B. Mallesh, a dwarf person, is standing as an independent candidate, representing the cause of disabled people.Rama Chari, who had joined them in their campaign trail in a show of solidarity on behalf of the Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.), shares her experience with DNIS.
Penukonda, a constituency in Andhra Pradesh (A.P.) is going to polls on 02 June. It is the talk of the town. And the disability sector is not to be left far behind! They are ensuring that the talk includes disability. B. Mallesh, a dwarf person, is standing as an independent candidate, representing the cause of disabled people.He is making headlines in the local newspapers there!
Mallesh, a handkerchief vendor, has been fighting to get Dwarfism recognised as a disability, which is being supported by the Network of Persons with Disability Organisation (N.P.D.O), Andhra Pradesh. Recently, they had got a landmark High Court Order in this regard.
On the third day of Mallesh’s campaign trail, I joined him to show solidarity, on behalf of Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.). I reached their Party Office at 11:00 a.m., which is situated in the middle of a crowded market of the small township. One could easily make out the party office from a distance, for it had a prominent flag on the top, with their election symbol, ‘a stick’, hand drawn on it very aesthetically. Several volunteers had gathered outside the office. They were waiting for police permission for the vehicle. I was told that they have to take fresh permission every day for their campaign, as it is a violence prone area!
Penukonda is notorious for the Naxalite activities and faction wars. I had noticed, as I entered the town, there were policemen posted, every half a kilometre. I was also told that four people (onlookers) had lost their lives on the day of the nomination of the candidates. Two security guards have been provided to each candidate. Mallesh shared with me quite proudly that initially, they were giving him only one guard for his security, but he protested. They have now given him two bodyguards, who are with him during the campaign.
As we were waiting for permission, I interacted with the disabled volunteers who had gathered in large numbers from various parts of Andhra Pradesh to support Mallesh.“It is a strategic move,” said Srinivasulu, President, N.D.P.O. “The entire State and even the country is focussing on this election. Cabinet Ministers are campaigning for the major parties. We fielded a disabled candidate because we felt it would give our issues maximum visibility,” he said. I went through their manifesto, which not only had issues of disabled people but also very concrete ideas for senior citizens, youth development, etc. By the time permission was secured it was late afternoon. All the volunteers immediately organised themselves in a group. They had hired a horse cart, on which Mallesh stood. It was a very good idea, as it gave a visibility to the candidate. Otherwise, he could have easily been lost in the crowd.
We went through a crowded market place first. The sound of the drum and the loud speaker ensured that people got out of their homes to see the campaigners. It was quite evident from the expression of the onlookers that they had not seen anything like this before. Some of them were visibly amused. However, the campaigners did their act in the most professional manner. One person was constantly on the mike, attracting the attention of people. Volunteers were distributing pamphlets to shopkeepers and to others on the street. The cart then stopped at a strategic place with enough space for people to gather. The “cultural team” broke into a rhythmic song on disability. People continued to look at the scene with amazement.
All their suspicion must have quickly been wiped out when Mallesh addressed the public, with full confidence. He shared quite convincingly his reasons for contesting the elections, and the issues of dwarf people and disabled people. He further spoke about the violence in the region, which has hampered the development for the last several years. He said he was standing for peace and equality.
He also gave very valid reasons as to why people should vote for him. He appealed to the people to vote for him saying, “If you vote for Telugu Desam, they are not going to be part of the Government in the State; if you vote for Congress, it is again not going to lead to anything, as they have not done much since they came to power. But if you vote for me, I assure you that there will be development of more than 40,000 disabled people in the State of A.P.” He also added, “Disabled people are everywhere, in every caste, every religion and in every region. If you vote for me, you will vote for equality and for development.”
I could see the change in expression of people who came near him and shook hands with him. Then the campaigners set out for their next destination, which was the city bus stand. The action was repeated. This time there were many more people who gathered to hear the candidate who once again delivered a very inspiring speech. The campaigners proudly shared that their expenditure for the campaign is going to be less than Rs. 50,000. They have contributed the amount from their own pockets and have also collected small donations by carrying a hundi with them during their campaign.
I asked them as to how many votes they were expecting to get. Mallesh said, “There are 7000 disabled people in the constituency. If we include their family members, it is 25 per cent of the voting population! If they all vote for me, then I can get a good number of votes.” “However, that may not happen” he quickly added. “Due to violence, people generally do not vote here. Those who do are the voters bought by political parties,” he said.
But their reasons for contesting are clear. N.D.P.O. had fielded two disabled candidates during the General Elections last year. They are planning to field candidates in the upcoming M.C.D. and Panchayat Elections. Srinivasulu said they are building a cadre in Andhra Pradesh of disabled leaders. The time is not far when one of them will make it to a position of power.