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`Jaitra Yatra' brings together bitter rivals

By Our Staff Reporter

ELURU, APRIL 11. Bitter rivals like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), which spearheaded the violent land struggle by Adivasis in the agency and the non-tribal `landlords' turned to be strange bedfellows in the run-up to the elections, thanks to the former Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy's election-eve `Jaitra Yatra.'

The turnaround with regard to the Adivasi movement came to the fore during YSR's yatra as his `radham' (chariot) rolled into the agency tracts of West Godavari district last night from the neighbouring Khammam district. The radham became a common platform for the foes-turned-friends to display their new-found `camaraderie.' The local Congress leader, Karatam Rambabu, who led a pitched battle by non-tribals against tribals flanked the star campaigner, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, on one side while Mr Mantena Sitaram of the CPI(M) was on the other even as Midiam Babu Rao, the CPI(M) candidate in Bhadrachalam (ST reserved) Parliamentary segment, was seeking votes with folded hands.

The Adivasi movement saw a pitched battle between the tribals and non-tribals on the problem of land, mainly in the agency mandals of Buttayagudem and Jeelugumilli in the district. Mr Rambabu who espoused the cause of non-tribals was reportedly attacked at Bhusarajupalli in Jeelugumilli mandal in 1996 by the activists of Shakti who later joined the CPI (M). Tribals have been implicated in as many as 400 criminal cases for their active participation in the movement.

The CPI(M), which filled the vacuum in the Adivasis' land struggle, caused due to the retreat of Shakti from the agency, strengthened the movement into a strong force in Jeelugumilli and Buttayagudem mandals. The turnaround in the relationship between the two warring groups was an offshoot of an electoral understanding between the CPI (M) and the Congress in their joint bid to defeat the `common enemy,' the ruling TDP-BJP combine.

The Congress, which lost to the TDP in Polavaram in the previous election with a slender margin of 50-odd votes, is banking on the CPI(M)'s support to wrest the seat, while the latter on the former in Bhadrachalam Lok Sabha seat. Of course, Mr Rambabu, a rallying point for non-tribals, is an added strength for the CPI(M) candidate.

At the same time, the CPI(M) aligning with the non-tribals is reported to have resulted in utter chaos in the CPI(M) ranks. "It's a clear case of rank opportunism by the CPI(M) and we are out to expose its politics of opportunism,'' says Dharmula Suresh of CPI-ML (New Democracy), who remains in the fray as an independent candidate for Polavaram (ST reserved) segment which falls under Bhadrachalam Lok Sabha constituency.

Touching upon the sensitive tribal/non-tribal conflict, Dr Rajasekhara Reddy sought to keep both the warring groups happy by blaming it on the TDP regime.

Charging the TDP with laxity in resolving the land disputes in the agency, the Congress leader promised to find an `amicable' solution to the problem.

In his campaigning, which went beyond the Election Commission's deadline by 45 minutes in the drought-prone Polavaram and Gopalapuram Assembly segments falling under Bhadrachalam Lok Sabha segment, Dr Rajasekhara Reddy strained every nerve to keep alive the anti-incumbency feeling in the public by repeating his promise of free power for agriculture and mounting attack on the TDP for its alleged failure to ensure regular power supply in rural areas.

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