Bandaru Rammohan Rao is Andhra Pradesh State Organization Secretary for Lok Satta Party. He is a regular instructor at the party’s School for Democracy and Study Center. Previously, he served as a Sarpanch of Pragnyapur village, Medak District, Vice President of Gajwel Mandal, Medak. He is also a career advocate (MA, LLB) journalist, writer and poet. He was interviewed by Sravanthi Yalamanchili in May 2011. Mr. Bandaru can be reached via email or phone (+91- 9866074027).
Sravanthi: You are one of those few leaders who grew up from the grass root level. You are associated with Loksatta for the past 14 years and were in politics even before. How different do you think are today’s politics from the time you joined Loksatta organization?
Rammohan: In the initial days when Loksatta organization was started, the spending limits set by election commission were 50,000 Rs for a MLA and 2 lakh rupees for a MP. As a part of Election Watch campaign organized by Loksatta Organization during 1999 elections, Loksatta brought several cases to the Election Commission’s notice where people spent 5 lakhs (5 lakhs was a big amount then). Today, the amount has reached crores. As per the new EC rules, each MLA nominee can spend upto 16 lakhs in the constituency. But, if you see in reality, anywhere between 1 crore to 16 crores is being spent. This scenario poses a bigger challenge for Lok Satta Party than what we faced 14 years ago. And we need to work much harder now. This is good if you see things from an optimistic point of view where the elections must become a burden to the nominees where they would not be able to buy voters with money and realize that elections are sacred and invaluable.
Second , the ethical values are completely degraded. Today, a MLA is supporting a leader in one party and tomorrow he is changing the party and scolding the same leader. One can see a lot more of individual hostility than ideology clashes. No two people, not even husband and wife can agree on everything 100% of the time. If one can agree with other on 90%, he/she must put the other 10% on the side and support the party for 90% of the ideology to prosper.
If you take the recent political situation of Andhra Pradesh into consideration, you see this has become very severe since Jagan came into politics. I am not against Jagan on the personal front. But, the unprincipled and unethical politics have reached its peak.
Sravanthi: What do you think is the role of youth in current day politics?
Rammohan: As someone grows older, their belief in the current generation youth decreases. They begin to criticize youth are spoilt. But I don’t agree. Youth are like the new currency notes and white weapons. They can adapt to the way society wants to mould them. Unfortunately, whoever believes in the power of the youth, wasn’t able to create an opportunity to change their approach towards good politics. The youth has reached a stage where they have started thinking politics is bad and dirty and we should not join politics. Not many politicians want to encourage young blood to join or prosper in politics. What they only want is their sons, grandsons and people from his/her own bloodline succeed. Lok Satta is completely against such practices and we have given several trainings like Leadership Training, RTI and municipal training that are especially targeted for age groups 18- 30. Youth are showing complete confidence in Lok Satta. There are 2 types of youth- one who is career oriented and those who are interested to bring about a change when given an opportunity, but not necessarily enter politics. But they all want to see change in society. I think this adds a responsibility on Lok Satta shoulders to create a platform and lead youth in the right direction.
Sravanthi: You just mentioned about the training programs given by Lok Satta. Can you please elaborate.
Rammohan: Loksatta has realized the necessity of creating political awareness for the common man and started giving training right from when we were a NGO. For example,
Lok Satta teamed up with Ratan Tata foundation and held a program called “Jana Sikshana” to promote citizen education. We used to visit villages, gather people in a community hall or school, give out a questionnaire and depending upon the answers they gave in the questionnaire, we used to train them for 3-4 hours on various topics. We trained 1,09,600 people in a similar fashion.
From the time Lok Satta Party was started, we primarily focused on political education. Starting from 2007 January, Lok Satta School of Democracy (ప్రజాస్వామ్య శిక్షణ కేంద్రం ) was formed in Kothapeta, Hyderabad where we regularly give Leadership Training. Each training session is a 3 day program. First day is dedicated to theoretical training, second day to group discussions and third day for field work where the students of the training camp are divided into groups and each group is sent to a different municipality ward/village depending upon the nature of training to interact with people and learn through implementation. At the end of the day, all groups get together to share field experiences. Sometimes, games are also conducted to avoid classroom atmosphere and to let the students express themselves. In this way, we trained 6000 people so far. The students are mostly youth between age groups 18-30. 10-15% of them are of age groups 30-45 and 10-15% are women students.
