Bommisetti Venkata Ramana leads the Lok Satta Party in Rayadurgam constituency, Anantapur and is a member of Lok Satta’s sub-committee on agriculture. He was interviewed by Sundeep Pattem in November 2011. Popularly known as Babu, Venkata Ramana can be reached via phone (+91-9989838872) or email. For further information and reports, please visit the website for LSP Rayadurgam and ‘Like’ the Facebook page.
Sundeep: Babu garu, very happy to be speaking with you. Please tell us about your personal background.
Babu: We are from Rayadurgam. I was born and grew up here. Traditionally, we are from the weavers community and my parents work in agriculture. I have studied till Intermediate. My wife does stitching and tailoring from home, which I help with. I also have a business in used two wheelers – buy at a lower price and sell at a profit. This is what we do for livelihood. For handling 2-3 two wheelers a month, I don’t need to spend a lot of time. I am giving most of the time for party work.
Sundeep: How did you get interested in public service and politics?
Babu: In the past, before coming to Lok Satta, I was involved with the Communist party. Being part of good movements, their struggles, building good relationships with people. The poor man must be in politics. The rich in politics will mostly look after their own interests. The poor need to be involved in politics, they know the struggles. I am happy to have taken the responsibility, for each and every issue we are trying to give the voice. Why do we need to come into politics? The loot going on, unemployment, discrimination, rural problems. We are working on the call given by Lok Satta. Apart from that, our focus is primarily on local issues. We are giving our voice and valuable information for society and country.
Sundeep: Who are your role models?
Babu: If you see, the poor are suffering so much. What is the situation the country today? When they go to any office to get work done, there so much difficulty. No work gets done without bribes. We have to show leadership, do some service to the people, with this anxiety I came into politics, even though we are poor. If you ask about inspiration, people and their problems are my inspiration. JP garu is a great man, and his objectives and ideologies, if we keep them aside, it is the problems faced by the poor. Whatever is in our power, be it locally, in mandal, or constituency, we are working to bring awareness in people. The rich are getting richer, the poor remain poor, there is no protection for them. I have come into politics to do some service to society, to show leadership, get recognition as a leader. For this we have Lok Satta Party as a good platform.
Sundeep: What are some focus areas for you?
Babu: We are creating awareness of the broad agenda and ideology of Lok Satta, and what kind of solutions we have for the people’s problems. We are working on establishing a single farmers’ union all over the state. Today, we have created a single platform for this, above party and caste affiliations.
Primarily, I have kept my focus on the local problems, and the petitions, protests and demonstrations for solutions. Drainage, water, electricity, 2 rupee rice, all such local problems, we address. Are the welfare schemes truly reaching people or not? If not, what should we do about it. If they are not reaching, we mobilize the people, do protests, dharnas, and get the assurance from those responsible that the scheme support will be given.
We have continuously done protests against illegal liquor. The results have been limited as of now, since we are a small party, but we have given a good voice against this. Just today I have discussed plans for a program to encourage women in the villages to join hands in the fight. Geetha Murthy garu will also be coming here in a few days for this and our team will be touring the villages.
I need not tell you about our anti-corruption activity. Wherever there is corruption, Lok Satta Party will be there to fight it. Wherever we know someone is indulging in corruption, we do protests and tell them “You are there to serve us, not otherwise. Why won’t you do your job? Are you not getting a salary? Why will you not perform your duty?” We are saying that all departments should work without corruption, work should be done for free.
Education and health should we available to all. Coming from a poor family, I can say without doubt that these are most needed. Health is the most important thing in a person’s life. The ones who lose their health due to bad habits or lack of care become useless, good for nothing.
The Government has handed it over to corporate hospitals. If they do an operation for a small wound and charge Rs. 2 lakhs, the Government will pay. The patients will die even before reaching these hospitals. We are saying that treatment for any disease or health problem must be available in Rayadurgam itself. We took up this issue, created awareness, and I sat on a 72 hour fast for appointment of doctors in Rayadurgam hospital. The public response has been huge and the Government has announced that more doctors will come in soon. This is a good victory for us.
We are demanding that there should be good education for free. To get an education, people are spending lakhs in donations. To get a job, people are spending lakhs of rupees. Once they get a job, they feel they have to earn it back through bribes. How can we ask them not to take? Don’t they have to pay back their loans?
Sundeep: What are some of the other successes you have achieved?
Babu: Take the issue of public toilets. There were 16 of them in Rayadurgam town. Because of lack of maintenance, they are in bad shape, smelling badly. They cause diseases, breed mosquitoes. They are close to homes of people. Instead of this, we have asked the Government to do away with these public toilets and help build toilets for each house. This is actually a welfare scheme of the Government. We have created awareness among people to keep their surroundings clean and prevent diseases. 6-7 of the public toilets have been demolished and some families have built toilets using the Rs. 5000 provided by the Government. This is a good success for us and I have been invited for a meeting to discuss further steps.
Sundeep: So, you are saying there has been a change?
Babu: Yes, definitely. Change will happen. There is no doubt. Like JP garu said, in a few years, politicians will change, will try to be honest. Today, Jagan is in trouble, Gali Janardhan is in jail. It seems he used eat in gold plates. Now there is fear of the law catching up.
The poor are not worried about the law. But these people have to worry all the time about the hundreds of crores they have acquired. They don’t care about public service, they worry only about how to safeguard their properties, not about people’s problems.
Sundeep: What are some of the methods you employ to create awareness and get work done?
