Panchayat Raj in a Corner of Rayalseema – A shift in power maybe?

The recent Panchayat Elections seemed to have created tiny ripples in the power structure in this corner of Rayalseema – or has it really?

The seat was reserved for Scheduled Caste women candidates. Five women candidates from the Scheduled Caste were nominated, some with strong political support from the old power structures in the area and some independent. The traditional rivals in the area are a Brahmin family (one of the largest landowners in the area) that has passed on the position from father to son to uncle to nephew etc. and the Reddys (the other large landowner). This time around the Brahmin family threw its support behind Adamma, a Dalit woman (politics makes strange bedfellows forcing deep-rooted prejudices to be kept aside for a while) while the Reddys threw their weight behind another Dalit woman, Malamma. Adamma is a quiet, shy woman who was almost apologetic whilst accompanying her campaigners.  Her political campaign was so weak that it almost appeared as if she was an afterthought. All the stories and promises were those of her political backer. Malamma, on the other hand is outspoken, an active member of the women’s SHGs,  and is very aware of her rights. She spoke for herself during the campaign and won by close to 800 votes. Nice story right?  It gets better….following the election when I visited several of the villages and sought people’s reaction to the results I was told…”we are glad one of us has won”; “she lives in our village unlike the previous Sarpanch who lived in the nearby town of Madanapalle and we had to seek an appointment to meet him”; “we can knock on Malamma’s door anytime”; “I can talk to her as an equal and not fold my hand and be deferential”.  I am not sure how much the power structure has truly changed since the powerful Reddys are the political and financial muscle behind Malamma but at least there seems to be hope of a more accessible local self-governance. Will this lead to a new way of thinking in this remote, feudal village in Andhra Pradesh – a bastion of feudal landlordism where land reforms are probably never likely to be truly implemented? Can we be hopeful that if more Malammas emerge in the years to come there will be a true shift in political power at the grassroots? What does this really mean? More questions than answers at this point of time. But interesting times…..meanwhile Malamma is getting down to real work – getting drains cleaned and arranging for tankers to provide drinking water in yet another drought year!

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