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All Hail Chandrababu Naidu, Even Children

Child rights activists and parents are furious over their wards being shuttled to distant places simply to praise and please the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister

Verbal duels and fist fights were common scenes between the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the opposition YSRC (YSR Congress) legislators during the week-long Janmabhoomi – Maavuru (Birthplace – Our Village) program rolled out by the TDP government in Andhra Pradesh.

But what went unnoticed and unvoiced was the suffering of the school and college children who were forced to appear at the events where VVIPs like Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and his ministerial colleagues attended the government program to highlight achievements made in the last 3.5 years. Children were made to wear fancy dress, perform skits and popular dances on the dais to regale the politicians.

One of the students was asked to speak about government programs and praise the Chief Minister who sat by the side enjoying the charade. “Why are they not finishing this drama fast so that we can return to our schools and send children home early?” fumed Neelima Rao, a school teacher of Chandragiri in Chittoor district.

Across the 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh, the Janmabhoomi – Maavuru program of the TDP government was organised by the district administration to not only deliver welfare benefits but also a political message to vote for the ruling party in the elections scheduled for 2019. The fifth round of Janmabhoomi-Maavuru Program (JBMV) commenced on January 02 and will continue until January 11.

Chorus songs and dances by school children in fancy dress, flower bouquets and drills by college youth were also conducted to hail Naidu and the TDP leadership. “Most of them were handpicked from Chaitanya and Narayana schools (owned by TDP leader and Minister P Narayana) and were made to learn by rote, some sloganeering speech,” said a state government employee of the Education Department at Rajahmundry.

After Naidu presented an award of Rs 50,000 to one such child, Shashank, at the Bobbili meeting, officials and partymen have been producing child prodigies who praised Chandrababu Naidu to the skies at the other meetings. School children of the 4th to 8th standard were brought forth at Srikakulam, Anantapur, Kadapa, Chittoor, Eluru, Rajahmundry and also Guntur meetings. All of them lauded Naidu as the creator of “Navya Andhra” (New Andhra) and Bhagiratha to the accompaniment of applause from the Collector and other officials, as Naidu sat smiling.

Why Children And Not Party Leaders

The leadership of the TDP was surprised at the new fancy of Naidu to hear laurels from young minds and not that of his followers or party workers. At all the nearly 150-odd meetings attended by him, children were paraded on the dais from local schools.

Whether a Sunday or a holiday or late evening hours, these children were made to wait for hours with the teachers and attendants. In some schools of Chittoor, the parents were warned that they would be given TCs (Transfer Certificates) if the children did not attend school that day.

Last Sunday, the schools were kept open despite being a holiday at Bobbili and Rajahmundry where TDP ministers and the Chief Minister attended the Janmabhoomi meetings.

When local channels and some newspapers wrote about children ferried in school buses to meetings 20-30 kilometres away from the schools, the district administrations issued rejoinders that the children were well cared for with milk, water, ice creams and snacks and brought back home safely. “Many parents like me objected but schools pressurised us,” said Sudha Naidu, a parent of Govind, a student of a local school in Rajahmundry.

The school managements, in turn said they had received circulars from the District Education Officer that they should tutor some “good looking and well-dressed students to speak about government programs and praise the CM”. The best one would speak at the Janmabhoomi meetings in the district, they were told.

Officials at the DEO in Kurnool said that they were instructed by the office of the Municipal Administration Minister P Narayana (an educationist himself with Narayana group of schools and colleges) to tutor children as good public speakers and said this was an opportunity to speak in front of the Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

The Janmaboomi meetings were flooded with women workers of anganavadis and Self Help Groups who solely depended on government funds for sustenance and livelihood. The district administration provided buses and a frugal meal allowance to ferry them wherever the ministers and the Chief Minister addressed these meetings.

Child Rights Violation

Many social activists and child rights campaigners denounce the new antics of the TDP supremo as a violation of child rights.

Achuta Rao, president of AP Balala Hakkula Sangham, an NGO working in the fields of child rights, says that taking children from school for such political and government functions was a violation of Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. “What is the purpose of a 6 or 8-year-old kid to praise the Chief Minister and government programs? Is this the level of political awareness we want to achieve in society?” he asked.

Rao adds there was nothing wrong when speeches, skits, and songs by children were displayed during Independence Day or Republic Day celebrations where patriotic and national sentiments were showcased. “What patriotism is there in Janmabhoomi program which is nothing but a political event corporatised into a government program,” he asked.

Ironically the state government has set up an Andhra Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights with a veteran child rights activist Ganta Hymavati as its chairperson. When asked about the use of children as “ornaments” in the Janmabhoomi meetings and the complaints of parents, she said nobody had complained. “We don’t see any violation unless there is any hazard or risk to children,” said Hymavati.

Veteran Rajahmundry journalist Naveen says that taking children on long tours is not advisable and is hazardous. “It is no offense if they are exposed to such sessions, but what children gain from participating in such meetings is a moot question,” he said.
Political Criticism

There has been an avalanche of missives against the Janmabhoomi programs as being one-sided and a TDP event and over the use of children in such meetings.

YSRC leaders and MP YV Subbareddy and Dharmana Prasadarao, a former Minister, have been vehement in their criticism of the use of children in these events. “What is the role of children in Janmabhoomi?” they asked.

They charged that Opposition MLAs, MLCs and MPs were not invited for Janmabhoomi meetings which had been conducted as a TDP event rather than as a government function. Particularly in Kadapa, West Godavari and Chittoor meetings, the YSRC legislators were heckled and asked to leave the venue. At Pulivendula meeting in Kadapa district, home to YSRC leader Jaganmohan Reddy, local MP Avinash Reddy of YSRC was stalled from speaking in the presence of the Chief Minister when he praised former Congress CM YS Rajashekhar Reddy.

CPI leader K Narayana quipped that since no TDP leader was ready to praise Chandrababu Naidu, tiny tots who did not even know who he was were asked to praise the TDP supremo. “At a meeting in Darsi, Prakasam, the child speaker was pointing at Siddha Raghav Rao when hailing Naidu and he was corrected later,” laughed Narayana.

Even the BJP member in Naidu’s cabinet, Endowment Minister Manikya Rao was peeved as he was not invited to the Janmabhoomi meeting at Tadepalligudem in West Godavari district. “TDP leaders think they can win next elections without us (BJP). We will see,” he said later. He too opposed the presence of children at Janmabhoomi meetings as a criminal act. “Children are innocent and soft like flowers. Why should they be used to hail Chandrababu?” he asked.

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