Rayalaseema's bane

Print edition : February 25, 2005

THE factional violence that often engulfs the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh has its roots in medieval history.

The kings of the Vijayanagar empire, which flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries and had its capital in Hampi (now in Karnataka), appointed chieftains in Rayalaseema for better administrative control of the region. These chieftains came to be known as `poligars' and were responsible for law and order and revenue collection in their respective areas.

The Vijayanagar kingdom was defeated and destroyed by the combined might of the Bahmani Sultans in the Battle of Tallikota in 1565. With the fall of the Vijayanagar kingdom, the region's control passed on to the Golconda rulers of Hyderabad.

The poligars of Rayalaseema soon became independent rulers as the weak Golconda administration could not control them. At least 200 such local power centres emerged. Unable to contain the lawlessness owing to internecine feuds among these warlords, the Nizam ceded four districts - Kurnool, Anantapur, Bellary and Cuddapah - to the British.

The British, especially the Thomas Munroe administration, used harsh measures to contain the poligars - including death by public hanging - but did not succeed.

The poligars ruthlessly pursued their rivals and passed on the baggage of vengeance to their subsequent generations.

Over the years, the poligars began extending financial support to the families of their followers to ensure their continued service. In case of death or maiming, the victims' families were always taken care of. This led to a system where the dependent families continued to live in bondage. This mutually beneficial arrangement divided society on strong emotional lines.

Even after the country became independent, caste equations continued to play a dominant role in deciding political loyalties. The weaker sections pitched for the Congress and the others for the Telugu Desam after the latter's birth in the 1980s.

Initially, factional rivalries were confined to the Congress, which had a divided leadership in the region. With the advent of the TDP, personal rivalries acquired a political colour.

The faction leaders - as the poligars and the perpetrators of their violent culture came to be called - with their political connections cornered all avenues of revenue-earning. Liquor business, contracts for public works, mining and transport became areas of intense competition, which created new conflict areas. The forcible takeover of rivals' properties and hired, professional killings are just some of the methods used to retain supremacy.

The advent of the RoC (Reorganisation Committee), a naxalite outfit, added fuel to the caste fire. The slain TDP legislator Paritala Ravi was linked to it. The outfit is said to have eliminated at least 19 persons in Anantapur alone. It has killed 35 in all, according to police records. Prominent among the dead were Gangula Narayana Reddy of Maddelacheruvu and Saane Channa Reddy. Family members of Narayana Reddy, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, were eliminated in Anantapur.

In the past 15 years, 670 Congressmen and 560 TDP men have lost their lives to factional rivalry.

Paritala Ravi's name figures in 54 murder cases. About 10 Congressmen are missing and the involvement of Paritala Ravi is alleged in these cases.

On January 24, Paritala Ravi was himself done away with. Earlier, elected representatives such as Madduri Subba Reddy, Sheshi Reddy, Mahabaleswar Gupta and Siva Reddy had been killed.

When out of power, both the TDP and the Congress have petitioned Governors to stop these murders and sought the dismissal of the government of the day. But factional killings have become routine in Rayalaseema. The victim's family mourns the death for a few days, and then hatches a plot to take revenge.

Bomb-making is almost a cottage industry in the region. Several followers of faction leaders have lost their limbs either in accidents or in direct attacks.

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