Kothur Geetha Murthy is an Official Spokesperson, State Working Committee member, Mahila Satta General Secretary and Banswada constituency Incharge for Lok Satta Party. She was interviewed by Sundeep Pattem via phone (February 15, 2011) and online chat (May 14, 2011). She can be reached via phone (+91 9949457990), email or Facebook.
Sundeep: Geetha garu, happy to be speaking with you today.
Geetha: Namaste, Sundeep garu. Thank you.
Sundeep: Geetha garu, what inspires you? Who are your role models?
Geetha: I grew up differently. I am from a very big joint family. We lived in a small village close to Banswada. There were a lot of restrictions on girls – should stay at home, should not go about freely, should not speak freely etc. I rebelled against these restrictions from the beginning and argued that girls should have their freedom, independent ideas; they should not be suppressed. I got married at the age of 16-17. My husband, Murthy garu, supported me, saying that I should do what my heart says. He is also very keen on social service. We agreed to split the responsiblities – he provides for the family so that I am free do this work. Time, money, transport – for all of these, he is there for me.
Sundeep: How did you get interested in politics/public service?
Geetha: After my marriage, we were living in Zaheerabad, Medak for 14 years. I was working for Deccan Development Society (DDS) for 5 years. Since I come from a rural background, I was naturally inclined to work on the rural issues related to women and farmers. My husband was employed at DDS and I also joined as coordinator, working in 72 villages at that time. After 5 years, I had to resign from the job due to illness and started a business after recovering.
Around that time, the construction of a railway underbridge was left incomplete. On inquiring, we found that this multi-crore project was stopped because of a deficit of just Rs. 22 lakhs. This meant a loss for about 20 villages – the goods train could save people a 4-5 hours journey. I started a campaign to get it done – brought the villagers together, talked to them, targeted the local MLA, targeted the Chief Mnister. Finally we achieved it. Everyone was curious about who got this done. All the big parties approached me to join – Chandrababu Naidu also called himself. But I did not want to enter politics and said no to them. At that time, the Loksatta movement people came and said I should work with them. Initially, I was not ready for the commitment because I was aware of Dr JP’s standards. Because of my other responsibilities, I felt I could not do justice and tried to avoid them for 3 months. But they kept coming back and in the end, I joined. This was in 2002.
I took the responsibility for expanding the movement at the grassroots level by organizing trainings and other programs. I was part of the state working committee since 2003. After the formation of the party, elections were held via ballot and I was chosen as a member of the State working committee. At this point, I wound up the business and started working full time for the party.
Initially, I was Incharge of Nizamabad district and worked on building the party there. Our family then came to Hyderabad for the education of our children. I was Mahbubnagar district Incharge for a while and am now State general secretary of Mahila Satta.
Sundeep: You contested the assembly elections in 2009 from Banswada. Tell us about the experience.
Geetha: For the election in 2009, I had no plans of running because of lack of finances to spend on the campaign. However, with March 31st being the last day of nominations, the original choice from the Banswada team decided to drop out on the 30th. In this situation, Dr JP suggested that I run from there. I thought that winning and losing is another matter, this is a chance for Lok Satta’s name to go out and agreed. In the 13 days remaining for campaigning, I covered 113 villages. Nobody had even heard of Lok Satta in such remote interiors. The conventional party leaders there are political goondas. We started a different kind of discussion there – how by taking money for votes, they are selling their lives. My expectations were not high, but some youth definitely got attracted. You can say I got 100 votes per day of campaigning, a total of 1300 votes. The amount spent was only Rs. 1 lakh, mainly for the vehicle and food expenses.
When I went back after elections, there was very good response from the people. They openly admitted saying “We were already committed after taking money. But you are talking about real issues, you should come, we understand that we need.” Just as we were planning to step up the work, the Telangana movement heated up. Since then the conditions are not good for political activity. The youth that come are also a bit fearful, anxious, they didn’t have support from the elders. The situation was such that if they didn’t drink during elections, they were questioned “Are you supporting Lok Satta?”. These youth are also excitable, and our way is to ask difficult questions and criticize. So we did not want to get the youth too excited and get into trouble. So I kept in touch with them, and we’ve been trying to work quietly.
