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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 05 March 2024

Armed rebel to Telangana minister: A look at Anusuya Seethakka’s journey

52-year-old Anusuya had joined the Naxalites at the age of 14 but gradually got disillusioned and surrendered in 1997. Her zeal for education was so strong that she appeared in her Class X exams from jail and resumed her studies after returning to the mainstream

Sanjay K. Jha New Delhi Published 08.12.23, 05:28 AM
Rahul Gandhi with Seethakka during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Rahul Gandhi with Seethakka during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Sourced by the Telegraph.

On October 11, 2022, she had written: "In my childhood I never thought I would be a Naxalite. When I am Naxalite, I never thought I would be a lawyer. When I am lawyer, I never thought I would be MLA. When I am MLA, I never thought I will pursue my PhD. Now you can call me Dr Anusuya Seethakka, PhD, political science."

Danasari Anusuya, popularly known as "Seethakka", would not have imagined playing her current political role, either, even a year ago. She took oath on Thursday as a cabinet minister in Revanth Reddy’s Telangana government.

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Anusuya, 52, had joined the Naxalites at the age of 14 but gradually got disillusioned and surrendered in 1997. Her zeal for education was so strong that she appeared in her Class X exams from jail and resumed her studies after returning to the mainstream.

She started practising law after doing her LLB and then earned her PhD from Osmania University on the subject of the social exclusion and deprivation of the Gotti Koya tribe, to which she belongs.

The Congress has shown courage and vision by handing a ministerial berth to the hugely popular former Naxalite commander, who had always been animated by the quest for justice.

As much when she took up guns, hiding in the forests and evading police firing, as when she joined politics.

Anusuya Seethakka when she was a Naxalite

Anusuya Seethakka when she was a Naxalite Sourced by The Telegraph

She had initially joined the Telugu Desam Party and become an MLA in 2009 before embracing the Congress and again getting elected to the Assembly in 2018.

The Congress has shown a knack for encouraging activists from different fields with a known commitment to social service and justice.

In 2017, it gave an election ticket to Sampat Pal Devi, who had formed the Gulabi Gang in Uttar Pradesh — a vigilante movement by women against the injustice meted out to women by criminals and feudal lords. Devi quit the Congress in 2022 after being denied a ticket to contest again.

The Congress had experimented by giving 40 per cent of the tickets to women in Uttar Pradesh in 2022 with the fiery slogan, “Ladki hun, lad sakti hun (Am a woman, can fight)”.

The party’s assorted group of candidates included actress-activist Sadaf Jafar, ASHA worker (community health worker) Poonam Pandey who was allegedly roughed up by the police, and Asha Singh, mother of a young woman raped by a then BJP legislator in Unnao.

Many young women who had never participated in electoral politics were fielded, but all of them lost.

Seethakka had quit Naxalism even though her husband had carried on, eventually getting killed in an encounter. Her work during the Covid pandemic drew nationwide praise.

Images of a middle-aged woman walking across jungles, carrying huge bags on her head to deliver essential commodities to tribal people living in remote areas, had been circulated widely on social media and left the nation astonished.

She was again seen during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, walking alongside Rahul Gandhi during the walkathon’s Telangana stretch.

The Congress had nurtured her all this while: she was appointed national general secretary of the Mahila Congress and later given charge of the state of Chhattisgarh before her latest elevation as Telangana minister. Many expect her to rise in national politics, with bigger assignments in the future.

Her campaign had taken on the look of a carnival, with ordinary men and women singing and dancing to welcome her wherever she went.

The petals showered on her had not been bought with corporate cash or resources looted from welfare schemes. It was ordinary people spending their hard-earned money to express their love for a compassionate woman who gave them food and medicine during the pandemic and a crusader who raised her voice against injustice by the system.

The MLA from Mulugu has been a staunch party loyalist, too. When half the Congress MLAs defected to the TRS (now BRS), yielding to pressure or allurement, she chose to help strengthen the depleted Congress.

Her loyalty was demonstrated on Wednesday when she spoke up against Sharmistha Mukherjee, who has dug up skeletons to criticise the Gandhi family, writing in her book how her father Pranab Mukherjee had been ill-treated.

While senior Congress leaders remained silent, Seethakka tweeted: “I really feel sad and don’t know what’s wrong with Sharmistha Mukherjee ji.. if something wrong with your mind go to hospital and get treatment.. But don’t spoil your father’s legacy for your benefits.. Grow up!!”

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