ADILABAD: In these days, winning the 'best-Sarpanch' award does not attract as much attention as rare events do. But, when a Sarpanch belonging to a socio-economically backward aboriginal tribe who also happens to be a former outlaw of the ultra-left bags the award, it grabs eyeballs.
Meet Pendur Nago Rao, Sarpanch of Pamulwada Gram Panchayat in Sirpur (U) Mandal of Kumram Bheem Asifabad district who has won the best Sarpanch award twice. This achievement seems more worthwhile because he was ably assisted by his deputy, Upa Sarpanch Pendur Shankar, who was also a Maoist once.
Despite being ex-extremists, the team of the Sarpanch and Upa Sarpanch were elected to the posts in 2018. This exhibits that the voters in the Gram Panchayat had reposed faith in the duo's ability and their resolve for development.
It was the district general secretary of Adivasi Vidyarthi Sangham, Kudmetha Vishwanath Rao, who proposed the names of Nago Rao and Shankar for the posts to avoid any political split among people in the Gram Panchayat. "And they did not disappoint the villagers," Vishwanath Rao said as he recalled the events leading to the Gram Panchayat election four years back.
"I was certain that the duo will be strongly inclined towards the development of the Gram Panchayat. They are doing their job well," the Adivasi leader added as he pointed towards Nago Rao and Shankar who were immersed in the organizational work of the Dandari festival at Chilatiguda village which falls within their jurisdiction.
It is a curious fact that most of the peace-loving Adivasis who had joined the extremist movement in those critical times (1980 onwards) had been enticed by the emotion-stirring folksy dance and music of the Maoists, who were then known as CPI (ML) People's War Naxals. This was true with Nago Rao and Shankar who belonged to the Raj Gond tribe which itself has a robust folk culture.
The Sarpanch had spent 14 years as an armed underground extremist starting in 1991. Ten of those in erstwhile Adilabad district in Telangana as Section Commander of the all-important Military Platoon and the last four as an AK 47-wielding deputy commander of the very crucial Protection Platoon in Chattisgarh. Nago Rao was in charge of protecting none other than the top Maoist Muppala Laxman Rao alias Ganapathy, then General Secretary of the CPI Maoist. While the Sarpanch had surrendered himself in
Come 2005, Shankar, aka Srikanth surrendered after working with the Mangi Dalam for three years. The 303 rifle carrying Upa Sarpanch had functioned as a 'doctor' in his squad generally treating comrades who suffered injuries during difficult treks in the hilly areas. "Injuries were commonplace but nothing medically serious ever happened in our Dalam," Shankar remembered.
"The main reason for us joining the Naxalite movement was to be of help to the unresourceful common people. We got another opportunity, and a legal one at that, by being elected to our current post in serving people and we are giving our best," Nago Rao summed it up for both of them.
The dedication of the Sarpanch and his deputy has made Pamulwada Gram Panchayat a clean and better-sanitized place. The villages in the jurisdiction now have proper approach roads.
Since his surrender, Nago Rao has taken an active part in organizing religious and cultural events in his area. He thinks that Gods are appeased through cultural activity and ill luck has befallen the tribal people as they are shunning their religio-cultural practices.
"For instance, today's solar eclipse. No longer do we beat the drums during the eclipse or bathe the gods the next day," he rued.