After farmers, Telangana CM turns attention to Dalits with new scheme

Analysts say that by launching ‘Dalita Bandhu’, KCR has silenced the opposition and also mollified youth agitations in the face of rising unemployment

‘Dalita Bandhu’ was launched recently on a pilot basis in Huzurabad constituency, which is slated for bypolls soon and where SCs make the largest chunk of voters.

Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) recently announced ‘Dalita Bandhu’, an entrepreneurship scheme for Scheduled Caste (SC), which promises ₹ 10 lakh per family to start a business of their choice.

Political analysts say KCR has played a masterstroke, which will help him silence the opposition and also mollify youth agitations in the face of rising unemployment in the state.

‘Dalita Bandhu’ was launched recently on a pilot basis in the Huzurabad constituency, which is slated for by-polls soon and where SCs make the largest chunk of voters.

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The scheme is meant for SC families, including those of government employees, as a non-refundable benefit. A total of 17 lakh families in the state are likely to benefit from ‘Dalita Bandhu’ by 2023 – a year before the next general elections.

The Chief Minister released ₹ 2,000 crore on August 26  — too big an amount for the welfare of a single community and for a single constituency! KCR said the state would spend ₹ 1 lakh crore to implement the scheme.

The CM assured that ₹ 40,000 crore will be spent to empower Dalit families across the state in the next two years – a momentous allocation that makes even national schemes look insignificant in comparison.

The way the scheme was announced in an all-party meeting, its timing, the brouhaha, huge funding and chants of Dr Ambedkar have made the opposition parties run for cover. In defence, they termed ‘Dalita Bandhu’ “a poll fraud, a political deception, un-implementable and an election-eve sop”. They are telling voters that KCR would abandon the scheme after the bypolls, like previous schemes and promises. In addition, they asked for a similar ‘Bandhu’ scheme for Muslims, Scheduled Tribes (STs) and backward classes (BCs).

Undeterred, KCR garlanded Dr Ambedkar’s portrait and distributed checks of ₹ 10 lakh to select families in the Constituency. An army of jubilant TRS sympathizers performed palabhishekam (milk bath) to KCR’s portraits. In a single stroke, KCR has silenced his critics who were harping on his backing out on promises of appointing a Dalit as chief minister and distributing three acres of land to every Dalit family.

The ‘Dalit Bandhu’ scheme has unusually charged up the political atmosphere in the state, especially in Huzurabad, where by-elections were necessitated after the resignation of former health minister Eatela Rajender. Snatching Huzurabad from Eatela, who was removed from the cabinet in an alleged land-grabbing case, is necessary for KCR to prove that he is still the undisputed leader. By announcing a scheme for Dalits, KCR has taken upon himself the task to ensure TRS victory in the upcoming by-polls.

In 2018, just before the Assembly elections, KCR had announced a novel ‘Rythu Bandhu’ scheme, which promised ₹ 5,000 per acre per season for every farmer without landholding restrictions. The state is distributing ₹ 12,000 crore per year under the scheme to meet the input expenditure.

After winning over farmers, KCR seems to have shifted his attention towards Dalits. While ‘Rythu Bandhu’ helped KCR emerge stronger in the 2018 Assembly elections, implementation of ‘Dalit Bandhu’, in a phased manner till 2023, is expected to help the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) supremo overcome anti-incumbency in the next general elections.

Strangely, instead of creating bitterness among castes, the ‘Dalit Bandhu’ scheme has given hope to other communities that one day the chief minister would announce similar scheme for them as well.

Earlier, in 2017, KCR had implemented schemes to distribute sheep to Yadava families. Recently, he announced free power scheme for washermen (dhobis) and barbers (nayees). Similar schemes have been launched for other castes that are electorally significant in the state.

Many people this writer spoke to exuded confidence that Telangana being “the richest state” has no dearth of funds in financing such welfare measures.

A careful observation of these schemes will reveal that KCR is turning his attention to families instead of individual beneficiaries. For instance, the TRS top boss seems least interested in filling 1.9 lakh vacancies in government offices. Instead, he sees prudence in assisting the family, not the individual, as a unit.  As a result, the assurances of notifications for government jobs and unemployment allowance announced with all fanfare have been given short shrift.

This gamble of KCR seems to be working to his advantage. Lack of jobs has failed to ignite any unrest among youth despite provocation from opposition parties.

While some see rationale in these caste-wise and family-centric welfare schemes, others look at it as an attempt to wean away the youth from popular movements and prevent the opposition from rallying around backward classes (BCs), Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST), who collectively form 85 per cent of the population.

Capital hurdle, if any?

Dr. J Suresh, a Dalit political commentator and associate professor at Prof Acharya Jayashankar Telangana Agriculture University, welcomed ‘Dalit Bandhu’ as a revolutionary step. “Distributing ₹ 10 lakh cash to each family will lead to creation of lakhs of small entrepreneurs among the Dalits. Since a majority of Dalits are landless poor, getting bank loans is a distant dream for them. Now, with the launch of ‘Dalit Bandhu’, the capital hurdle is resolved and the State will see the Dalit potential unleash,” Dr. Suresh told The Federal.

Dr Suresh said the scheme would certainly help TRS consolidate its position among the Dalits who constitute 17 per cent of the total households.

‘Undemocratic step’

Vaddepalli Mallesham, an activist and former leader of the teachers’ union, said the scheme is nothing but an attempt to wean away youth and students from agitations and create a vote bank with misuse of funds.

Also read: Telangana: Can this former super cop revive politics of social justice?

“Youth and unemployed in Telangana are an agitated lot as there has been no recruitment for the past seven years. KCR, by launching schemes like ‘Rythu Bandhu’ and ‘Dalit Bandhu’, is exerting pressure on families to stop their children from agitating against the government. With these benefits, no family would allow opposition parties to organize rallies for jobs or unemployment allowance, fearing their children would be denied the benefits of welfare schemes,” Mallesham said. The TRS, according to Mallesham, is using its position as a ruling party to its advantage and making politics hostile for opposition parties.

Micro-level organization

“Giving away cash benefits and micro-level organization of the party are working against the functional opposition parties in the state,” said Prof S Simhadri, a former professor from Osmania University and the president of Samajwadi Party.

“In Telangana, the line between party and the state has got blurred. Government institutions are working like wings of TRS. OBC and Dalit beneficiaries of government schemes are wary of attending the meetings of opposition parties. TRS is so entrenched in villages that a constant watch is kept on the beneficiaries’ activities. People fear getting their names deleted from the list of beneficiaries if they are spotted in meetings called by opposition leaders. It’s very difficult to counter the trend,” said Prof Simhadri.

In a state which is yet to get a credible opposition even after two elections since formation of the state, TRS is not unduly worried of any backlash against abandoning the schemes midway. In KCR’s Telangana, even an unfulfilled promise is a hope generator and people are taught to wait for their turn before the ‘next election’ or ‘byelection’.

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