Sundeep: What are some activities and issues you are working on?
Geetha: We have focused on establishing the Swatantra Raitu Aikya Vedika to address farmers issues. This has received the support of everyone – across caste and religion, big and small, across party affiliations. In 6 vilages, we did an awareness campaign. We explained how the problems of farmers can be ignored because they do not have a Union, and hence are not able to come on a single platform. According to Lok Satta’s agenda on making agriculture profitable, we put forward the conditions. Farmers should have freedom to set prices and sell product anywhere. There must be provision of market yards, processing units, dryers, cold storage, pledge loans. Local youth and women must be employed in processing units. Farmers should have ownership of market yards and have the right to determine prices. There should be a team and call center for providing scientific knowledge. We got a great response. Even those who have been in Congress and TDP from 30-40 years supported it, saying for this we will support irrespective of party. We will be setting up committees and providing training. They will only be the owners and leaders, we will only help set it up in the beginning. We got a good response. Now, there is recognition that Lok Satta talks in favor of farmers. They are sending their children to support us, saying that the others only talk, these people are doing something.
But with the recent issues with Telangana, especially after Dr JP’s statement about extortion and cases against students, there are incidents of parties attacking anything done in the name of Lok Satta. Even so, today we called 70 people, 20 people are coming. We are not forming committees right now and want to work like fish under water. Going ahead, we will be using PRA (participating rural appraisal) to get any information related to the village – schools, crops, funds. In summer, harvest will be over and farmers will be free. Daily we want to cover 2-3 villages. For two months, May to June, we want to work using PRA. The villages have no gram sabhas, no schemes, pensions, ration cards, homes – all these are mostly revolving around the Sarpanch and friends. In the Racha Banda program, 2000-3000 complaints saying benefits are not reaching were received from each village. If we raise questions about where all the money is going, we can help the people. 60% of the population is farmers and all of these are their problems. Once the village turns in our favor, nothing can stop us.
Another thought I had was that if we can use a small projector to show visuals to raise awareness. We can go through the local arts, they will respond more easily to burra kathas etc.
Sundeep: Do we have cadre in Banswada?
Geetha: We have the support of about 200 students. They even came for the campaign during elections. But there is fear of other parties. They would stand at the edge of their villages and come to the nearby villages for campaign. During the campaign, the police inspectors in the area called me up and told me not to roam around alone. The situation is like that. It is difficult for them to support openly, only if the whole village turns it will happen.
Sundeep: What do we need to build the team?
Geetha: We have the supporters. They have lot of admiration for LSP and ready to work for us. But we only have youth. Unless we have support from village elders, there is fear of threats etc. That is why we are arranging the training here in Hyderabad for 20-25 youngsters, in fact it is happening tomorrow. If we do this in Banswada itself, there will be threats, misbehavior etc. Going ahead, we need to start a party office. But right now, the only issue you can talk is Telangana. In the next one year, we have to work quietly. In 2-3 years, we can achieve presence in all villages, the name of Lok Satta must be stamped by working on real issues, we have the capacity. Farmers, women, youth – their problems are same all over, Telangana or Andhra does not matter.
In the next year, there will be Sarpanch elections. We have to keep observing, keep showing up, keep working. We need to get them to talk about us. If the talk starts in one village, it spreads to the surrounding villages just like that.
Sundeep: What kind of resources do you need for your program? What is the funding situation?
Geetha: Presently, funds are the primary limitation. The party will provide all the literature material. But we need posters, flags, set up party office and very importantly, arrange for a vehicle for traveling in the villages. Funding is the main challenge.
Sundeep: So how are you looking to arrange these funds? Does the party provide any? Are you raising funds locally?
