Telangana Assembly polls: Long-brewing Adivasi-Lambada conflict looms large over 7 December election

Maheswara Reddy | Nov 18, 2018 | 6 min read


Adivasi-Lambadi conflict looms over Telangana election

Maheswara Reddy

Telangana’s long-brewing Adivasi-Lambada conflict is likely to impact the election outcome on 10 constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs). The state is gearing up for Assembly polls on December 7.

The two communities have been locked in a battle for government benefits ever since the inclusion of the nomadic Lambadas, or Banjaras as they are known as, in the ST list in 1976 by the government of undivided Andhra Pradesh. The addition was made via an ordinance.

The indigenous Adivasis have been insisting that the migratory Lambadas do not qualify as ST because the process of their inclusion was left incomplete, and also alleging that the listing of the group has deprived their own community of jobs, quotas and other opportunities. 

According to the 2011 Census, Telangana had 22 lakh Lambadas and 9.50 lakh Adivasis.

In October and November of 2017, the tensions between the two communities came to the fore when the tribals protested for two days outside the Adilabad District Collector’s office.

The conflict took a violent turn when the two groups attacked each other’s villages in Adilabad. Adivasi parents further refused to send their children to schools where Lambada teachers worked. Things came to such a pass that the police had to issue a gag order prohibiting the publishing and transmitting of information, and also suspended internet services in Asifabad, Adilabad and Nirmal districts. 

Now, the Adivasis are planning to take the fight to the upcoming state polls, by challenging the Lambadas in their traditional stronghold of Khanapur.

Where the parties stand

In the previous election of 2014, six of the 10 ST seats - Asifabad, Khanapur, Boath in Adilabad district; Wyra, Aswaraopet, Yellendu, Bhadrachalam, Pinapaka in Khammam district; and Mahabubabad and Mulug in Warangal district - were won by the ruling TRS. In the intervening years, opposition party legislators from three other constituencies defected to the TRS, thus increasing the party's tally to nine. One of the seats, Bhadrachalam, was won by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate.

In Khanapur this time, the Adivasis have openly declared their support for the BJP candidate after the Congress fielded a Lambada candidate, Ramesh Rathod, despite the tribals’ protests. BJP’s man is Adivasi Satla Ashok, while the TRS has given the ticket to its sitting legislator Ajmeera Rekha Naik, again a Lambada.

The conflict between the Adivasis and Lambadas will have a decisive impact on at least three constituencies reserved for the STs.

“Adivasi voters are in considerable numbers in Asifabad, Khanapur and Boath. TRS candidates can win on seven of the constituencies. Others can share the rest. While the Adivasis are in favour of the BJP, the Lambadas are set to support Congress candidates. They are angry over the TRS government’s failure to provide security when the Adivasis attacked them last year,” says BJP ST Morcha (Maharashtra) convener Amar Singh Tilawat, a Lambada from Komaram Bheem in Asifabad district.

He has his own doubts about the success of BJP candidate Satla Ashok from Khanapur, since the BJP took time to announce his name while the Congress and TRS were quick in not only selection of candidates, but also in reaching out to voters for support.

“Though the Adivasis have extended their support to the BJP candidate, the outcome of the election will be decided on the basis of the money spent by the other candidates,” Tilawat explained.

Grievances and electoral compulsions

Adivasi students have, meanwhile, decided to field candidates of their community on all ST constituencies to create awareness among voters over what they call the “false claim” (ST status) of the Lambada tribe.

“We have already filed a case in court against the inclusion of Lambadas into the ST category. We will demand that the Election Commission produce caste certificates of Lambada candidates. We have already written to the commission officials in these constituencies asking them to reject the nomination papers of Lambada candidates since they are not eligible to avail the benefits meant for STs. We will submit the proof given by the Election Commission in court,” says Andhra Pradesh/Telangana Adivasi Students’ Union president Arunkumar.

According to him, the government order that included the Lambada community into the ST category “was valid for six months and limited to education and other facilities, but was not meant for government jobs and for contesting the elections from reserved constituencies”.

While both communities remain at loggerheads, neither the TRS government in Telangana nor the major political parties have issued statements supporting or opposing either the Adivasis or Lambadas. Electoral compulsions have forced them not to take sides in the conflict.

“The political parties seek our votes but do not want to support us. It was quite surprising to see the parties remain silent while we were staging protests demanding exclusion of the Lambadas,” complains Vedma Bojju, state general secretary of the Adivasi Students’ Union, adding that “we have decided to support those parties which are ready to support our demands”.

Bojju also pointed out that the tribal agitation had provided the community an opportunity to convert the stir into a political movement, but the announcement of early polls in Telangana played spoilsport.

But, he says, they are not disappointed.

“We are expecting the rejection of Lambada candidates’ nomination papers. We demand that the Election Commission produce caste certificates of candidates. How can the Lambada community, which is a Backward Class community in neighbouring Maharashtra, become an ST community in Telangana. Our agitation will certainly have an impact,” he explains.

In case the Election Commission ignores the demand, the Adivasis plan to fight against the Lambadas in court even if the candidates get elected to the state Assembly. “They can fool or cheat the commission officials but not the court,” Bojju insists.

Eesam Sudhakar, an Adivasi student leader, has filed nomination papers as an independent candidate from Mahababubabad constituency in Warangal district. “My aim is to give a tough fight to the Lambada candidates and create awareness among Adivasis. We will support those parties that promise the exclusion of Lambadas from the list of STs,” Sudhakar says.

But members of the Lambada community are optimistic for their own reasons. “There will be no impact of the Adivasi-Lambada conflict in Wyra constituency. I am getting more support from Adivasi voters than Lambada voters here," says TRS’ Lambada candidate for Wyra, Banoth Madan Lal.

Another Lambada, Ram Nayak, son of former minister, believes “the conflict is the handiwork of political parties".

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