Babu: There are 28 Government divisions and offices that are responsible for public services – like MRO, MDO, Collector, Joint Collector. The leader should know all about this, know who to approach for which problem and how to demand action. One who cannot do this is not a leader. I have been asking our party leadership to provide training on this aspect to aspiring leaders all over the state. We are planning for such a training program for Anantapur district soon.
In Rayadurgam, take the example of palm oil. It was not being given to the people, you know about the public distribution system right? We created awareness among the people – told them, you should know about welfare schemes, make sure to take what you should get, know when ration shops should open and close. We gathered people and did dharnas at the MRO office. The collector took notice and ordered that the palm oil be given properly.
Another example of how we reach out is through Velugu – women’s groups. They have meetings twice a month. 300-400 people come. We take permission to speak in those meetings and speak about how they should get the benefits of the welfare schemes.
For some big problems, we also work on all-party forum.
Sundeep: What the primary challenges and obstacles you are facing?
Babu: We don’t target individuals. We don’t work for individuals. We take up issues that affect society, it must have use for this galli and town. We don’t think of others as rivals or against us. We have our party ideology and agenda, and are focused on that.
Really, there are no obstacles as such. Many people believe that we are sincere in our fight against corruption and talk about important issues. Party leaders have emphasized that we don’t need to look at state level or district level. We need to take up the issues at local level and go ahead.
Sundeep: We see many people who think of Lok Satta favorably, but feel it is not strong enough to make a difference. What are the problems faced as a small party?
Babu: We have good knowledge about issues. The money related problems are there. As you know, we are poor people. We have a good team and are able to get results because of this. We are thinking we are a small party, but it is not right. The situation in the country is that the Parliament and Prime Minister is taking the recommendations and suggestions from JP garu. Small party, small party, why should we think we are small, when we have such recognition.
Sundeep: When some of our friends go to villages, they are told they never heard of Lok Satta. What are you doing to change this situation at grassroots level?
Babu: There are 32 villages and 16 panchayats in this mandal. We are touring in the villages to increase the awareness about Lok Satta. In about 10 villages, we have good relationships. We have not been able to cover all villages, but we will do it. Like you said, in many villages they don’t know about us. So we are touring to tell them what Lok Satta is about, that it is there in Rayadurgam, in the state, what JP garu is doing at national level. We cannot go everywhere at once, so we will do in stages. In every village, we need to have at least 10 members, the Lok Satta platform must be there.
Sundeep: Did you succeed in gaining memberships in villages?
Babu: Right now, it may not be possible to get many memberships for the party here. We are trying to work on problems and build relationships. Specific to farmers, they have come forward and taken membership for the union. We have registered them. We will continue to talk about the party agenda and ideology.
Sundeep: How is the strength in Rayadurgam town?
Babu: The sympathizers are many, but they will not come to do party work. There are few of us who do party work on a regular basis, but many others will come when called upon. Like when JP garu came here recently, the party was expecting at least 300 people to attend. My thinking was, a national level leader is coming here, we need to show it. We got more than 2000 people to attend, and made all the arrangements. Babu cannot do this on his own, we had a team of 60-70 all working for this meeting. We are making efforts to help them grow into leadership roles.
Sundeep: If you have to grow further, what kind of support do you need, from locals, party head office or supporters?
Babu: It costs Rs. 500 to visit a single village. The potential results are in front of our eyes. If we had more funds, we can definitely get the results. Honestly speaking, we have faced hell due to financial difficulties. We have just put our faith in God. We are doing this for good of society, and we have put the burden on God.
There are some problems with fund raising. If we take from some people, we will not be able to question their wrongdoings tomorrow. Other than this, some people question “You are also a political party, why should we give you money?”
Sundeep: But, how can the party run without raising money from the locals? Surely there must be some people who are honest and will support your work for benefit of society?
Babu: Yes, definitely, we can raise, we should do it better. We are planning for a membership drive. We have to inform the public about our work and ask for support.
Sundeep: How will Lok Satta approach the next elections? What are lessons from the 2009 Assembly elections?
Babu: Across the state, the party contested in 250 constituencies. There were some mistakes. We encouraged anyone who was ready to contest. Most of them were left to campaign on their own. This was a minus, as you know, we did not get the results. We have learnt from this, we have experience. In 2014, there will be more focus on the areas where the party is strong. Several leaders will help in the campaign, there will be a show of strength. Rayadurgam is definitely one of them. Like Dr. JP said, if we have even 10% of seats, we could have made a big difference. So there will be more focus on some areas and we are putting 100% efforts to win.
Sundeep: You did not contest in 2009, but were involved in party work. What was your role in the elections?
Babu: I was involved in the campaigning. Like I was saying, there were some mistakes last time. In some areas, those with financial strength were given tickets. But that is the past. JP garu has clearly stated that only those who are putting in hard work for the party and people regularly will get tickets. We welcome this. Because, if Babu works hard and does service for 3-4 years, but someone else gets the ticket, we may not get results. If I stand, we will get our votes, there is no doubt. If we lose, we lose. If we win, we win because of our work.
That is why we are working very hard. What we are into is not a casual thing. 100% we have to take the party in the direction of results. 2014 is not too far, 3 years is not a long time. We have started touring, beginning with villages in each mandal in Rayadurgam. I want to do this all over Anantapur district and strengthen the party. This will be taken up in the coming months. We want to tour all villages, setup up our sanghas in all villages, build our membership in every village. That is the aim, we are going ahead on this.