After farmers, Telangana CM draws attention to Dalits with new program
Analysts say that by launching ‘Dalita Bandhu’, KCR silenced opposition and quelled youth agitation over rising unemployment
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) recently announced “Dalita Bandhu”, an entrepreneurship program for Scheduled Castes (SC), which promises ₹ 10 lakh per family to start a business of their choice.
Political analysts say KCR has played a masterstroke that will help silence the opposition and quell youth unrest over rising unemployment in the state.
“Dalita Bandhu” was recently launched on a pilot basis in the district of Huzurabad, which is soon to be voted on and where the SCs constitute the largest number of voters.
The plan is intended for SC families, including those of government employees, as a non-refundable benefit. A total of 17 Lakh families in the state are likely to benefit from “Dalita Bandhu” by 2023 – one year before the next general election.
The Chief Minister released 2,000 crore on August 26 – too much for the well-being of one community and one constituency! KCR said the state will spend ₹ 1 lakh crore to implement the program.
The CM assured that ₹ 40,000 crore will be spent to empower Dalit families across the state over the next two years – a capital allowance that makes even national programs trivial in comparison.
The way the project was announced at a multi-party meeting, its timing, the hubbub, huge funding and chants from Dr Ambedkar prompted opposition parties to take cover. In defense, they described “Dalita Bandhu” as “electoral fraud, political deception, impossible to implement and a scam on the eve of the elections”. They tell voters that KCR would drop the project after polls, like previous projects and pledges. In addition, they called for a similar “Bandhu” program for Muslims, Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Backward Classes (BC).
Undeterred, KCR decorated the portrait of Dr Ambedkar and distributed ₹ 10 lakh checks to some families in the constituency. An army of jubilant TRS supporters performed a palabhishekam (milk bath) on KCR’s portraits. Suddenly, KCR silenced critics who insisted on withdrawing promises to appoint a Dalit as chief minister and distribute three acres of land to each Dalit family.
The “Dalit Bandhu” program has exceptionally inflated the political atmosphere in the state, particularly in Huzurabad, where by-elections were made necessary after the resignation of former Minister of Health Eatela Rajender. Pulling Huzurabad away from Eatela, who was dismissed from his post in an alleged land grabbing case, is necessary for KCR to prove that he is still the clear leader. By announcing a plan for the Dalits, KCR has set itself the task of securing the victory of TRS in the next polls.
In 2018, just before the assembly elections, KCR announced a new “Rythu Bandhu” program, which promised ₹ 5,000 per acre per season for every farmer with no land restrictions. The state distributes ₹ 12,000 crore per year under the program to cover input expenses.
After winning over the farmers, KCR seems to have turned its attention to the Dalits. While ‘Rythu Bandhu’ helped the KCR come out stronger in the 2018 parliamentary elections, the implementation of ‘Dalit Bandhu’, gradually until 2023, is expected to help supremo Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) to overcome the opposition to power in the next general elections. .
Oddly enough, instead of creating bitterness among the castes, the “Dalit Bandhu” program gave hope to other communities that one day the Chief Minister would announce a similar program for them as well.
Earlier, in 2017, KCR had implemented sheep distribution programs to Yadava families. Recently, he announced a free diet program for launderers (dhobis) and barbers (nayees). Similar programs have been launched for other electorally significant castes in the state.
Many people this author spoke to exuded confidence that Telangana, being “the richest state”, does not lack funds to finance such social protection measures.
Careful observation of these programs will reveal that KCR focuses its attention on families rather than individual beneficiaries. For example, the top boss of TRS seems the least interested in filling 1.9 lakh vacancies in government offices. Instead, he sees prudence in helping the family, not the individual, as a unit. As a result, notification assurances for government jobs and unemployment benefits advertised with great fanfare have been overlooked.
This bet by KCR seems to be working to its advantage. The lack of jobs has not sparked unrest among young people despite provocations from opposition parties.
While some see a justification in these caste and family-oriented welfare regimes, others see them as an attempt to wean young people off popular movements and prevent the opposition from rallying around the backward classes (BC ), Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST), which collectively make up 85 percent of the population.
Obstacle to capital, if any?
Dr J Suresh, Dalit political commentator and associate professor at Prof Acharya Jayashankar Telangana University of Agriculture, hailed the “Dalit Bandhu” as a revolutionary milestone. “Distributing ₹ 10 lakhs in cash to each family will result in the creation of small entrepreneur lakhs among Dalits. Since the majority of Dalits are landless poor, obtaining bank loans is a distant dream for them. Now with the launch of ‘Dalit Bandhu’ the critical hurdle is resolved and the state will see the potential of Dalits unleashed, ”Dr Suresh told the Federal.
Dr Suresh said the program would certainly help TRS consolidate its position among Dalits who make up 17% of total households.
Vaddepalli Mallesham, activist and former leader of the teachers’ union, said the project was nothing more than an attempt to wean young people and students from the unrest and create a vote bank with embezzlement.
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“The young people and the unemployed in Telangana are very agitated because there has been no recruitment for seven years. The KCR, by launching programs like “Rythu Bandhu” and “Dalit Bandhu”, exerts pressure on families to prevent their children from agitating against the government. With these benefits, no family would allow opposition parties to organize rallies for jobs or unemployment benefits, fearing that their children would be denied benefits from social assistance schemes, ”Mallesham said. The TRS, according to Mallesham, is using its position as the ruling party to its advantage and making politics hostile to opposition parties.
Organization at micro level
“The gift of cash benefits and micro-level organization of the party goes against the state’s functional opposition parties,” said Professor S Simhadri, former professor at Osmania University and chairman of the Samajwadi party.
“In Telangana, the line between party and state has blurred. Government institutions function as wings of TRS. OBC and Dalit beneficiaries of government programs are reluctant to attend opposition party meetings. The TRS is so established in the villages that a constant watch is exercised on the activities of the beneficiaries. People fear their names will be removed from the list of beneficiaries if they are spotted at meetings called by opposition leaders. It is very difficult to counter the trend, ”said Professor Simhadri.
In a state that has yet to garner credible opposition even after two elections since state formation, TRS isn’t unduly worried about a backlash against dropping plans halfway through. In KCR’s Telangana, even a broken promise generates hope and people are taught to wait their turn before the “next election” or “by-election”.