We also give Municipality and Ward Level trainings where municipal and ward level procedures, policies and issues are taught and practically shown. Since August 2010, we are holding Farmer Trainings. So, far we completed training in 2 mandals in Srikakulam , 2 mandals in Anantapur district in Rayalaseema and 5 mandals in Nizamabad district.
Sravanthi: Speaking of Farmers issues, Lok Satta teamed up with Independent Farmer’s Federation and submitted a memorandum to CM of Andhra – Mr. Kiran Kumar Reddy. Can you tell us more about it ? and also what’s Lok Satta’s take on farmer’s issues?
Rammohan: Approximately 60-65% of India’s work force is dependent on agriculture. This also includes farm workers and lessees (కవుదారులు). Even though they are facing losses, they are still divided in terms of crops, political parties and caste. This is one reason they are not able to unite as one and fight for their issues. Lok Satta is mainly focuses on 2 things- To encourage unity among farmers: Lok Satta teamed up with Independent Farmers Federation chaired by Dr Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP) to bring them under a common platform and secondly, to help them set a goal. Just like how Dronacharya said to Arjun “you are not seeing the target until you see the bird’s eye”, farmers won’t know what to expect until they set a goal for themselves. They are reporting a wide range of issues during our district tours starting from bad quality seeds to farm loans. There is no unanimity. Just like a how merchant or a businessman expects profit from his service, farmers too must set goals for profit by the time crops are sold. For example, if a farmer spends 100 Rs, he has to get back 50 Rs profit (that is make 150 Rs). Profits must be made irrespective of increase in fertilizers (or) unavailability of cheap workers (or) any other market inflations. According to the Swaminathan Commission Report that was released recently, a farmer for every 5 acres/2 hectares, must earn ‘at least’ the salary of a civil servant. Today, an attender at a government office earns Rs 15,000 – 20,000 per month (or) Rs 1.80 Lakhs per year. But an average farmer’s family earns just Rs 15,000 per year. Which means the difference is vastly big. If the revenue from 60% of country’s working men and women is stuck at 15-17%, how do you expect the country’s overall revenue to improve? The growth rate in agricultural sector is between 1 and 3 percent only.
We are educating the farmers of the same, by touring all districts in the state of Andhra Pradesh by giving trainings and manuals. Unlike the regular trainings Loksatta organizes, these are more like discussion forums. We have received an overwhelming response so far from Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram, Visakhapatnam, Anantapuram and Nizamabad areas.In the report submitted on behalf of Independent Farmers Federation, we are requesting two things from the government. A balanced demand, supply chain and good market. Losses are acceptable if the crops don’t grow well. Unfortunately in India because of the gaps in demand and supply chain, the farmers are facing losses even when the crops grow well!
Balanced Demand Supply Chain: Today, the price of Paddy MSP* is Rs 1030 per quintal (for Grad A type) and Rs 1000 per quintal ( for common type). But the actual price where farmers are selling their crops is Rs 750-850 per quintal (on average). In places like Banswada of Nizamabad District, farmers are not getting more than Rs 650 per quintal. In fact, when Dr JP met the Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh to discuss the agri crisis, he was surprised to learn that crops are not being bought at the price decided by the government (MSP). Two years back at least, the farmers used to get a better MSP and it was beneficial for customers too because the rice was just Rs 4 per kilo. Now, the price of rice has been raised to Rs 30 per kilo and the farmers too are not benefiting from it. This clearly illustrates how the layers of middle men are exploiting both farmers as well as common people.
Goods Market: Currently, the state and central governments are the major purchaser of the rice which is up to 70%. Lakhs of farmers must sell their crops to a single monopoly that holds the supreme power to decide the price. Instead, we are asking the government to diversify laws at least for the remaining 30% . Right now in small districts like Nizamabad, farmers cannot even sell paddy to the neighboring districts. We are asking to create a free market. Just like how a merchant can sell goods anywhere in the country, why can’t farmers sell their crop where ever they want to for better profits without disturbing the food stock ?
