Friday, September 04, 2009

The late YSR and search for him


[aryayouthgroup] Search for YSR, Nallamalai hills and the Chenchus tribe - Why it made us uneasy

viji Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 6:32 PM
To: viji
Why the search for YSR made us uneasy

September 03, 2009

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 grandmas and grandpas would say what happened to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S R Reddy is a periodic reminder, since ancient times, to mankind that you haven't conquered nature, yet.

On Wednesday when urban India retired to bed after watching and surfing some 30 news channels, one is sure everyone of us were hugely disturbed. YSR had not been found till midnight.

What was that uncomforting emotion? Why were all Indians experiencing anxiety as the CM went missing?

Even those who were political adversaries of YSR were overwhelmed by this out-of-the-blue, unforeseen news that broke in morning.

Surely, there were many contributing factors behind our uneasiness.

Reddy was the mightiest Congress leader outside New Delhi. He was on the move and 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. These days in Indian politics, power at the state level matters as much as in New Delhi.

Also, in our society, the only thing that matters is success, and for politicians it's electoral success. Beating all odds, YSR got impressive success in the May 2009 election. He was a man of the masses. They thought YSR means business so they voted him to power, once again. There were too many things going great in his life.

So, his death was in sharp contrast. YSR was such a powerful man that it seemed as if he owned the state. But, we saw on Wednesday that YSR was just not traceable and how! 'YSR disappears' was the headline screaming out of TV sets.

But, the gloom in the back of our mind last night was due to something else.

We, urban Indians, came face-to-face with the 'real' India which was somewhere in those dark black hills known in Telugu as Nalla (dark/black) Mallai (hills).

In the growing India, Andhra Pradesh got an identity of its own at the dawn of the 21st century because it became an IT hub, giving tough competition to Bengaluru [ Images ].

And, in spite of brilliant techies and technologies and big budgets and development -- last night Nallamallai scared us all.

We were forced to accept that Nallamallai is in India but incommunicado. SMS won't go, and Twitter won't arrive and not even a missed call from those lost in the woods. TV cameras were focussed on the landscape in Nallamallai and we feared -- without saying it in so many words -- that YSR is lost, forever.

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

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

The TV viewing, wired India, who has shared 9 percent growth, was watching along with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi those dark hills for 23 hours.

Here were the two most powerful people in India waiting for the news of their esteemed colleague's location. And, they spared no effort to plan the search operation. Indian soldiers, the army's mechanised power, air force's choppers, para-military foot soldiers were used and even the $35 million Sukhois jets were justifiably engaged in looking for one VVIP.

But, 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.

The Chenchus are the aboriginal tribe of Andhra Pradesh. They are spread in the Nallamalai Hills, which stretches in the districts of Kurnool, Prakasam, Guntur, Mahboobnagar and Nalgonda. This food-gathering and hunting tribe are fast vanishing, and as per the 1991 census number around 40,869.

Their affairs are managed by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency. Today, a newspaper report quoted an officer of the agency from Srisailam that Chenchus were sent with powerful torches to the area where YSR's chopper was suspected to have crashed. On Wednesday, the state finance minister K Rosaiah -- who is now the chief minister -- and Chief Secretary P Ramakanth Reddy continuosly said in Hyderabad that the CM has gone missing in a "hostile terrain."

The helicopter crashed at a spot 10 km from Rudrakoduru and army commandos had to slither down ropes from a rescue helicopter to get to the crash site.

This so-called hostile terrain is actually sacred terrain for the Chenchus. It is hostile terrain for urbanised India only because its developmental record is so poor that we can't use our mobile phone, nor can 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 CM Reddy's hometown in Cuddapah.

When the search for the CM began, all manmade resources were looking so tiny or impotent. When the choppers were unable to locate YSR, the Chenchus were contacted. Those who were ignored since ages were VVIPs for a day.

They have remained without development in those forests. They consume roots, tubers, wild fruits, edible leaves etc. They are non-vegetarians but abstain from eating beef. The traditional house of a chenchu is a small conical or oblong hut with wattle walls and thatched roof.

On April 30, 2009, The Hindu had published a report titled 'Chenchus on brink of starvation'.

In May 2009, 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 these tribals, who were needed to locate the chief minister. One of the remarks made by a project officer of that "hostile terrain" was that child mortality rate is higher than the state average due to malnutrition, alcoholism and a low calorie diet, and it also mentioned that due to lack of communication facilities more children are dying at the time of birth. The report also speaks of malaria and TB prevalent in the Nallamallai area.

Although, the ITDA is doing better than before, it is not with the same speed that Satyam or 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 Indian metros, but some time, someday, all of us can come face-to-face with this unequal treatment of our fellow Indians.

It was an accident that the CM's chopper crashed in that forgotten India. We were forced to face the forgotten India through our TV sets and through that torturous wait, last night.

Indeed, it was a truly unnerving search for YSR and the four accompanying him, where state-of-the-art Sukhois were fielded alongside Chenchus with their primitive bows and arrows.

Click here for a copy of the ITDA report on the Chenchus of Andhra Pradesh


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