A gust of dry wind blows as we step out to see a parched landscape at Bollapalli mandal, near Vinukonda. The sight of farmers sprinkling water from tankers to salvage the withering chilli crop is a telling sign of the drought sweeping across the region.
For over 50 years, Nagarjuna Sagar Project built on river Krishna had been the lifeline of farmers in Palnadu, but in the last five years, the release of water from the project has been a trickle. Farmers cultivating chilli, cotton and paddy in over 4 lakh acres under Nagarjuna Sagar Project command area have been the worst hit.
The name Palnadu had been synonymous with valour, and election battles often resemble gladiatorial contests between political heavyweights. Senior political leaders often chose Narsaraopet LS segment, one of the largest Parliamentary constituencies in the country. Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy, Konijeti Rosaiah, all former Chief Ministers (Congress), have won from this constituency. The former Minister Kasu Krishna Reddy has won two elections in 1989 and 1996, but post-delimitation in 2009, the Telugu Desam Party won two consecutive elections in 2009 and 2014.
The elections in 2019 could witness history. The YSR Congress Party fielded a young educationist and vice-chairman of Vignan Group of Educational Institutions Lavu Krishnadevarayulu against two battle hardened political heavy weights in Guntur — veteran Parliamentarian Rayapati Sambasiva Rao of the TDP and Kanna Lakshminarayana of hte BJP — but the battle could be between the YSRCP and the TDP.
The constituency is known tothrow surprises and since 1998, no candidate has won two successive elections. Konijeti Rosaiah won in 1998, followed by N. Janardhana Reddy (1999), Mekapati Rajmohan Reddy (2004). In 2009, Modugula Venugopala Reddy (TDP) emerged as a giant killer defeating V. Bala Shourie (Congress), and Rayapati Sambasiva Rao (TDP) sailed over A. Rami Reddy (YSRCP) in 2014 by a margin of 35,000 votes.
Mr. Krishnadevarayulu, though making his debut, is confident of victory. “I have been living here for the last six months and I can sense that people want a change. It’s just not about winning or losing, I want to win the hearts of people of Palnadu,” he says.
On the other hand, Mr. Sambasiva Rao claims that much development had been done in Palnadu. The Godavari-Penna Interlinking project could address the water scarcity in the coming years and the establishment of JNTU campus in Narsaraopet would help poor students, he said.
Water is the focal issue dominating the election campaign in 2019. Many hamlets in Bollapalli, Macherla and Vinukonda mandals faced an acute shortage of water even during winter. With successive years of drought and the consequent depletion in storage levels at Nagarjuna Sagar keeping farmers on tenterhooks, parties have come out with ambitious plans. The TDP government has come up with a project to divert 3,000 tmcft flood water from the river Godavari and impound it in the basins of the Krishna and the Pennar. Foundation stone for phase-1 of the project was laid recently at Nakerikallu.
The YSRCP, while supporting the project, has come out with a comprehensive water project which envisages a water grid at a cost of ₹1,100 crore. The Varekipudisila project has been designed to impound water from river Krishna upstream of Nagarjuna Sagar and supply the water through gravity to 55,000 villages.
If water woes continue to haunt the people of Palnadu, the lack of industrialisation has forced many people to migrate to other areas. There are few cement factories around Gurazala, but there is no service sector to provide jobs.
The region is also dogged by poor access to quality healthcare. “We will establish a 600-edded speciality hospital between Piduguralla and Hyderabad and it will be upgraded to a teaching hospital after setting up a medical college,” says Mr. Krishnadevarayulu.