Ground Report: Silent screams of farmers, weavers may have final say in Mangalagiri

The ruling YSRCP's three-capitals plan further hits a majority of farmers and weavers in Mangalagiri, who do not receive government benefits.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Apr 26, 2024 | 9:00 AM Updated Apr 26, 2024 | 10:09 AM

In Mangalagiri, a majority of farmers and weavers, already affected by the lack of incentives from government, are further impacted by the ruling YSRCP's three-capitals plan. (South First)

Vehicular traffic on Kanaka Durga Varidhi on the River Krishna was busy as usual. Past the bridge, the road opened wide, and drivers, relieved to have put the Vijayawada rush behind, stepped on the pedal.

The highway is a major artery connecting Chennai with Kolkata. The sun played tricks on the drivers, creating impressions of a simmering mirage on the road ahead.

Around 12 km from Vijayawada, the road passed through Ippatam in the Guntur district. The high-rises on either side of the road became relatively scarce as swathes of green flanked the highway.

A plastic bag that was once white hung from the wrist of Kavinidu Mangamma in a jasmine field. Braving the summer sun, the 50-year-old farmer plucked the buds with care and deposited them in the bag.

Beneath Mangamma’s calm exterior lies a turbulent mind of a life caught in a political crossfire, a life of uncertainty devoid of the charm and fragrance of the blooms she has been handling daily.

Lost land and trust

Ippatam falls under the Mangalagiri Assembly constituency, a seat under the limelight in Andhra Pradesh.

Mangalagiri’s two mandals are among the three mandals and 29 villages that form the core of the state’s sole capital, Amaravati, as envisaged by former Chief Minister and TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Mangamma, like 33,000 other farmers, had given up their land in Amaravati for the development of the capital. She had enough reasons when she surrendered her three acres.

The capital would have developed the region besides the land price appreciation benefiting farmers. The promised employment would have further secured her future and that of the younger generation.

Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, however, has been pitching for three capitals for Andhra Pradesh: Kurnool, the judicial capital, Amaravati the legislative capital and Visakhapatnam the administrative capital.

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Capital war

Jagan has already made his intentions clear. He would shift his office-cum-residence from Tadepalle to Rushikonda Hill in Visakhapatnam, once he won the 13 May polls.

The jasmine flower farmers at Ippatam village. (South First)

Jasmine farmers of Ippatam. (South First)

Faced with the ever-looming uncertainty, Mangamma has shifted to her daughter’s place at Ippatam, and has been assisting her in farming.

Mangamma is a victim of the capital war between the TDP and YSRCP. She is one among the many displaced, dislocated, and disillusioned farmers of Amaravati.

The woman, once a happy farmer till the government gave hope of a better future, is not even getting the promised benefits.

She has been nominated for the YSR Cheyuthu Scheme, a part of the Jagan government’s Navaratnalu schemes. Yet, she has not received any instalment of the ₹75,000 promised to SC/ST/OBC women in the age bracket of 45 to 60 years.

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Benefit for landowners, none for farmers

Mangamma said she had received the YSR Rythu Barosa benefit of ₹13,500 per annum for two years. Nothing came afterwards.

Her relative Boda Govindh was within earshot. He joined in even as his fingers kept plucking and depositing jasmine buds.

“All government benefits go to the landowners who are not farmers. The farmer gets nothing,” he said.

“Just days ago, our drumsticks (moringa) on 70 cents were destroyed in sudden rains and wind. We’ve incurred a loss of around ₹50,000. But we’re not eligible for compensation, since it would go to the landlord,” he explained.

“If Amaravati had remained the sole capital, our fortunes would have been different,” others chipped in.

The farmers said the realty was on a downslide. Those who gave away their fertile lands for capital construction received 250-400 square yards of commercial plots, and 1,000 square yards of residential plots in the capital region, for every acre of land surrendered.

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Live fuelled by uncertainty 

Eight auto-rickshaw and auto-cab drivers have taken refuge under a golden wattle in front of a fuel station at Mangalagiri, a town around seven kilometres from Ippatam.

The autorickshaw drivers in Mangalagiri town. (South First)

Autorickshaw drivers in Mangalagiri town. (South First)

All of them are members of the YSR Trade Union affiliated with the ruling YSRCP. The YSRCP’s stand on the capital issue has affected them also.

One of the drivers is in a dilemma over whether to sell his land now or retain it. He felt that if the YSRCP retained power, the land price would further plummet.

Speaking to South First, they recalled the auto-rickshaw stand once was a busy place.

Driver Venkateswara Rao recalled that there used to be 170 vehicles till a few years ago. “Now, there are only about 20 vehicles,” he said.

