Rishi Majumder in conversation with the revolutionary balladeer Gummadi Vittal Rao
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Gaddar, with his 'Dolu'
Gaddar In Mumbai!” the press releases announced. After his fiery outcries in Pune, Gaddar alias Gummadi Vittal Rao alias Telegu balladeer and revolutionary spoke (and sang and danced) out at The Press Club, Lovelane BIT Chawl – Mazagaon, and Ambedkar Bhavan. His topics: Khairlanji, acquisition of land for SEZs, American imperialism, and Left hypocrisy. He juxtaposed Manu Smriti with the Constitution. He critiqued the politician with a four legged chair. He integrated Mahatma Phule, Savitribai and Bhim Rao Ambedkar. And he targeted George Bush, SS – BJP, Sharad Pawar, middle class dalits… and then some. Our first glimpse of the bard was minus his vast audiences. He was rehearsing the evening’s performance with a group of boys from Telengana, tapping his dolu (Telegu for drum) to check their timing. The venue was a bare flat in a government servant’s building quarters. When we remarked this was ironical for a man whose life was dedicatedly anti-establishment, Gaddar laughed his booming laugh: “Working with a government bank (Canara Bank 1975-84) hadn’t stopped me from striking in the same bank – far less carrying on my ‘fight’. I am a revolutionary… within or without the system!”
Why does a folk singer wearing a gochi (dhoti), black gongali (a rough wool shawl) and anklets build such a beat? Because he sings social and revolutionary songs? Isn’t that every balladeer’s trademark? And how was Gaddar’s Apuro Rickshaw (his first big hit – 1971) on a rickshaw driver’s plight any more novel than Nanduri Subbarao’s Yenki Paatalu (on a washerwoman)? Gaddar’s name shot to major headlines during four and a half years of exile (spurred by the police raiding his house in 1985 post his denunciation of dalit killings in Karamchedu village by upper caste landlords). It came after an assassination attempt – which he alleges was by the police themselves – where one of the three bullets shot into him couldn’t be removed due to medical complication. It came after he was chosen as an emissary for Naxalite peace negotiations with the Telegu Desam Party in 2001, and later the Congress Party in 2004-05. With Varavara Rao and Kalyana Rao – the other two emissaries for the 2004-5 negotiations being placed under arrest, that leaves Gaddar as one of the only really prominent free-wandering spokespersons of the now CPI (Maoist).
“I hail armed revolution,” Gaddar retorts. He speaks, even in private conversation, as though he is announcing and intersperses dialogue with singing liberally. Just as he confidently poses for our photographer and asks him every now and then: “Do you want a different pose?” Even in opposition to imperialism he has perfected the key imperialistic weapon – image marketing. Take a book: John Perkins Confessions Of An Economic Hit-Man, where the author admits to having been a key player in frauds inducing developing countries to borrow from the world bank as per misrepresented forecasts… only to use their debt to extort economic, political and military favours for the US. “We have been saying this since Bhagat Singh’s time,” Gaddar laughs again. “But this book is important for spreading awareness among the middle class – since it’s by an American himself. We’re arranging for Telegu translations!” But what if for a moment, Gaddar and all those he speaks for, were in power? What great changes would the revolutionaries induce? “We would put those who have caused and continue to cause such tragedies in our land in jail.” As we gape (and then he demands civil liberties!), he elucidates: “We are in an ‘economic jail’ because of a handful of people exploiting the population! Do you think that those who’ve caused so many deaths should be left free to cause them again?” Moving on to the main priorities he outlines: “Land, water and electricity has to be liberated! And the World Bank has to be told…” he sticks out his thumb here as the boys around us laugh “…sorry, thank you, go home!” Then he points to a mineral water bottle: “Tell me please. Why is this label supplying me with my drinking water?” Gaddar was criticised by some Dalit supporters because he supported the CPI (Maoist), which had a high caste (read Reddy) bias where it’s leaders were concerned. “The ‘high-caste revolutionaries they are talking about have stayed with Dalits in Vidarbha, despite being sons of crorepatis.” He also talks about people who despite belonging to the high caste are “economically Dalit” winding up with “the problem at hand is a caste and a class problem. We have to say Jai Bheem and Lal Salaam in one breath.” About the caste problem, this born Dalit has an interesting perspective: “There is a greater problem than education – it’s self respect. I have forbidden my children from availing of any reservations. Reservations have led to many Dalits in high posts who do nothing for their community. It doesn’t change anything.” OF OTHER THINGS…
Post political discussion, we shift to other things of life. Does the Maoist supporter believe in God, for instance? He skirts the question: “I don’t force beliefs on anyone. It’s the misuse of religion I’m against.” What about education? “Many people in Andhra Pradesh (quite a few Dalits) are educated – right upto an MA or Phd. But they still don’t have Pragnya – an intuitive consciousness of what is right. You cannot assume that education will bestow this on someone!” And family? “My family has suffered a lot because of me… psychologically as well as physically. But what I am fighting for involves them too.”
A DIPLOMATIC END
Two of the parties Prakash Karat had blasted in Naxalism Today: At An Ideological Dead End were the CPI (M-L) People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre Of India. These have in 2004 merged to form the CPI (Maoist) mentioned above. Their strength, earlier estimated at 10,000 armed fighters and 6,500 firearms is only increasing. (Gaddar claims there are 10 lakh more “mentally armed to use stones and sticks”).
And their supposed liason with the Maoists in Nepal isn’t a sign of any “failure to unite” on ideology. Gaddar’s views while still extreme come laced with diplomacy – forwarding separate solutions for separate situations. Is this the sign of adaptability? Gaddar shoots another viewpoint at us. “Globalisation has caused everyone to be “on hire”. You people may be paid Rs 30,000. Your boss much more. But do you have a moment to listen to music. Saying this, he launches into a song: “Lootere Ki Chandni Loot Jaata Hai… .”