The Congress appears to have subtly shifted the political narrative in Telangana to how the people had benefited under the rule of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
The late prime minister’s name still rings a bell among old-timers who got house site pattas (title deeds). The middle-aged, too, remember her through the late chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s Indiramma Housing Scheme.
Addressing an election rally in the erstwhile Adilabad district, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra invoked her grandmother’s name and memories on her birth anniversary on Sunday, 19 November.
Priyanka recalled that Indira Gandhi was representing Medak in the Lok Sabha when she was assassinated in 1984.
Indira Gandhi’s initiatives recalled
She also spoke of Indira Gandhi’s initiatives to empower the weaker sections, and focused on the measures that were taken by the late prime minister, such as the creation of Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs) and ensuring tribespeople their rights on jal, jangle aur zameen (water, jungle, and land).
Priyanka, who has a striking resemblance to Indira Gandhi, seemed to have caught the crowd’s attention.
Listing out her grandmother’s initiatives, Priyanka said seven lakh acres of land were distributed to the weaker sections and the SCs. Indira Gandhi’s name still works like magic among the disadvantaged, mainly among the SCs.
The late YS Rajasekhar Reddy, immediately after he was sworn as the chief minister of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in 2004, told this correspondent: “During my padayatra, I found Indira Gandhi’s name resonating with the people. They still remember her for issuing house site pattas to them. I told them I would continue her policy of economic empowerment and I am serious about it. This is not for votes. This is my commitment.”
Whipping up the Telangana sentiment
Keen on tapping into her legacy, Priyanka stressed the distribution of land to the poor as she was aware people of Telangana have a special bond with land, and ownership is always a matter of pride.
In fact, Congress Legislature Party Leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka often harps on the issue, saying that the land Indira Gandhi had distributed among the poor has been usurped by BRS supremo and state Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao through the Dharani portal.
He also vowed to take the portal down once the Congress come to power and return the land to the legal heirs.
Chief Minister KCR hit back at the Congress for resurrecting the days of “Indiramma Rajyam” which marked a “dark chapter” in Telangana’s history.
“What is so great about Indiramma Rajyam? In those days, the poor were shot dead, encounter killings took place frequently and communal clashes were the order of the day,” he countered the argument that Indira Gandhi’s rule was a golden period in Telangana’s history.
He said that during the time of Indira Gandhi, people used to go to bed hungry until NT Rama Rao captured power and provided rice to the poor at ₹2 a kg.
Why Indira now?
The apparent shift of focus by the Congress to Indira Gandhi’s days is probably because the Telangana sentiment slogans seem to be running out of steam.
The BRS tried to flog the sentiment into life, but without much success; the Congress, meanwhile, also tried to seize advantage by saying that it was the grand old party that had contributed to the formation of Telangana.
This prompted KCR to fire back saying the Congress never wanted Telangana and that it was he who had wrested it by staging agitations and undertaking a fast unto death.
As the Telangana statehood issue is losing its edge in getting votes for the BRS, it has also been looking for an emotive issue. When Priyanka raised Indiramma days, KCR hit back at the Congress, pointing to the “dark days” under its rule.
Will it work?
“Though the present generation may not know much about Indira Gandhi, they may have heard of her, and tapping into Indira Gandhi’s legacy might get some electoral benefit for the Congress,” political commentator Bhandaru Srinivasa Rao said.
“The youth would surely have heard about her from their parents who, in turn, might have known about her from their parents,” he pointed out to South First.
“Using her name may have some benefit, but it would not be on a very big scale,” he noted.
However, he pointed out that overplaying the card might also become counter-productive for the Congress as Indira Gandhi was against the formation of Telangana.
On the contrary, it was Sonia Gandhi who created Telangana state, he said.