Ahead of the by-election to the Huzurabad Assembly constituency, Telangana is witnessing an intense political bickering between ruling TRS and the opposition parties over an ambitious scheme announced by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao to woo Dalits.
The Dalit Bandhu scheme, aimed at providing financial assistance to identified Dalit families and promote entrepreneurship among them, has raised the political temperature in the state even before the announcement of the bypoll schedule by the Election Commission.
With the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government going ahead with the launch of Dalit Bandhu as a pilot project in the Huzurabad constituency, the opposition parties have dubbed it as a poll stunt and questioned KCR’s concern for Dalits.
The Chief Minister has defended his move for implementation of the scheme on pilot basis in Huzurabad saying there is nothing wrong if TRS was looking to derive political mileage from this.
Citing the Chief Minister’s statement, some NGOs have moved the Election Commission of India and even the high court seeking directions to stop the scheme.
Social activist Akkala Suresh Kumar has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Telangana High Court challenging Dalit Bandhu’s implementation in Huzurabad.
He argues that the government should start implementation of the scheme in any the 16 Assembly constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes in the state.
By-election to Huzurabad, which is an open Assembly seat, is likely to be held soon.
The seat fell vacant last month with the resignation of former minister Eatala Rajender. He also quit TRS to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has already decided to give him the ticket for the bypoll.
Rajender’s resignation from TRS and Assembly came after he was dropped from the Cabinet by KCR following allegations of land encroachment.
The Forum for Good Governance, an NGO, recently urged the Election Commission of India to stop the implementation of the Dalit Bandhu scheme in Huzurabad.
Forum secretary M. Padmanabha Reddy, in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, stated that due to various reasons, the by-election has become a prestige issue for the ruling party. There is a general feeling that the result of this by-election will have an impact on the next Assembly elections.
“I am not a saint living in Himalayas. I am a politician and I am introducing this scheme in Huzurabad for electoral gains only – what is wrong with it,” the letter quoted the Chief Minister as saying at a recent party meeting.
Last week, KCR held a day-long meeting with 450 Dalit representatives from Huzurabad to discuss the implementation of the scheme
He stated that by making the scheme a success in Huzurabad, it should be made a torchbearer for the Dalit community in the entire country. He claimed that the Telangana Dalit Bandhu Scheme is being implemented to remove economic disparity and also social discrimination of the Dalits.
KCR desired that with the financial assistance given under the scheme, the Dalit community should develop itself as a business community by selecting industries, employment, and business of their choice.
Under the scheme, financial assistance of Rs 10 lakh each will be provided to eligible beneficiaries from Dalit community.
Under the first phase, 100 families from each of the 119 Assembly constituencies will be identified. The government has announced an allocation of Rs 1,200 crore for the scheme.
At a meeting to welcome some leaders of the BJP and the Congress into the TRS on July 30, KCR had reiterated that the government would implement the scheme at any cost.
“Opposition parties are worried about their fate as the scheme will be implemented all over the state. It was supposed to be launched last year, but got delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he had said, adding that the government is ready to spend Rs 1 lakh crore on the scheme.
He attributed the birth of several schemes in Telangana to the deep study of the lives of sections that could not benefit from development in the past.
“You need a heart to understand their plight and how they missed out,” he argued.
Over the last 2-3 weeks, the Chief Minister held a series of meetings to discuss the modalities for ‘Dalit Bandhu’.
The opposition parties, however, questioned KCR’s concern for Dalits. Both the Congress and the BJP reminded him of his promise made before 2014 that a Dalit will be the first Chief Minister of Telangana.
“Why not a single leader from the 18 per cent strong Dalit community was considered for the CM’s post,” asked state BJP chief Bandi Sanjay.
He also wanted to know what happened to KCR’s promise of 3-acre land for every Dalit family and to solve the issue of ‘podu’ lands tilled by the tribals.
Congress leader Dasoju Sravan wants to know what KCR did for Dalits in last seven years.
“This scheme has been announced with an eye on the by-elections. If he is really sincere in improving the socio-economic conditions, why the government is failing every year to spend the funds allocated under the SC ST Sub Plan,” asked Sravan.
This Dalit outreach by the TRS chief comes at a time when there is a feeling that the backward classes are moving closer to BJP.
Rajender, who was associated with TRS since its inception, is a leader from the Mudiraj community, a backward class. Given the huge popularity he enjoys in Huzurabad, he is likely to pose a big challenge to the ruling party in the by-election.
Bandi Sanjay and another BJP MP D. Arvind are from Munnuru Kapus, one of the BC communities KCR relied for support over the last seven years.
Some political analysts also see this Dalit outreach in the context of two other key political developments — Revanth Reddy taking over as the president of Congress party in the state and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s daughter Y.S. Sharmila launching her political party in Telangana.
“Dalit Bandhu has surely made heads turn in Telangana and across the country. Proposal to allocate Rs 10 lakhs per family might surely help alleviate poverty from those selected families. However, there are potential risks associated due to political implications,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
He is of the view that selecting only 100 families per village will surely alienate other Dalits and economically backward sections. Unless KCR and TRS culls potential risks, road ahead will be filled with many political potholes, he observed.
Opposition parties, on the other hand, are pushed on to the backfoot on the issue of Dalit welfare.
“Both the BJP and Congress will have to make extremely convincing arguments for them to counter the advantage KCR and TRS has with Dalit Bandhu,” he added.