For the first time in years, residents of Garagaparru, the ancestral village of Satyam’s disgraced chairman B Ramalinga Raju, did not celebrate Sankranti -- southern India’s popular harvest festival – on Wednesday.
The famous cockfights that Raju’s family sponsored in the past were missing. So were the card games and the usual fanfare. Instead there were posters and banners all over the place, rallying people in the region -- which is dominated by Rajus, a community of enterprising farmers -- in support of the Satyam founder.
“We aren’t celebrating because we’re sad,” said Bangar Raju, a fish exporter in Garagaparru.
Most residents of Garagaparru and other coastal villages in the Bhimavaram block -- about 400 km southeast of Hyderabad -- do not understand Raju’s crime. Nor do they want to.
“We’re supporting him because he’s a nice man,” said Prasad Raju, a 26-year-old electrician who works in Hyderabad and was in his native village for Sankranti. “He has done a lot for us. Because of him we now have safe drinking water. We don’t have walk to Bhimavaram for medicines. Ambulances are a call away.”
The Byrraju Foundation, founded by Raju, has set up 50 water purification plants that cater to 200 villages in the region, where widespread aquaculture has made the groundwater unfit for drinking.
The foundation has also set up facilities that stock free medicines for diabetis, high blood pressure, among other chronic diseases and hold medical camps regularly.
The Emergency Medical Research Institute, a Raju-sponsored organisation that runs ambulance services, popularly known as Call 108, is also available for residents of Bhimavaram block.
“Whatever may’ve happened, you’re the king of kings. We hope you’ll regain your lost glory,” said one poster with a large portrait of Raju.
“Great humanitarian, social activist: let’s hope and pray to god that they come out of these difficult times and rededicate themselves to the service of people,” read another featuring pictures Raju and his brother B Ram Raju, who has also been arrested.
The support is not limited to the community of Rajus. Others are supporting because they have also benefited from his charity and worry that some of the ongoing developmental activities in the area may be put on hold.
In Garagaparru, Raju's father had planned to build a 150-bed hospital on a plot of land adjoining the ruins of their ancestral house. That project, many fear, could be shelved.
Raju’s father, Satyanarayan Raju, moved to Hyderabad in 1962. When the family visits the area, usually once in a year, they stay at the house of Raju’s maternal uncle in a neighbouring village. Support for Raju extends beyond his own community.
“He’s a son of the soil,” said M Padmanabha, a former Rajya Sabha MP, who now lives in Bhimavaram and belongs to Kapu caste. “The feeling here’s that he has been singled out, while this is something that might involve a lot of people who aren’t being questioned,” he said.
Others say if the Raju community had enough political clout, the Satyam founder would have never gone to jail. “Politicians used him when he was doing well,” said B. Nagaraju. “Now they’ve washed their hands of it all.”