Rao is the treasurer of the YSR Trade Union. It did not prohibit him from speaking about the condition of Amaravati.

“Since there is no investment in the Amaravati region. Earlier projects have been stopped. There are no more customers. Some auto drivers have moved to other areas, while others sold their vehicles,” he said.

Rao added that small-scale businesses, workers, and farmers, too, have been affected.

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A skewed scheme

Besides around 50,000 farmers, the constituency is home to around 40,000 members of the Padmasali community.

The handloom workers are practicing one of the techniques for weaving the saree. (South First)

Handloom workers are miffed over the government ignoring them. (South First)

Classified under the backward castes, the Padmasalis are traditionally weavers.

A third-generation member, 77-year-old Ravela Siva Satyanarayana, spoke to South First about the challenges the community faces.

The Andhra Pradesh State Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society (APCO) buys only from societies registered under them. Registering as a society leads to complete dependence on APCO, and restricts the market.

Satyanarayana further highlighted that handloom weavers are not receiving fair prices for their produce nor any subsidies for colours or materials from the state or central governments.

The volatile market forces them to hold on to their produce when prices are low, resulting in debts. “Any profit earned goes towards repaying interest and principal amounts,” the master weaver said.

The government has a scheme for handloom workers, the “YSR Nethanna Nestham”, that offers ₹24,000 per annum. However, there is a catch.

The monetary benefit is available only to those owning the loom and have their own houses.

A challenge to politicians

A handloom worker weaving the saree. (South First)

A handloom worker weaving a saree. (South First)

Interactions with local officials revealed that roughly around 200 people were getting the benefit of YSR Nethanna Nestham. The majority of around 10,000 weavers are outside the scheme.

Weavers T Murali Krishna and Ketham Ram Raju shared their plight. “Many of us work under master weavers and earn between ₹6,000-12,000 a month. Additionally, some receive pensions, while others don’t due to crossing the eligibility threshold of consuming more than 300 units of electricity.”

“After paying half of our wages as house rent, how are we supposed to survive with the remaining amount? Can any public representative and his family survive on this amount? This is our challenge. We ask them to try it,” handloom workers threw a challenge at the politicians.

Experience has taught them that no one will dare to accept the challenge. They belong to the faceless, nameless, and voiceless multitude.

Low wages, higher expenses

K Badravathi earns ₹6,000 a month working under a master weaver.

“There is a garbage tax of around ₹50, which I pay from my wage. I am in the 50s, and can’t work on the manual loom. Why aren’t we being recognised as handloom workers,” she wondered.

“Those who own houses may be slightly better off than those in rented accommodations. We are excluded from benefits. We also do not receive any support from the YSR Cheyutha Scheme either.”

Her friends at work chipped in. They pledged their votes to the party that included them in the welfare schemes.

One for YSR

Amersetty Srinu identified himself as a follower of the late chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who had initiated reforms in the health sector.

“We will vote for YSRCP, but the current government and sitting MLA should feel guilty about not addressing the plight of the handloom workers,” he added.

Srinu said that his generation could be the last to take up handloom as a profession. “The next generation will be goldsmiths or daily wagers. If the government continues to ignore us, there will be no handloom industry,” he added.

Srinu’s statement reflected the mindset of the weavers, mostly neglected but recognised briefly ahead of each election — only to be forgotten for five years.

High-profile battle

The TDP, founded in 1982, won Mangalagiri twice: In 1983 and the 1985 re-election.

Chandrababu Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh contested the election in 2019 and lost to sitting MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy by 5,337 votes.

Mangalagiri, 2024. (Click to enlarge)

Mangalagiri, 2024. (Click to enlarge)

Lokesh is contesting again from Mangalagiri. A win has become prestigious for him and the party, since has been tipped to take over the TDP from his 74-year-old father. The TDP scion needs to prove that he is equal to Jagan, or better.

The YSRCP made a deft move. Realising the anti-incumbency sentiment against its two-time MLA Ramakrishna Reddy, it fielded a new face, Murugudu Lavanya.

Lavanya hails from the Padmasali community. Her mother, Kandru Kamala, was a Congress MLA, and her father-in-law, Murugudu Hanumantha Rao, a two-time Congress MLA and former minister from the same constituency.

Lokesh has more challenges than Lavanya. The founder of the new party Bharata Chaitanya Yuvajana (BCY), Ramachandra Yadav, has thrown in his hat.

The Opposition INDIA bloc has CPI(M)’s Jonna Sivashankar as its candidate.

The segment has 1,38,075 male voters outnumbered by 1,48,458 female voters. The third gender has 19 votes.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).