Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, a seasoned politician and a prominent Dalit leader from Telangana Congress, currently serves as the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and is widely regarded as one of the party’s most effective campaigners in the State. The 63-year-old is a three-time MLA from the Madhira Assembly constituency, having been elected in 2009, 2014, and 2018. A victory in the upcoming Telangana Assembly election would make him the first leader from Madhira to hold the position for four consecutive terms.
Vikramarka started an early campaign by undertaking a 100-day padayatra in March 2023. He travelled through 750 villages in 15 districts, covering nearly 1,000 km, highlighting the shortcomings of the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS). In an exclusive interview with Frontline, Vikramarka discusses the failures of the BRS government, presents the Congress’ vision, and talks about the party’s fight against BRS’ “Dorala” (feudal) Telangana, contrasting it with the Congress’ promise to establish a “Prajala” (people’s) Telangana. Edited excerpts:
The Congress is campaigning on the slogan of establishing a “Prajala Telangana” by replacing the BRS’ “Dorala Telangana”. How does this slogan reflect the party’s vision and priorities for Telangana?
If we look at the history of Telangana, self-respect and land rights have been at the core of numerous struggles. Since the 1940s, various people’s movements and resistance in this region, whether it was the Telangana Sayudha Poratam or the Naxalite movement, have been about confronting feudal rule. Currently, once again, wealth creation has fallen into the hands of a few feudal individuals in Telangana who have caused the people of Telangana immense hardship. Exploitation is rampant. Not only are people suffering economically, but also socially. Our struggle is against this feudal rule. We (the Congress) are here to restore the freedom and self-respect of Telangana and its people.
The Congress has been criticised for accommodating a large number of dominant caste leaders, particularly from the Reddy community. Some backward class leaders have already expressed their dissatisfaction by leaving the party, citing unfair seat allocation.
It’s the concept, not the individuals. It is also about the party’s ideology. Our ideology is to distribute wealth, help the landless and marginalised sections, and ensure inclusive growth. We will take everyone along with us. The basic principles of the Congress will be this, and we will accomplish a Prajala (people’s) Telangana.
What is the Congress’ main criticism of the BRS?
Neellu, Nidhulu, and Niyamakalu–water, funds, and jobs–were the core themes that fuelled the Telangana people’s struggle for a separate State. Ten years after achieving statehood, these fundamental needs continue to persist. The BRS failed miserably on all fronts in the past decade. The State’s wealth has not been equitably distributed; employment opportunities remain scarce; and irrigation projects have been implemented poorly.
The Telangana dream envisioned empowering all sections of the population through economic growth. Instead, the BRS has looted the people. They have damaged the self-respect of the people of Telangana. We will oust them from power.
But BRS leaders have questioned the feasibility of the Congress manifesto, claiming that its scope exceeds the State’s financial capacity. They have also pointed to shortcomings in fulfilling promises made by Congress-led governments in States like Karnataka.
The BRS made numerous promises and unveiled ambitious schemes in their 2014 and 2018 election manifestos, but they fell short of delivering on these commitments. To list a few, the BRS failed to uphold its promise of allocating 3 acres [1.21 hectares] of land to all landless Dalits, [as part of a land redistribution plan that aimed to address long-standing land ownership disparities]. They were also unable to fulfil their pledge of providing one job per household. They didn’t deliver on the double-bedroom houses scheme either. They seem to have forgotten about all this. They have no standing to comment on the Congress’ promises. Ours is a people’s manifesto. Everything we have guaranteed is based on what the people of Telangana need, and a lot of work and consideration went into drafting the manifesto.
During your padayatra earlier this year, you extensively addressed the agrarian issues faced by farmers in Telangana. What is your vision for addressing these issues, and what specific assurances can you offer to the farming community?
My People’s March [padayatra] in March helped immensely in understanding the pulse of the people and their requirements. As part of our Rythu Bharosa [an investment support scheme for farmers], we will provide Rs.15,000 per acre to all farmers, including tenant farmers [a group previously excluded by the BRS]. We have also extended the benefits to agricultural labourers, who will now receive Rs.12,000 annually. Then, there are crop-loan waivers and interest-free loans. We guarantee Rs.500 per quintal additional bonus to paddy farmers. All these measures are pro-farmer.
The Congress has previously criticised the Rythu Bandhu scheme [an investment support programme for farmers implemented by the BRS government], arguing that it disproportionately benefits former landlords. If elected, will the Congress implement measures to address this concern?
The Rs.500 bonus on paddy will directly benefit the cultivator who brings the produce to the market, not the absentee landlord. Our focus is on uplifting those who truly need support, not on the absentee landlords.
Why does the Congress oppose the Dharani portal, a land records updation programme implemented by the BRS? What alternative mechanism does the Congress propose?
Several decades of struggles and the enactment of progressive laws led to the protection of the rights of cultivators. This used to be reflected in the land records. However, with the Dharani, several columns of data have been deleted. Based on these flawed records, the BRS gave Rythu Bandhu. Many real cultivators and farmers have lost their rights to the land and are suffering. There is an urgent need to rectify it.
There are rumours and speculations about infighting within the Congress.
There is no substance to those claims. It’s just propaganda by our political opponents. Whenever we emerged victorious in elections, we formed the government smoothly.
Why did the attempt to form a coalition and share seats with the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI(M), a member of the INDIA bloc), fail to materialise?
The Congress made sincere efforts to forge an alliance with the CPI(M) in Telangana. It didn’t click; we had strong candidates in the constituencies they were asking for.
Despite the support of the TDP cadre in your constituency and some other pockets, there is a possibility that the TDP might end up in a coalition with the BJP, your main opposition.
There is no alliance. They (TDP) are doing it as they don’t have contestants in this Assembly elections.
Which voter groups do you believe are moving more towards the Congress?
Our ideas have resonated with everyone: the farming community, women, backward classes, youth, and minorities. We will win with a comfortable majority. We will be forming the government.
Are you in the race for the Chief Minister’s post if the Congress comes to power?
As the Congress Legislature Party leader, of course. Why not? The CLP and the party will decide on such things.