Telangana Polls: Barrelakka, an Unemployed Youth Who Turned Cattle Herder, Creates Ripples

The 25-year-old woman, who is in the poll fray from Kollapur as an independent candidate, is drawing voluntary support from far and wide. Despite calls threatening her to withdraw her nomination, she is standing her ground.

Hyderabad: After her election affidavit revealed that her bank balance was a mere Rs 1,500, independent candidate Karne Sirisha (25) shot to instant fame in poll-bound Telangana. Sirisha, who is popularly known as Barrelakka, is creating waves in the state by contesting from the Kollapur constituency of the Nagarkurnool district.

‘Barrelakka’ (means a sister who owns buffaloes) filed her nomination as an independent candidate and went on a campaign spree from November 19 when hordes of supporters began following her on social media and her campaign trail. A large number of volunteers from distant places are camping in the constituency to participate in her campaign. They have mobilised vehicles, food, and other campaign material to make it look like another political party in the contest.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

What makes the entry of Barrelakka in the contest special is that she is a poor woman living in a shack in the interior Marikel village of Peddakothapalli mandal along with her mother and two younger brothers. Her father who is addicted to alcohol deserted the family.

The three siblings are dependent on their mother who runs a fast food centre from her house. Sirisha, a commerce graduate by distance learning, landed a twelve-hour job in a business entity in Hyderabad last year but gave it up to prepare for recruitment exams to Groups I, II, III, and IV services of the State government. She stayed at a private women’s hostel and joined a coaching centre at Dilsukhnagar with her savings.

Sirisha cleared the Group I preliminary exam twice after it was cancelled initially and held again due to the question paper leak fiasco in Telangana State Public Service Commission. Thereafter, the Group II exam was postponed and there was no clue about Groups III and IV exams.

It was here the life of this articulate woman took a turn as she returned to her village frustrated over the delay in the issue of job notifications and frequent question paper leaks that brought to naught all preparations of job aspirants. She could not remain in Hyderabad as she ran out of money.

Sirisha purchased four buffaloes with assistance from her mother after the latter insisted that she get married and lead a simple life as a village folk. She said she inadvertently took a video of herself one day while herding the animals and posted it on YouTube with her own comments criticising the government and narrating the plight of unemployed youth. This attracted a  following of nearly nine lakhs on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

The police booked a case against her under Section 505 (2) of IPC and as a result, she was frequently summoned to court and police station.

Feeling harassed, Sirisha filed a nomination to the assembly election in a bid to assert herself. This made contestants of mainstream parties sit up and take notice of her as support for her swelled each day. The rivals mounted pressure on her to withdraw but she refused as she grew in confidence. Her mother also wanted her to withdraw because a lot of money was needed to fight elections.

Sirisha received threatening telephone calls which culminated in a physical attack on her brother Chintu. She recounted the incident in a video and moved the High Court which awarded her police security two days ago.

The woman said political parties offered her money, a house and an agricultural plot if she withdrew. But, she stood firm in her goal to do public service in the constituency.

She recalled that the Dharani portal of the government on land transactions was a curse to the poor. Her family lost its roadside land of ten guntas as some persons offered his father binges of drink and forged his signatures on plain paper to complete the transaction on Dharani. “This disturbed me so much that I decided not to be a burden to my mother. At the same time, I wanted to see that others did not suffer similar plight,” she said.

When she knocked on the doors of court for justice, she said she was teased which still hurt her and made to go here and there by middlemen. She was also abused in the most foul language by rivals in the election.

“I want to see Kollapur as the best constituency in the world with an industrial area that can create employment for villagers”, she said.

She expressed confidence that she would win the election with a good majority. Her opponents include former Minister Jupally Krishna Rao of Congress and sitting MLA of Bharat Rashtra Samiti B. Harshavardhan Reddy. She was among fourteen candidates in the fray.

She said she was overwhelmed by donations and volunteers canvassing for her and wanted to felicitate all of them after the polls. She was gifted a car and Rs seven lakh by donors who included a former Minister of Puducherry Malladi Krishna Rao. A former Joint Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation V. V. Laxminarayana participated in her door-to-door campaign and filmmaker Ramgopal Varma extended moral support on Twitter. Actor and Janasena chief Pawan Kalyan also extended his support to her.

Her large team of supporters are rounding off nearby villages as part of the campaign by making instant decisions on their destination depending on inputs about the availability of villagers. There is no prior planning or schedules drawn up. She did not give anyone a rupee or liquor.

She said she was happy being an independent candidate and did not want to join any party. Instead, she might herself float a party called Independent. Flanked by security personnel, she stood in a sunroof car to wave to crowds and address roadside meetings. Hundreds of enthusiastic supporters sang and danced to drumbeats in vehicles behind.