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Karimnagar litmus test for Telengana

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By KAY BENEDICT in Karimnagar
  • Published 14.04.04

Karimnagar, April 14: The battle for Karimnagar could well decide if a new Telengana state would be carved out of Andhra Pradesh.

It’s Velama versus Velama here, with Telengana Rashtra Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao pitted against the incumbent, BJP leader and minister of state for home C. Vidyasagar Rao.

Both belong to the Velama caste.

If Chandrasekhara Rao, popularly known as “KCR”, loses the contest, his dream of drumming up support for a separate state may be shattered. That it is not an easy fight is evident from the fact that KCR is also contesting from the Assembly constituency of Siddipet in Medak district.

Karimnagar, 60 km east of Hyderabad, is the heartland of the Velamas, a powerful caste like the Jats in north India. The Velamas, who account for about 4 to 5 per cent of the population, are mostly into business and moneylending, but are ignored by the numerically stronger Reddys (12 to 13 per cent) and Khammas (about 10 per cent).

They are now demanding their share of power.

If the Velamas vote en bloc for KCR, then Vidyasagar Rao will be in trouble. Last time, he had defeated A. Rao Chelimeda of the Congress (a party dominated by Reddys) but then there was the Kargil euphoria and no anti-incumbency sentiment. The pro-Telengana wave was also not so pronounced. This time, Vidyasagar Rao has to face the combined might of the Congress, the TRS and the Left.

The BJP is confident that the Velama votes will split between the BJP-Telugu Desam Party combine and the Congress-TRS alliance. Vidyasagar Rao’s victory margin, however, has been declining. In 1998, he defeated his nearest rival by 95,997 votes but in 1999, the Congress candidate lost by only 19,370 votes.

Karimnagar and its adjoining areas have an acute drinking water problem and also suffer from lack of irrigation facilities. Technology, which Chandrababu Naidu has been stressing on, has not reached this backward district. “There is no water. We have to dig 400 feet to get water. People who bored 100 feet and consumed fluoride water ended up with crippled bones and brain damage,” says Sheikh Khaleel Ahmed of Veldurti village, pooh-poohing Vidyasagar Rao’s talk of inter-linking national rivers.

Residents say the main reason for the BJP’s win in 1999 was its promise of a separate state. But later, the party brass, including .K. Advani and M. Venkaiah Naidu, did a volte-face.

Seeing the increasing support to the Telengana cause, the BJP is now trying to convince people that it has not jettisoned their demand. State unit chief Indrasena Reddy told The Telegraph: “The BJP has not dropped it (separate state) from its agenda. We will convince the TDP and get a Telengana state.”

The BJP and the Desam are now telling people that the Congress is not serious about a separate state and KCR will not succeed in his efforts.