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Bitter taste of haldi price in Chintalapet

Prices too low, and water crisis has made rice and sugarcane unviable

By Pheroze L. Vincent in Hyderabad

  • Published 6.12.18, 3:53 AM
  • Updated 6.12.18, 11:34 AM
The Shivaji statue towers over the figures of Mahatma Gandhi and Bharat Mata in Chintalapet village of Jagtial district.
The Shivaji statue towers over the figures of Mahatma Gandhi and Bharat Mata in Chintalapet village of Jagtial district. Pheroze L Vincent

The youths have gone to Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s rally in Koratla. The elders have gathered in the shadow of the statues of Mahatma Gandhi and Chhatrapati Shivaji in the square of Chintalapet village in the same constituency in Jagtial district.

The older, concrete Gandhi statue has been standing here from before people can remember, painted and patched up several times.

The orange fibreglass statue of Shivaji with a foot on the head of a roaring tiger is only a few days old, and is taller than Gandhi’s.

Village elder Gopidu Anji Reddy rode his motorbike past the two statues, looked at them and shook his head. “All the elders told them to place Shivaji on a platform nearby. But they did this suddenly, despite agreeing not to. Now what will visitors like you think of us?” he told this correspondent.

The youths of Chintalapet had wanted a statue of Shivaji, the 17th century warrior king and founder of the Maratha empire whose legacy has of late sought to be monopolised by the Right wing.

In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of a 212-metre-tall memorial to Shivaji in the Arabian Sea, off Mumbai.

Several north Telangana towns in the neighbourhood of Chintalapet had installed Shivaji’s statues. Thirty households in the village contributed Rs 500 each, and just days ago the fibre-glass statue took its place beside the much shorter Gandhi figurine.

Chintalapet — where most of the 1,200-odd residents are Dalits or from the backward classes — also has two statues of B.R. Ambedkar and one of Bharat Mata.

A stone platform had been built for the Shivaji statue at a street corner behind the statues of Gandhi and Bharat Mata.

“I had said it would look splendid if you place Shivaji on a horse on that platform, and not next to Gandhi. Shivaji was not our king, but he was a great king. Gandhi was our leader who fought with the British like we fought against the Nizam for Independence. Besides, the Gandhi statue is short and gets overshadowed by Shivaji’s,” Reddy said, embarrassed about the statue’s placement.

Many villages have martyr pillars to honour communist guerrillas killed in the liberation struggle against the Nizam from 1946 to 1948, which continued against landlords until 1951.

Chintalapet has several Vishwa Hindu Parishad flags, which were put up during the statue’s inauguration.

“There isn’t any BJP in this village, but BJP youths have been encouraging people to put up statues. Many of our youths go for work to the Gulf as agriculture is no longer remunerative,” farmer Lingayya said.

The elders are unanimous that haldi prices are too low, and that reduced water supply has made rice and sugarcane unviable.

“The price at which we sell rice has gone from Rs 1,300 to Rs 1,700 over the past one year. Both the Centre and the state have increased support. But our turmeric is the best. Yet the price fluctuates so much that we don’t save anything if we continue to grow it," said farmer Komaraiah.

“In (neighbouring) Metpally, we get Rs 4,000 a quintal for turmeric, and if we take it to Nizambad we get Rs 6,000. It costs Rs 8,000 to produce one quintal, even with the power subsidy. Unless we get at least Rs 12,000 per quintal, there is no point growing it. Had it not been for the TRS’s (the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi government’s) pensions and the Rythu Bandhu grant to farmers, we would have been finished,” he added.

The Congress has promised a minimum support price of Rs 10,000 per quintal of turmeric. Telangana is India’s largest producer of the crop, with almost a quarter of the country’s haldi harvested in the state.

Chintalapet is yet to get drinking water under the state’s Mission Bhagiratha, and supply from the Sriram Sagar reservoir in Nizamabad has been cut by half.

“We are happy with the pension schemes, but the Congress has a chance here as we want water and better prices for haldi,” Reddy said. “But the BJP will cut into the Congress’s votes and make the TRS win again,” he added.

In Karimnagar, several underemployed youths opposed to TRS legislator and mining baron G. Kamalakar are flocking to the Congress’s meetings but admit they are in two minds over whether to vote for the BJP’s B. Sanjay, the runner-up last time.

In the temple town of Vemulawada where the sitting is the TRS’s C. Ramesh — son of communist stalwart C. Rajeshwara Rao — a vocal middle class tending towards the Congress feels aggrieved that TRS workers have “cornered government doles”.

Here, too, a section of backward class voters is unhappy with sops for Dalits is impressed by the BJP’s energetic campaign.

In KCR’s Gajwel seat, which boasts of an education hub, a new hospital and a state-of-the-art wholesale vegetable market, the town’s middle class complains about inadequate compensation for land acquired to widen roads and the dismantling of the main bus stand.

The main beneficiary of this angst is the Congress’s V. Pratap Reddy — seen as more accessible than the chief minister.

Land loser Nagabhushan said: “Pratap is there to fight for our compensation. But the BJP is also effective in its campaign. If the TRS wins again, we don’t know who will take up our case better.”

In Greater Hyderabad, the only part of the state where the BJP holds seats, the party faces tough questions from traders over demonetisation, but is seen by several Hindu traders as a bulwark against the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (MIM).

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s call to rename the city Bhagyanagar draws chuckles from slum dwellers in Khairtabad, represented by the BJP’s C. Ramchandra Reddy.

“Instead of first serving the biryani, and then the salan and raita, and then slowly eating it, the TRS is burning its fingers by declaring early polls. But they are the strongest now, followed by the Congress,” says Mallesh, a construction worker.

“We all voted the BJP last time, but our MLA is seen only at the (upmarket) Banjara Hills rather than helping us get any of these government schemes,” he added. “The BJP says Ram Mandir, the MIM says Babri masjid, and we poor people fall for it every time.”