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Why the search for YSR made us uneasy

Why the search for YSR made us uneasy

Author: Sheela Bhatt
Publication: Rediff.com
Date: September 04, 2009
URL: http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/sep/03/why-the-search-for-ysr-made-us-uneasy.htm

Sukhois alongside Chenchus. Sheela Bhatt argues that the search for YSR brought India face to face with Bharat.

Death humbles us all. But sudden death shakes us up, takes hold of our thoughts and if you are an Indian, it predictably takes you to predictable conclusions as well.

Our elders would say that what happened to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy is a periodic reminder to humankind that we have not conquered nature yet.

On Wednesday when urban India retired to bed after watching some 30 news television channels, one is sure many Indians were disturbed. YSR had not been found till midnight.

What did that uncomfortable emotion come about? Why did many Indians experience anxiety as Dr Reddy was untraced?

Even his political adversaries were overwhelmed by this unforeseen event.

Reddy was the Congress party's mightiest leader outside New Delhi . Due to his liberal spending in the agriculture sector, Andhra Pradesh was at the threshold of a new era. YSR was becoming a colossal figure in Indian politics. These days in Indian politics, power at the state level matters as much as it does in New Delhi.

In our society, the only thing that matters is success, and for politicians it is electoral success. Beating all odds, YSR was impressively successful in the May 2009 election. He was a man of the masses. The electorate thought YSR means business so they voted him back to power.

Everything was going just right for the Andhra Pradesh chief minister. YSR had become so powerful that it seemed as if he owned his huge state.

His death was thus in sharp contrast.

But the gloom at the back of our minds on Wednesday night was due to something else.

Urban India came face to face with the 'real' India which lurked somewhere in those dark black hills known in Telugu as Nalla (dark/black) Mallai (hills).

In swiftly developing India, Andhra Pradesh secured an identity of its own at the dawn of the 21st century when it became an IT hub, giving Bengaluru tough competition.

In spite of brilliant techies and technologies, big budgets and development Wednesday night Nallamallai scared us all.

We were forced to accept that Nallamallai was located in India, but incommunicado. SMSes would not go through, Tweets would not arrive. There was not even a missed call from those lost in the woods. The television cameras were focussed on the Nallamallai landscape and we feared -- without saying it in so many words -- that YSR was lost forever.

When a VVIP faces destiny in the strangest way, it gives us cause for goosebumps.

It was the helplessness of the mightiest, richest and most powerful that besieges our minds and hearts as the news arrives.

Television viewing, wired India, who has shared the bounties of 9 percent growth, watched those dark hills for 23 hours, along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

The two most powerful people in India spared no effort to plan the search operation for their party colleague. Soldiers, the army's mechanised power, the air force's helicopters, paramilitary troopers were all deployed. Even $35 million Sukhois jets were justifiably engaged in looking for one VVIP.

This multi-million rupee operation had one stark inequality and an unmatched irony. The state government had also engaged Chenchus along with the two Sukhois and ISRO's gadgetry in the search operation.

The Chenchus are the aboriginal tribe in Andhra Pradesh. They live in the Nallamalai Hills, which stretches through the districts of Kurnool, Prakasam, Guntur, Mahboobnagar and Nalgonda. This food-gathering and hunting tribe is vanishing swiftly. According to the 1991 census, they number a mere 40,869.

Their affairs are managed by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency. On Thursday, a newspaper report quoted an officer from the agency in Srisailam saying the Chenchus were sent with powerful torches to the area where YSR's helicopter was suspected to have crashed.

On Wednesday, state Finance Minister K Rosaiah -- now the acting chief minister -- and Chief Secretary P Ramakanth Reddy highlighted that YSR had gone missing in 'hostile terrain.'

This so-called hostile terrain is sacred terrain for the Chenchus. It is hostile terrain for urbanised India only because its developmental record is so poor that we cannot use our mobile phones nor can we send our SUVs to the spot quickly.

The Nallamallai forests are considered divine by many -- it is where the famous Mallikarjun Jyotirlinga is located in Srisailam in Kurnool district. It is quite close to the seven hills of Tirupati and Dr Reddy's home in Cuddapah.

When the search for the chief minister commenced, all man-made resources appeared impotent and meagre. When the helicopters were unable to locate YSR, the Chenchus were contacted. The tribals, who had been ignored for ages, became VVIPs for a day and a night.

The Chenchus have existed without development in the forest. They consume roots, tubers, wild fruits, edible leaves to survive. They are non-vegetarian, but abstain from eating beef. The traditional Chenchu house is a small conical or oblong hut with wattle walls and a thatched roof.

On April 30, The Hindu newspaper published a report titled 'Chenchus on brink of starvation'.

In May, in response to The Hindu report, the ITDA sent the report to the district collector in Kurnool. The report is a shocking reminder of poor education and health facilities for the tribals who were needed to locate the chief minister.

One of the remarks made by a project officer was that the child mortality rate is higher than the state average due to malnutrition, alcoholism and a low calorie diet. The report also mentioned that due to lack of proper facilities more children die at birth. It also speaks of malaria and TB prevalent in the Nallamallai area.

Although the ITDA is doing better than before, it does not operate with the same velocity that IT hubs grew in Hyderabad. When one India grows, another India is conveniently forgotten because India is a poor country with limited resources.

Such talk is dismissed and ridiculed as 'left thinking' in India's cities, but some time, some day, all of us can come face to face with this unequal treatment of our fellow Indians.

It was an accident that a chief minister's helicopter crashed in that forgotten part of India. We were forced to confront that forgotten India through our television sets and through that torturous wait on Wednesday night.

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