Srikalahasti, Chittoor district: When I got up this morning I was not just tired, but was suffering from cold, headache and slight fever. Doctors examined me, prescribed some medicines and advised rest. I was asked to take another medicine in the morning.
However, I was driven by a sense of purpose—I knew that thousands of people would be waiting for me along every step of the way. Without a second thought, I drew on my inner reserves, pulled myself together and got ready to set out on my Padayatra. On reflection, I felt that it was the love and affection of people which drove me forward constantly. It was their faith in my integrity which gave me the conviction to serve them and to be amidst them. I could not therefore be away from them.
As on every other day, people received me with tremendous warmth and boundless love, wherever I went. I soon forgot that I had been down with fever earlier in the day. I reached Cherlopalli Harijanwada where my party workers reminded me that the Padayatra touched the milestone of 900 km. They asked me to plant a Raavi or peepul sampling there to mark the occasion. Miles and milestones seemed to blur as one surged ahead driven by people’s overwhelming love. It had never occurred to me that I would have already covered such a long distance so as to reach 900 km!
At Srikalahasti, employees,workers and daily wage labourers, belonging to the tourism corporation whose services had been outsourced, met me. They told me that the current TDP government was planning to privatise the organisation. Hotels, boating units buses and other assets would soon be privatised, they feared. All these resources are likely to pass into the hands of Chandrababu Naidu’s cronies. These employees told me that it was in their interest, as also that of the state, if the organisation remained in government hands. They cited the instance of the Vijayawada boating tragedy and pointed out that privatisation could lead to such terrible events. In fact they had raised their voice against the privatisation of the Vijayawada boating unit they said, but the government did not pay heed to their protests and grievances. 23 precious lives were lost in the Vijayawada boat tragedy for which they held the government squarely responsible. The government was driving the organisation into debts by neglecting it completely and leaving it unsupervised.
This is not something new to Chandrababu Naidu. He is a past master at privatising government organisations and handing them over to his cronies and in the process, driving thousands of employees into the clutches of poverty and distress. In Chittoor district alone I had seen how cooperative sugar factories, dairies, model schools, government schools and hospitals held a mirror to this policy of his.
A short while later I met women workers of the renowned Kalamkari craft. About 3000 workers depend solely on handicrafts to earn a livelihood and 2000 of them were women, they said. The TDP government failed to accord due recognition to the age-old Kalamkari handicrafts, which made Srikalahasti famous from the time of Sri Krishnadeva Raya. The responsibility of protecting these ancient handicrafts lies squarely with the government.
I have a question for the Chief Minister—you have ensured the closure of Vijaya Dairy and Co-operative Sugar factories in Chittoor, as part of your strategy. Is it not true that you are following the same strategy to privatise the assets and resources of the AP Tourism Development Corporation and pass them on to your proxies and cronies? Is it fair to render thousands of employees jobless and push them into the abyss of poverty?