stops. Opposite the police station, possibly the oldest and most important building here, the Congress leaders stand on the vehicle that has been altered to act as an election stage, with mikes and lights. People come towards the vehicle, the gathering comprises party enthusiasts and activists as well as curious bystanders. The police and party cadre work hard to ensure there is no traffic jam, but the road is narrow and everyone driving past slows down to see the leaders.
A rare RTC bus passes, slows down and stops. The driver, not a staffer but a private employee hired in an emergency, ironically, wants to hear what the excitement is about. The travellers look on interestedly at the rally. A commuter tries to quickly buy a bottle of water from a nearby shop, shouting to the little girl at the counter to get him a chilled bottle and waving a Rs 20 note through the window. A cow ambles down the middle of the road slowly, unsure whether to settle down on the left side or the right. No one minds it.
Children run around excitedly, trying to get a flag to hold. Activists shoo them away, but they keep coming back, pesky, rebellious, and reluctant to miss out on any action. Several youths stop their motorcycles and cycles by the roadside and listen as an Osmania University student gives a passionate speech about the youths who fought for Telangana statehood but have been betrayed by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. People cheer the speaker. He raises the tempo of the rhetoric. They cheer even more.
In nearby tea stalls and small old benches, menfolk gather to discuss the October 21 election. Not too many women are around post sunset, though womenfolk have been part of the campaign effort all day. I shortlist one group that is in the midst of a no-holds-barred fight, fit to be televised live. It is prime time TV stuff. I saunter towards them, listening, looking for an opening to become a part of it, lingering.
“No way Saidi Reddy will win,” one of them is arguing. “Who is he? It is about KCR alone, and his work. What has he given us?”
Some of them nod in agreement, some laugh derisively.
After a point I make them tell me their names and ask them to explain their stand. They are happy to respond, honestly, openly. The biggest takeaway is the secular nature of the constituency. Neither religion nor caste is discussed. It is not that they don’t matter, but it is almost like they don’t exist as factors. It is a rare distinction for any constituency in India; secular, oblivious to caste, but passionate about parties, and leaders.
The TRS critic turns sarcastic. “Why would I not vote for KCR? I have moved to my two-bedroom house. My son has got a job. We are getting drinking water from Mission Bhagiratha. Everything we hoped when we fought for Telangana state has come true.”
Some laugh, some are not amused.
“Do we have power supply? Do we have pensions? Are not fathers of girls getting financial support during their wedding – Kalyan Laxmi or Shaadi Mubar-ak? Are not farmers getting Rythu Bandhu,” one of them asks.
Will the RTC strike and move to fire employees make an impact, I ask.
“Of course, not. There are hardly a few hundred employees in Huzurnagar. For us it is about giving the TRS a chance, give Saidi anna a chance. We have stood by Uttam Kumar Reddy and the Congress for so long. Now, we want a change,” says Balakrishna.
Meera interjects. “He is a TRS man. Balakrishna recently got married and got a bike in dowry. Does he go in buses? Ask me, I do. I will not for the TRS.”
But he won’t vote for Congress either. It is all about their respective party. “I am a Telugu Desam supporter. I will show KCR who says my party is dead that it is not.”
The contest is two-party by a huge margin and neither the BJP nor the TD matter to most voters. The arguments go on, but it is clearly a tough contest. Election Commission observers are around, taking snaps, videos, checking bags and vehicles. Counting anything that is an expense.
“In Nalgonda and Surya-pet, and in Huzurnagar and Kodad regions, people care passionately about parties. Most people work for one of the parties and back some leader. Years back, there would be murders over political differences. Now, we only discuss,” explained Rajaiah.
He calls another person to share his views. The young man, Rambabu, visibly better off than most around, confesses he gets Rs 1.2 lakh a year for his 12 acres of land as a farmer. But he will not vote for the TRS. “I am rich. I will get money no matter how I vote. What about people like Meera or Hafeez here? This government only works for the rich, nothing for the poor. We did not want a Telangana to create another era of exploitation.”
More leaders arrive, more speeches. More discussions, more jibes, and more rebuttals, and no conclusion. Every time a leader invokes the name of Congress candidate Padmavathi Reddy, people cheer.
Earlier in the day, I had witnessed Saidi Reddy undertake padayatras and address rallies. The energy is infectious, despite the hot, hot weather. The green fields and filled canals speak of a level of prosperity. “This part feels more like Andhra, and it is not too far either,” said a TRS leader. “We have cement factories. But all aspirations of development have been belied. We need a new leader to arise.”
Across villages in Huzurnagar, Neredcherla, Garidepally and Mella-chervu mandals, more people were surprisingly fortright about who they would vote for, and why, than during the Assembly elections in December last. And the verdict is clear, no one can be too sure who is winning.