Renowned Telangana folk singer and balladeer Gaddar, known for his revolutionary songs during the 1980s and later during the Telangana statehood agitation, passed away in Hyderabad on Sunday, August 6, due to ill-health. He was 77.
Born as Gummadi Vittal Rao in Toopran, Medak district, the renowned folk singer and poet went on to become popular as ‘Gaddar’. A former naxalite, Gaddar had led an underground life, including in the forests. Subsequently, he joined the mainstream and voted for the first time in his life in the Telangana Legislative Assembly polls in 2018.
A voice of the poor and oppressed during his lifetime, Gaddar was born in a poor Dalit family and grew up amid difficult circumstances. However, his father, who had met Babasaheb Ambedkar and came under his influence, encouraged him to study, as Gaddar had said in an interview.
The fiery singer and poet joined an engineering course in Hyderabad as a student but was drawn towards the revolutionary ideologies of the Dalit Panthers and the Naxalbari movement.
During the 1980s, he led an underground life, including in the forests, working as a cultural activist, and toured places like Abujhmarh in Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
In later years, Gaddar returned to the mainstream. He was usually seen in his trademark dhoti, red shawl, and wooden staff, but in recent years he switched to trousers and shirts, adopting a clean-shaven look.
He penned songs for films, and they became sensations. One such hit was his song ‘Bandenaka bandi katti’ in the 1979 film ‘Maa Bhoomi’.
The poet-singer played a crucial role in the Telangana agitation before its success in 2014. His song ‘Podustunna Poddu Meeda Nadustunna Kaalama Poru Telanganama’ was hugely successful and galvanized the people towards the statehood agitation.
Often described in Telugu as ‘praja yuddha nouka’ (warship of people’s agitations), he survived an assassination attempt in the 1990s, but a bullet remained lodged in his spinal cord, which he lived with until the end.
It was only in the 2018 Telangana Legislative Assembly polls that Gaddar voted for the first time in his life.
He was last seen in a Congress public meeting addressed by Rahul Gandhi at Khammam in Telangana on July 2, where he hugged and kissed the Gandhi scion.
Recently, he floated his own party, the ‘Gaddar Praja Party’, but soon fell ill and could not take it forward.
Gaddar, who had a bullet stuck in his spinal cord from the 1990s, had a decade ago seen his song ‘Podustunna Poddu Meeda Nadustunna Kaalama Poru Telanganama’ become the anthem of the Telangana achievement movement.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao ordered that Gaddar’s funeral be held on August 7 with full state honours as a mark of respect for the services to the public made by the departed singer.
Top leaders like former Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge, and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, in addition to Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, her Haryana counterpart Bandaru Dattatreya, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, as well as TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu, State BJP chief G Kishan Reddy, and several other leaders from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, expressed grief at Gaddar’s demise. Telugu film personalities, including mega-star Chiranjeevi, also condoled his death. Chiranjeevi said the vacuum caused by the demise of Gaddar in people’s literature and people’s struggles would never be filled.
Venkaiah Naidu said people like Gaddar, who dedicated his entire life for the sake of people and folk songs, are rarely seen in society. Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Saddened to hear about the demise of Shri Gummadi Vittal Rao, Telangana’s iconic poet, balladeer, and fiery activist. His love for the people of Telangana drove him to fight tirelessly for the marginalised. May his legacy continue to inspire us all,” he said. Gaddar had attended a Congress public meeting addressed by Rahul Gandhi at Khammam in Telangana on July 2. Kharge said Gaddar would remain a hope for the aspirations of the weakest sections.
(With inputs from PTI)