A week ago, Professor Gali Vinod Kumar of Osmania University, Hyderabad, resigned his job to launch a political party with ‘social justice’ as its objective. He argues that Telangana should have an OBC chief minister the post should be held alternatively by all social groups.
A law professor and former Principal of the University’s PG College of Law, Vinod Kumar’s decision was widely covered by local media. He is set to launch his party in January 2023 once his resignation is accepted by the University. The party, he said, would promote the South Indian identity against the imposition and dominance of North Indian political culture, and in Telangana, it would strive to ensure that a person belonging to a backward community becomes the next chief minister. In 2024, his goal is to win at least one LS seat from each South Indian state.
“South India is by and large a secular space which provides the right conditions for the welfare of the OBC, SC, ST, and minorities. The BJP is attempting to undermine this identity by imposing North Indian political and communal culture. Losing South Indian identity will harm the downtrodden more as these sections are educationally backward and secular. It is incumbent upon the downtrodden to defeat the communal forces,” the law professor told The Federal. Vinod unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha by-election held for the Warangal constituency in 2015.
Against money, muscle power
Whether Gali Vinod Kumar succeeds or not, it is rare for a university teacher to resign from a secure and respected job to take a plunge into politics to set up a new political party. Many scoffed at his temerity to resign from a stable job with enough financial security to enter politics while a few welcomed it.
Prof E Venkateshu, a political science teacher from Hyderabad Central University, said it’s a progressive move. “Let people from diverse backgrounds enter public life and enrich the political debate from different perspectives,’ he commented.
Similarly, Telangana Congress spokesperson, Prof Shravan Dasoju, also welcomed the decision. “Anybody can enter politics. The notion that only people with bags of money and muscle power alone make a politician is a misguided one. This attitude leads to political exclusion,” he said.
Vinod Kumar’s decision is in tune with the recent trend in Osmania University’s unique culture. If his political party takes off in January 2023, he would become the third professor to lead a political party from OU legacy, a rare phenomenon among Indian universities. At present two political parties are headed by two former professors of OU. A party called Telangana Jana Samity (TJS) is led by Prof Kodandaram, a former faculty from the political science department. Professor S Simhadri, another former professor from the Geography department is the president of the Samajwadi Party, Telangana unit.
Before launching the TJS, Kodandaram was the convenor of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (T-JAC).
Hoping that the separate statehood movement needs support from all political parties, social groups, and cultural organizations KCR floated T- JAC in 2009 with Kodandaram as the convenor.
The JAC took the movement to every nook and corner. JACs sprang up in every street, colony, and village. Even caste groups also formed their own JACs. Under JAC, the movement erupted with lakhs of people hitting roads with a single call. However, KCR and Kodandaram fell apart forcing the latter to launch a political party called Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS). Kodandaram is now spearheading a campaign against alleged KCR’s family rule in the state. He says his objective is to realize the aspirations of Telangana people whose children sacrificed their lives in thousands for statehood.
Kodandaram’s TJS is yet to be proven as a viable political party. He lost the only election he fought to become an MLC from a graduate constituency of the Telangana Legislative Council.
“We are not working with the sole objective of coming to power. We are working as conscience keepers of the people. Our success cannot be measured in terms of votes we poll,” Kodandaram said when asked about the poor progress of the party.
As for Prof Simhadri, who has been associated with OBC politics for decades, political power to OBCs is his slogan. He entered electoral politics two years ago when was appointed president of the Samajwadi Party of the state. As a teacher and analyst, Prof Simhadri has a huge following among the students.
Another OU teacher who enjoyed a bit of success in electoral politics is Prof K Nageswar. He got elected to TS Legislative Council two times as an independent candidate trouncing the candidates from the ruling TRS. But, he lost in the third attempt. A professor in the department of journalism, Nageswar is immensely popular in the state as a political analyst.
Another activist of impeccable stature is Prof PL Visweswara Rao, also from the Department of Journalism. Though he launched his political activities as the head of AAP of Telangana, he is now sailing with Kodandaram’s TJS. Prof PLV, as he was popular, is also a respected teacher and committed to the cause of alternative politics.
Osmania University stands out
This way, Hyderabad’s Osmania University stands out as unique in many respects. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore hailed the move to set up India’s first Urdu medium University way back in 1917 by Seventh Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan as the freedom from the shackles of a foreign language.
It has a prime minister, many chief ministers, speakers, governors, business leaders, scientists, and economists among its alumni.
The 100-year-old campus was the hotbed of politics from extreme Left to Right. It was here the first seeds Telangana statehood movement were sown in 1956 following the merger of Hyderabad state with Andhra state. And finally, the Telangana statehood was achieved in 2014 when one of its teachers was leading the movement.
In post-independent India, no university has shaped the politics of a region as Osmania University did.
While the alumni such as PV Narasimha Rao, Shivraj Patil, S Jaipal Reddy Ch Vidyasagar Rao, KCR, etc chose mainstream political lines, faculty always stood for alternative politics. The path was laid by Prof Kesavarao Jadav from the English Department. Jadav, an ardent supporter of socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, was known for value-based politics.
“Prof Jadav contested two elections and lost. But it was a principled stand to oppose unwanted elements in politics. In 1984 when Indira Gandhi was contesting Lok Sabha from Medak, the chances of her election unopposed looked bright.
S Jaipal Reddy, the Janata candidate, filed a nomination but thought of withdrawing it later. So, the national leaders of the socialist party were a bit upset. At that time, Jadav Saab, who was the victim of the Emergency, filed nomination against Indira Gandhi to ensure that she did not get elected unopposed. He lost the election,” said Prof K Srinivasulu, a former faculty from the OU.
Since the days of Prof Jadav, no faculty is able to gain a foothold in politics as an independent leader. But the teachers are undeterred. Barring Prof K Nageswar, no other OU teacher is able to make it to the legislature.
Telangana Jana Samiti is finding it difficult to compete with the powerful ruling party in the state. Its head Kodandaram was put on house arrest on many an occasion in order to stop him from moving out of the home. Prof Simhadri is also struggling to mobilize OBCs in a state where politics are money-driven. Against this backdrop, Prof Vinod Kumar has to carve out a space himself. Is it possible?
Teachers make poor leaders
Given their family background and limited financial resources, many university teachers feel it is difficult to realize their electoral goals.
“Electoral politics is associated with power. Power is synonymous with money. People are used to seeing the politician as a personification of power and money. Those who lack power and money make poor leaders, however lofty their ideals are. A survey conducted in 2019 ranked Telangana as the fifth most corrupt state in India. Here candidates and parties spend the ill-gotten money in elections in a big way. The image of retired IAS, IPS officers and university teachers does not sync with voters’ image of a political leader. They need more than the simple commitment to succeed in electoral politics,” a professor said.