From marginal farmer to school teacher to businessman, everybody in Siddipet today is repeating a Telugu phrase: “Manadi manake undaali (What is ours should be ours).”
Siddipet, a small town 100 km north of Hyderabad, is the epicentre of the Telangana agitation. It’s home to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR). Born in Chintamadaka village 25 km from Siddipet, KCR represented the region five times in Andhra Pradesh Assembly before shifting to the Lok Sabha constituencies of Karimnagar and Mehboobnagar. Today, Siddipet is under KCR’s nephew, T. Harish Rao.
So it was here that KCR was supposed to go on a hunger strike — the spark that set off the current turmoil. It’s another matter that he was arrested and shifted to a Hyderabad hospital.
But how are the people of Siddipet and its adjoining areas doing? How do they associate with the agitation that’s raging from Hyderabad to Delhi?
What people want
Apart from agriculture, the only other source of income in Siddipet — as indeed in the districts of Medak, Nizamabad and Karimnagar — is beedi making. The women employed in this line of work get paid Rs 55-65 for rolling 1,000 beedis.
There is no other industry. And all’s not well with the region’s farms, too.
“Look at my fields,” says K. Shankariah, 35, pointing at his sunflower crop in Gadcherla village near Siddipet. “I had to leave half of it dry, as there is not enough water. Compare it with coastal Andhra — there they have water everywhere and lush green crops.”
A marginal farmer owning two acres, Shankariah is dependent on a well for water supply, which he has to share with three others. “There is no other source, no river or canal passing nearby. Digging a bore well is also difficult,” Shankariah says, adding that the scanty rains this year failed several crops.
A drive down any road here would show that most of the land is untilled and covered mostly with thorny thickets. Only partisan politics can strike roots on such parched land.
Shankariah wonders why successive state governments, that had several leaders from Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, never bothered about irrigation here. “Even Jalayagnam (a massive irrigation project initiated by the previous chief minister, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, or YSR) is intended to benefit only those regions.”
A similar sentiment runs in Chintamadaka. “I have about 10 acres, but with little water, am cultivating only 2-3 acres,” says Vatapi Satyam, 35, who lives today in KCR’s ancestral house that he bought 10 years ago.
The educated locals are agitated over the shrinking job opportunities caused by a heavy influx from the Coastal Andhra region. “The proportion of non-locals is much higher in Telangana than in other regions,” says Putta Bhagwan, 40, teacher at the government high school in Chittapur. “People from as far as Vizag come here to work as teachers and in government offices.”
Bhagwan feels that with creation of separate state, the competition for government jobs in this educationally backward region would be limited to the 10 districts of Telangana, instead of the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh now.
The agitation gained large-scale support of the students when the administration stopped heeding Government Order 610, that is meant to keep most government jobs for locals. A recent Supreme Court order declaring Hyderabad a free zone, where non-locals can be hired for police and other jobs, also raised their hackles.
Even Muslims — who YSR said would be insecure in Telangana, as the BJP can grow here — are for separation. “We, like any other community, want more jobs and education, which would be only through a separate state,” says Abdul Sajjad, 39, a graduate from Osmania University and an MBA who now runs a dhaba in Siddipet.
Fighting for A future
Another worry for Telangana is a possible return of the Naxal menace, that was systematically reduced to nothing.
A group of fresh police recruits have a quick answer to that. “The main reason of asking for Telangana is to wipe out inequalities. If on a growth path, who will be tempted to join the Maoists?” says 20-something N. Sanjeev Kumar in Siddipet.
It remains to be seen who will lead the new state when it’s formed. KCR himself has said that he would want a Dalit to be its first chief minister.
The TRS, meanwhile, has said it would wait and watch the developments before taking the movement forward. But the people of Siddipet do not have such patience. “We are ready to wage more such battles till the time our state is achieved,” says Sajjad. It’s a saying you get to hear again and again in the region.