A tale of two states: Politics, Pushkaram and an Olympian
S. Madhusudhana Rao
In recent days, the talking point in elite and social circles in Hyderabad is not the silver lining on our Olympic hopes but the rain of money and gifts on PV Sindhu, the only silver medalist, who gave 1.2 billion people a little pride in our women’s power.
If the crores that had been showered on her by various state governments, including the two Telugu states, and organizations were history, the BMWs gifted by cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar to Sindhu, her coach and mentor Pullela Gopichand, another Olympian Sakshi Malik and gymnast Dipa Karmakar had wowed many admirers. Were these top brand cars personal gifts of Little Master? Of course, not! But they were merely handed over to them by Sachin on behalf of Chamundeshwarnath, president of Hyderabad District Badminton Association. But, still, the luxury cars have revved up Sindhu’s admirers’ enthusiasm. The in thing now is endorsements being offered to Sindhu, including brand ambassadorships.
In all fairness, none is grudging the largesse the girls have begotten. They deserve all encouragement and support from the people, governments and relevant sports bodies to reach new heights in their respective fields of activity. More importantly, financial incentives and national awards will have a catalytic effect on budding sports personalities to perform better at global level.
But, the central issue that is lost in the glitzy celebrations of winning two Olympic medals is the imprudence of showering one or two persons with high rewards. It is apparent in the case of Sindhu who is a Telugu girl. Ironically, her nativity – Telangana or Andhra — and caste have triggered countless social media battles. Not to be left behind, to score a few brownie points in the game of one-upmanship, the respective chief ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have publicly exposed their regional chauvinism at the felicitation functions held in Hyderabad and Vijayawada.
It hasn’t occurred to the TRS and TDP government leaders that Sindhu is an Indian first and her native state is secondary. Taking credit for Sindhu’s success with claims and counter-claims by rival Telugu states’ chief ministers is outlandish, to say the least.
Nevertheless, their public claims, particularly made by AP leaders, raise a pertinent question: When do our political leaders start thinking in terms of a nation rather than a region? When the whole country has applauded the ‘silver shuttler’ in unison, the Telugu states have struck a jarring note.
In fact, the political differences between the two Telugu states were nowhere as stark as at Vadapalli, about 200km from Hyderabad, in Nalgonda district.
Vadapalli is a small pilgrim town famous for its historic temples of Sri Meenakshi Agasteswara Swami and Lakshmi Narasimha Swami. The temple town is considered holy since it is located at the confluence of Krishna and Musi rivers. It came into prominence during the last month’s Krishna Pushkaram (August 12-23). Vadapalli is also the place where a majestic Krishna River bifurcates Telangana and Andhra Pradesh; but linked by a state highways and a railway bridge.
During normal days, Vadapalli attracts a sprinkle of devotees. But during the Krishna Pushkaram, Vadapalli and the Krishna river bank on the Telangana side had been transformed into a showpiece of the ruling TRS government as part of the event arrangements.
The facilities provided by the K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR)’s government for the devout arriving there, mostly by road, were elaborate and impressive. A number of special bathing ghats were built for the holy dip and transport arrangements were as flawless as possible.
Across the River Krishna, facing these ghats, were those constructed by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government with similar arrangements. However, the interesting point was the ghats provided for the people taking the ritualistic bath on either side of the Krishna River were painted in pink (the official colour of TRS) on Telangana side and yellow (TDP’s colour) on the Andhra side.
What’s more, leaders of the ruling TRS and TDP parties on both sides of the River Krishna were beaming at Pushkaram visitors from hoardings put up for the occasion. Greetings and welcome banners were hung from lamp posts and not to be missed were the two Telugu chief ministers’ life-size portraits hailing “the auspicious event of Krishna Pushkaram” at every nook and cranny.
Vadavalli ghats were a classic example of how a quintessentially religious event was soft-sold by the two Telugu state government leaders for self-promotion. Indeed, it’s a case study in how politics could overshadow a once-in-12-years sacred event and ruling party leaders at local and state level could exploit it to the hilt.
Are the states increasingly turning to mass events that are holy in nature to boost ruling parties’ popularity and vote share? If it is so – sure, it is – we are mixing populism, politics and religious sentiments. A heady cocktail, indeed.
On the other hand, Sindhu’s episode shows how a personal triumph has been successfully hijacked by the Telugu states’ leaders to project themselves on a wider canvas.