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Published in the 1-15 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

End of narcissism in AP

By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Andaz apna dekhte haiN aaine meiN woh
Aur yeh bhi dekhte haiN koi dekhta na ho...

It is a romantically-woven expression in Urdu, but in plain language it gives a completely opposite perspective. Perhaps, it would amount to something like this: While he saw his styles in mirror/He did not want others to see him do so. 

Yes, the rule of Chandrababu Naidu, the cyber-czar and Chief Executive Officer of Andhra Pradesh, heading the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) crumbled like a house of cards after nine years of governance and has now the fate of failed narcissist. Babu, as he is known amongst his fans, has come out as a unique example that the west is quite familiar with, but Indians are just beginning to know: The story is about how ubiquitously media creates a celebrity out of almost a non-entity and then calls in experts to ponder as to why its creation fell so short of the hype.

The parliamentary elections were held simultaneously with the assembly elections in AP last April and the ruling TDP, the strongest ally of Bhartiya Janta Party, was scripted out of power. In 1999, the TDP-BJP combined tally was 191 seats securing 47.54 per cent of votes and by 2004 it slumped to 39.69 per cent. TDP this time could come up with just 45 seats and its BJP ally got a humiliating two seats out of a total of 244 seats in the state assembly! In parliament too TDP got only five seats and the BJP could not even open its account. The same alliance had seen TDP winning 29 and BJP getting seven seats in 1999. Andhra Pradesh sends 42 representatives to the national parliament.

Congress-led alliance fared exceptionally well by notching up 226 seats overall this time. It’s individual tally was 185, the first timer Telengana Rashtra Samiti won 26, Communist Party of India (Marxist) got nine, while the Communist Party of India won six. So the Congress coalition comfortably romped home for a two-thirds majority in the state. In Lok Sabha Congress finished with 29 seats and TRS with five seats. All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), founded by Salahuddin Owaisi got five assembly seats and one parliamentary seat won by Asaduddin Owasi.

What all caused this gracious downfall of Chandrababu Naidu? What factors led to this fiasco? Are the answers linked to paradox of the gulf between the glitz of urban elite and the hungry rural peasantry. Not surprisingly, therefore: 31 out the 38 TDP ministers were made to see the door and Chandrababu himself managed to win with a very slim margin. 

He had contracted ostrich syndrome as he turned his back on the toiling farmers and peasantry in his mad rush to implement World Bank reforms. Hyderabad, the capital of AP, was called the ‘health capital’ of India’ while farmers were commiting suicide, one after the other. About 3,000 pauperised farmers committed suicide, but NJ Reddy, minister for Panchayti Raj, callously remarked, "they are ending there lives in the hope that their families will get ex-gratia payments." Yet, the TDP government never gave any money to families of such farmers on the specious ground that it would only encourage more farmers to commit suicides!

Naidu’s tried in many ways to cover the deficiencies of the state economy, the falling standards of living, the fall in gross state domestic product, the growing rate of unemployment, the recurrence of droughts and the unprofitable prices of agricultural products He claimed making Andhra Pradesh Swarna (golden) while downsizing government employment by one per cent annually and at the same time incurred an overall debt burden, both internal and external of a whopping 75,0000 million Indian rupees! All these were ominous signs which he ignored at his own peril.

Who inspired Chandrababu? Well, it is the long time economic suggestion dished out by an Australia-based consultancy, Mckinsey & Co. The consultancy prepared a project compelling him to borrow more and more money from World Bank and other international agencies in order to model AP on the lines of development in Singapore, Malaysia and China.

Anti-incumbency, disenchantment with concessions in the power sector, the urban-rural divide fuelled the ranks of Congress to stage a major comeback against the ruling party. The new Congress CM YS Rajsekhara Reddy took out two massive padyatras (marches) in both 2002 and 2003 and promised in his manifesto the supply of free power to farmers. Interestingly, the first file signed by him after taking over as CM was ordering free supply to 2.3 million agricultural pumpsets in the state irrespective of the type of crop, landholding and pumpset capacity.

This move of YSR Reddy is in complete contrast to Chandrababu’s preposterous thesis that too many farmers were producing too little food grains, and therefore, farmers ought to go in for more productive employment.
What is intriguing is that despite the regime change, there is no stopping the suicides! More than 80 suicides have taken place between May 18-29, that is seven suicides a day! According to a Telgu daily Prajashakti, the spurt in the rate of suicides has sent a chilling silence all over the nation as AP has registered three-fourths of all the suicides occurring all over the country. The most dispossessed farmers are going down the death trail from all parts of the state now. Of course, most of them being reported from dry areas but also from the better irrigated areas. Peasants growing a particular kind of a crop are not the only section in penury as farmers growing chillies, groundnut, pulses, cotton, vegetables and even paddy are found to be taking to suicide route. Anantapur district is possibly “the suicide capital’’ of India. According to Anantpur district secretary, V. Reddy, more than 450 peasants have committed suicide since 2000, writes V.Sridhar in Frontline. The reason being perpetual droughts and the recording of the second lowest rainfall in the country in recent years.

According to a Prajashakti report, a small peasant in Mehboobnagar district recently dug 10 borewells without success and took his own life after the 11th well also turned dry! YSR Reddy, within a month of his taking oath of office has announced Rs 0.10 million to repay debts and Rs. 50,000 as relief to farmers in distress.

There is no explanation yet for the rapid increase in the suicide rate. Perhaps, BV Ragavahu, secretary of the AP CPI (M) has an answer. He had pointed towards the money-lenders who had refrained from pressurising the peasants as long as the elections were underway. They had feared that the new government with the popular support, would cancel their compound interest rate loans to peasants! Hence, they preferred to lie low and have now again bared their fangs. "The Government should immediately declare a one-year moratorium on debt repayments by farmers. Only if this happens will money-lenders stop harassing the peasant," said BV Raghavalu. The new government has seen more than 300 suicides (official figures are 194) and the do-nothing politicians have done nothing as yet except to proffer the ‘drought excuse’. 

Deaths are being reported from all over the state as no variety of crop appears safe and no section of peasantry appears immune to suicide. This all is not due to any overnight havoc but because of decade-old implementation of policies pursued in the name of liberalisation and such policies need an urgent reversal in order to stop the increasing rate of suicide deaths. YSR Reddy, as a damage control mission, has launched a biweekly mass contact campaign and has also limited the interest rates of loans drawn by farmers to 12 per cent. But, all institutional credit systems have virtually collapsed in AP, thereby, leaving farmers to the mere mercy of money-lenders! 

What would then explain the sudden spurt of peasant suicides? The possible explanation which most bureaucrats and politicians alike put forward is that suicides are due to CM’s assistance package! Which in effect, parrots the official line of YSR Reddy’s predecessor! Chandrababu Naidu too had remarked on 2 June 2004 that the "unusual spurt" in the number of suicides after Reddy taking over as CM was because of the relief package.

While suicides take their toll, politicians uninhibitedly take jibes, notwithstanding the fact that a single death is a tragedy and a million mere statistics. 

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