The political history of Sirpur constituency is largely unknown, and rarely comes up in discussions around Telangana politics. The nomination of Dr RS Praveen Kumar, President of Bahujan Samaj Party Telangana state, from Sirpur assembly constituency, for the Telangana Assembly elections 2023 made Sirpur a point of discussion for the first time in its electoral history. But what made RS Praveen Kumar choose Sirpur constituency, and why does his candidature make it a point of discussion?
Sirpur is the first assembly constituency of Telangana. The constituency shares its border with Maharashtra and a Phule-Ambedkarite consciousness. With the formation of Telangana in 2014, it is believed that the political dominance of Seemandhra is put to an end in Telangana.
The ruling BRS party is facing anti-incumbency in Telangana, and the sitting MLA of Sirpur, Koneru Konappa, has his roots in the Andhra region. The political dominance of Koneru Konappa, the lack of development in Sirpur, and the anti-caste consciousness are among the factors that attracted RS Praveen to contest from Sirpur. He claims that BSP victory in Sirpur will make Sirpur inclusive in Telangana politics.
Dr RS Praveen Kumar rose to prominence with his work as the Secretary to the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS). During his tenure, he changed the landscapes of imagination for students in social welfare schools. He upheld Babasaheb Ambedkar’s ‘Educate’, i.e., the first principle of his last message: Educate, Agitate and Organise. His work as secretary exemplifies that he considered education as emancipation. The emancipatory imagination that he instilled in the students is an Ambekarite approach. Therefore, I call his work as the secretary to TSWREIS as the Ambedkarite in bureaucracy or the Ambedkarite secretary.
In July 2021, he publicly announced his voluntary retirement from IPS. In his resignation letter, he stated that he would work along the lines of the ideologies of Phule, Ambedkar and Kanshiram. On August 8 that year, he joined the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the presence of Ramji Gautam the National Coordinator of BSP, at ‘Rajyadhikara Sankalpa Sabha’ meeting at NG College ground Nalgonda. It is estimated that the meeting was attended by no less than 2 lakh people.
In the Telugu region, only popular film actors like NT Rama Rao and Chiranjeevi were known to attract huge crowds when they launched TDP and Praja Rajyam in Tirupati. Both the film actors hail from affluent castes and pioneered Telugu regionalism, Telugu language pride, and people-oriented politics, respectively. RS Praveen hails from a suffering caste and subscribes to Phule’s, Ambedkar's, and Kanshiram’s Bahujan ideology. The people who attended RS Praveen’s political launch meeting were supporters of BSP, Swaeros and also those who admired and respected the work of RS Praveen’s secretaryship. There is no populism towards RS Praveen. His work at the TSWREIS attracted people to the meeting, as he adhered to ‘Pay Back to Society’ and Vote Se Lenge CM, PM (We will become CM, PM with votes) principles of Kanshiram’s Bahujan ideology.
In his inaugural political speech, he emphasised that the Bahujan Samaj should become administrators rather than slaves in Telangana and critiqued the failures of the ruling party, BRS, and the politics of opposition parties Congress and BJP. He emphasised that BRS, Congress and BJP would not progress Telangana. He vowed that under his leadership, BSP would ensure education, health and employment in Telangana. The need of the hour in Telangana is to ensure mass employment and achieve the goals of the Telangana movement.
As the secretary, he also formed Swaeros (Sky's the limit to Social Welfare Students), an alumni network of TSWREIS. Swaeros' word made it to Oxford English to English - Telugu dictionary in 2023. RS Praveen maneuvered TSWREIS students to empower themselves with the given educational, sports, and co-curricular activities. Every year, from March 15 to April 14, Swaeros perform Bheem Deeksha, in which they read the writings of Ambedkar and abstain from consuming alcoholic beverages and meat products. This has steered marginalised students against victimhood. The success of TSWREIS under RS Praveen instilled a ray of hope to both the students and parents from the marginalised communities to join modern institutions, particularly educational institutions.
Taking cue from Kanshiram’s Cycle Yatra to honour the legacy of Sardar Sarvai Papanna, RS Praveen started Bahujana Rajyadhikara Yatra on March 6, 2022, in Khilaspur of Jangaon district. The yatra aimed at igniting the Bahujan Samaj to overcome their plight from the existing structures of inequalities such as caste, feudalism, and patriarchy by becoming rulers/administrators. It criticised KCR’s rule, alleging that it was encouraging caste-based occupations by distributing material to practise caste-based occupations. For instance, BRS has distributed goats to golla - Kurumas (shepherd castes), fishing nets and moped vehicles to Tenuga/Mudhiraj (fishing caste) and so on.
The yatra, covering 45,000 km across 4,000-plus villages, emphasised the importance of economy, health and education (aarthikam, aarogyam mariyu aksharam). RS Praveen aimed to revisit the goals of the Telangana movement and make people evaluate their existing conditions. With the yatra, he envisioned a Bahujan Rajya, i.e., distributing land to the landless, providing international education, providing health facilities, employment opportunities, and equal access to all castes in all spheres, including business, industry, art and entertainment world. Bahujana Rajyadhikara Yatra aims to change Telangana from a Baugolika (geographical) Telangana to a Samajika (social) Telangana.
RS Praveen’s Rise As A Telangana Leader
In October 2022, under RS Praveen’s leadership, BSP took a rare step by contesting in Telangana by-elections from Munugode.
When the paper leakage of the Group I services preliminary exam by the Telangana Public Service Commissions made headlines, RS Praveen announced fast unto death in March this year to express solidarity with the victims. With RS Praveen’s fast, along with protests by BSP activists, oppositions, and aspirants across Telangana, the BRS government came under pressure and announced that it would reconduct the preliminary exam of Group I.
Subsequently, RS Praveen rose to popularity and was accepted as a state leader by many of his supporters in Telangana politics. The decisions and political interventions of the party under RS Praveen’s leadership further helped BSP register itself as an active political party in Telangana.
For the Telangana Assembly elections, RS Praveen seems to have been inspired by Kanshiram, whose bahujan political manifested in altering the social fabric by creating a new political subjectivity that takes examination in the General and erasing the paternal liberal. It is probably why he is contesting from Sirpur, a General constituency. Will the people of Sirpur accept Kanshiram’s political subjectivity in RS Praveen?
For Ambedkar, conversion was emancipation. For Kanshiram, the success of Bahujan political was emancipation. For RS Praveen, education was emancipation. But now, he has transitioned from education as emancipation to Bahujan political as emancipation.
Can RS Praveen win from the Sirpur constituency is the test of our times. The victory of RS Praveen as BSP Telangana state president will stir Bahujan political subjectivity in Telangana. Creating that Bahujan political consciousness is the essence of RS Praveen in Telangana elections.
(Thallapelli Praveen PhD candidate at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University)