Geetha: The party cannot give funds, we cannot depend on it. Right now, fund raising is not possible locally. When we went to one shop, they asked us back: “already the Telangana parties are extorting money, now you are also asking?” The only way we can get them to fund is when they really trust that we will take up problems and solve them The next 1-1.5 years we have to gain this trust, I don’t think we can expect to raise funds locally before that.
Sundeep: Let us talk about Telangana. What is your opinion about the movement?
Geetha: It is true that Telangana has many problems. But the reason why it is backward is not the people, it is the leaders. In the name of the movement, money extortion has been going on. Along with the sentiment of Telangana, they are distributing money and liquor for support. Many ex-students have joined, these fake leaders need to be exposed. Now the parties are doing a lot of publicity saying that the Andhra people are stealing jobs. Even after so many years after we got the election system, why is there no development here? These are leaders from so many years, what about their responsibilty for the current situation?
Sundeep: But what about the several eminent people, long time public servants and intellectuals who are supporting the movement?
Geetha: Yes, they are also there, I am not labeling everyone. But it is also true that many people are saying they support out of fear of being labeled anti-Telangana.
Sundeep: They are also highlighting cultural suppression – not providing the great persons, literature and history of Telangana their rightful place.
Geetha: Who is denying this fact? At every time, whoever was in power has been doing these things for their own short-term benefit and satisfaction. What have the leaders of Telangana been doing about it till now?
Sundeep: Coming to Lok Satta, are there members of the party who also support separation. In other words, is there a place for someone who is pro-Telangana in the party? Can they support freely?
Geetha: I have to say that only few of them have stayed in the party. But definitely yes, there always was and is a place for them.
There is no Telangana-Andhra feeling in our party. After the Telangana movement came, JP garu asked the Telangana representatives to study the primary problems being raised and what kind of solutions we need to address them. But some party members brought in the Telangana aspect for their personal gains. They argued for it without regard for the aims and methods of Lok Satta. At that time, if we could all explain to the people how district governments and decentralization are the keys to solving the problems of jobs and resources, we would have reason to be proud today. My thinking is that we should not lose sight of how what Lok Satta is about is beneficial for the whole country, including Telangana.
Sundeep: Can party leaders hold opinions opposed to those that Dr JP has and still be in the party?
Geetha: Everyone is free to express their opinions. In fact, there is no other party in which leaders and cadre have the openness and freedom they have in Lok Satta. Dr JP always explains his views with a lot of patience. On several issues, he had to change his mind because of the arguments and push of other leaders.
Sundeep: Can you name some Telangana leaders in LSP?
Geetha: Raja Reddy, Vijayendar Reddy, Vijay Bhaskar in Hyderabad. Marri Ram Reddy of Nizamabad, Gattiah of Warangal, Srinivas Reddy of Nalgonda, Vidyasagar and Raja Reddy of Karimnagar. There are several others.
Sundeep: Who are the leaders in Nizamabad? How active are they?
Marri Ram Reddy is the President, Shekhar of Nizamabad Urban, Vinod Nayak of Nizamabad Rural, Vikku Krishna of Armur. There are several cadre. There is a district party office and regular meetings happen. They respond to the local issues in their own constituencies and also at District level.
Sundeep: In the recent 4th year anniversary of LSP, the Working President DVVS Varma made this statement – “Right now, we are a party of leaders. Where are the people? Who will do the work of bringing people into the party?”
Geetha: We have such problems to be honest. But it is not the case with all the leaders. It has to be said that we are failing a bit in coordinating the organization effectively. This is what we need to focus on.
Sundeep: Does the party have a strategy for winning more seats in the next election?
Geetha: When we first contested, we had the need to introduce ourselves. Right now, Lok Satta is recognized as being anti-corruption, there is a considerable image. Other parties have no moral standing. The people recognize that we talk about the real issues, don’t give money. When we were campaigning in Banswada, PRP also came, playing their songs and music. The people did not let me go, saying, “those guys will go away in a little while, we need the things you are talking about”.
We have strategy, the decisions and plans are being made. We need to go and work at the grassroots in a big way.
Sundeep: Thank you, Geetha Murthy garu. It was a pleasure talking to you.