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`Rice bowl' voters may tilt the scales

By W.Chandrakanth

HYDERABAD, MARCH 22. The rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh, comprising East and West Godavari districts, does not believe in a split verdict. Unless the voters of the two districts `sow' their votes in favour of a particular party, the party cannot hope to `harvest' success in elections. When the Godavari belt votes, it does so with a vengeance - always against some one.

After all, the region has five Lok Sabha segments and 37 Assembly constituencies and it has decimated the Congress after the advent of the Telugu Desam Party, except in 1989 (when the Congress leader Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga's murder in Vijayawada rocked the State).

There are several dominant communities like the Kapus, Kammas, Kshatriyas, Settibalijas, Yadavas and a substantial number of SCs and the region has contrasting contours in delta, upland and agency areas. When it comes to making or marring chances of any party they, rise as one.

Says Tata Babu, a farmer owning five acres of land near Ravulapalem, "We thought the Government will take the plan to curb the `yerranalli' pest to its logical end but it has destroyed our economy. Had Balayogi been around, perhaps, it would have been a different story."

This factor - the absence of a leader of G. M. C. Balayogi's stature - has become a handicap to the ruling party to some extent now.

A resident of a sleepy Kakinada town, Bhaskar Rao, agrees with the farmer's view. Though he is a small time employee in a private firm, he is also dependent on the coconut yield. "There is too much of dependence on land here. Be it employees, businessmen or professionals, all of us owe our prosperity to our land," he says pointing out to the value addition made by the former Lok Sabha Speaker to the economic growth of the region. The pace of development during his time had raised the expectations of people.

It is an issue and in street corner debates and near tea stalls, the emphasis is more on drawing comparisons. "If the moon is promised, please deliver it," asserts, T. R. Chowdary, a businessman from Eluru in West Godavari. He is not happy with the civic conditions in the towns. "Open drains, stink and pigs don't dot the road to `Swarnandhra," he laments. The images of Cyberabad add pep to such arguments.

Ironically, the Telangana issue is devoid of any emotional appeal. More so, the slogan of `Samaikyaandhra'. "As brothers grow, they do part," P. Suryanarayana, an ardent NTR fan from Bhimavaram, says. Those in favour of `Visalaandhra' need not worry as no one is taking the talk of separation seriously. "It is a political game," is the common inference.

The youngsters are worried by unemployment and farmers by non-availability of water for the second crop. The feeling of neglect has taken roots. The commoner is talking about corruption, more animatedly than ever. Figures get exaggerated in conversations. "No file moves in the administration without greasing the palms of officials and no loan is released without consideration," alleges a DWCRA group member, Jyothi, near the famous Bhimeswara Swamy temple of Draksharamam. She is reflecting the general consternation over the role of the banks. The Congress, on the other hand, just does not seem to be prepared to tap it in its favour. Not as yet. In West Godavari, it remains rudderless and in East, it is ridden with groupism. Voters' opinion is yet to crystallise.

"There is no hurry," Chittebbai transporting bananas to the T.P.Gudem market in a tractor grins.

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