*MSP (or) Minimum Support Price is the rate at which purchases are made from the farmers. This price is set by the Govt. of India.
Sravanthi: But if you see, selling to the government guarantees a MSP , don’t you think farmers will be again be abused by the middle men when you create a free market ?
Rammohan: Good Question, The government needs to maintain food stocks that can be used during emergencies or to give away during various schemes like 2 Rs KG Rice ( during NTR’s time) and free rice scheme in Tamil Nadu (as recently passed by Ms. Jayalalitha) . Recently another scheme was also proposed where the government is planning to give away rice for free to poor people. Lok Satta is opposing this. We are saying , do not drench the farmers in the name of free rice to poor. If government wants to give out for free, they can. But we asking the government to calculate the hard work put by farmers to reap 1 quintal, and give farmers the profit they deserved. But do not monopolize the price like its being done now. Supreme Court too, recently warned the Central Government regarding this. Today the Central Government has a stock of food grains (rice and wheat especially) that can sustain us up to 3 years of emergency needs while the recommended buffer stock to save during an emergency is one year. We are asking them to release the buffer stock. For each quintal of purchase it makes from the farmers, government is spending Rs 376 per quintal of public money to save these grains! The main purpose of this stocking is for emergency, but now, in the name of saving grains for emergency, farmers are suffering from huge losses.
Sravanthi: People agree that Lok Satta is a good party but when it comes to vote, they are voting for traditional parties. How far do you think Lok Satta is going to change situation in the 2014 elections ?
Rammohan: Just like how the worth of a diamond is determined by a scratch test, in a democracy, the success of any political party can be determined by the number of votes. The only reason media is favoring us is because Loksatta is a good party. But if you see the vote majority, excluding Dr JP’s Kukatpally seat, we are the party with least number of votes. I think our main vice lies between driving the voter to the polling booth and getting him/her to vote. Even if the voter wants to vote for Lok Satta, by the time he/she comes to the polling booth and votes, a lot of trickery is happening in between. There is a lot of difference between other democracies (like USA) and India in this regard. There are 4-5 layers between the party and voters in India in the form of local leaders. Without volunteers and local leaders at the ward/village level, it is impossible for any party to win. This will be the same situation even after 10 years. Rahul Gandhi announced recently said “give me 5 volunteers per booth of 1000 voters and we will show wonderful results”. If a party with a 150 year old history, wants 5 volunteers per polling, a new party like Lok Satta must have more flag bearers and leaders at local level, which we have failed to produce. Only those who are not shy to bear the flag of Lok Satta or champion the principles of Lok Satta can bring voters to the polling both and get them to vote. Even a voter who comes to the polling both with Lok Satta in mind, looking at the flags and volunteers of traditional parties, if they don’t see Lok Satta booths and volunteers, he/she would start doubting as to whether they want to vote for the party. This is what happened in the 2009 elections. This is the difference we have seen between people’s interest in the party and voting for the party. In 2009 elections, out of 100 people who came to the polling both to vote, only 10 people did vote for Lok Satta. You can win only a few votes from party ideologies . But the major vote bank comes from Local Leaders/nominees and volunteers.
Sravanthi: How successful do you think is Lok Satta in creating the right platform for 2014 ? Do you think Lok Satta has reached the ward level ?
Rammohan: Definitely, yes. We have done a lot of work so far and more has to be done. We are also getting rid of dead baggage and pumping in new blood into the party.
Sravanthi: Would you like to give out any message to our readers ?
Rammohan: There is a nice quote in Bhagawad Geeta. “Do your duty and do not expect worry about the results.” But I would say, “Do the work and expect the results”. The higher your target, the better you can work towards achieving it. Secondly, you must believe in whatever you do and promote good ideologies so that others will be benefited from it. You may not see the results immediately but as long as you see the goal and work towards it, you will definitely achieve it one day!