We will know on 23 May whether the Jana Sena is able to emerge as a force to reckon with in the Andhra Pradesh assembly. But irrespective of its performance, the party certainly deserves credit for fielding someone like Gedela Gyana Sagar (also known as Chaitanya) as the Jana Sena candidate from the Pathapatnam assembly constituency in Srikakulam district.
Chaitanya is the son of a retired RTC bus conductor who worked at Srikakulam bus depot and is yet to give his final year exam in chartered accountancy. The 28-year-old says he is so fueled by the desire to be the voice for his community that a professional career has taken a back seat.
Chaitanya, a self-confessed Pawan Kalyan fan, first came in touch with the `Powerstar’ (as Pawan is referred to) in 2015 in Hyderabad.
“He asked me if I would like to join him. He asked me if I was ready to fight and struggle. I like community service and told him I am ready. I like his ideology,” Chaitanya told Filter Kaapi.
That was just the opening and encouragement Chaitanya needed. Srikakulam is in the north coastal part of Andhra Pradesh, bordering Odisha. Chaitanya himself hails from Tunglam village in Hiramandalam mandal, which is one of the areas affected by the Vamsadhara irrigation project.
“We have been fighting for rehabilitation of those affected by the Vamsadhara project,” says Chaitanya.
Chaitanya deserves credit for bringing the Uddanam kidney issue into the national limelight. Activists say over 30000 people in about 100 villages in Srikakulam district are afflicted by a chronic kidney disease known as Uddanam nephropathy and estimate that close to 5000 people have died in the last decade. The cases had first surfaced in the 1990s, with symptoms of hypertension and diabetes and is more common among agricultural workers. The needle of suspicion has pointed towards drinking water sources that were found to contain toxic phenols and mercury as well as pesticides. But the exact cause has remained a mystery.
But thanks to Pawan Kalyan upping the ante on Uddanam and putting pressure on the government, dialysis centres were set up and financial assistance provided to patients in this back of beyond region. Chaitanya followed up this initiative with helping with relief work after the devastation caused by Cyclone Titli last year.
But how feasible it is for a middle class person to contest the election, given political rivals would be spending big money, I ask.
“I have been involved in setting up of the Jana Sena in Srikakulam for the past four years. In every constituency here, there is a default 25000 votes for Pawan Kalyan. His Praja Porata yatra (struggle for people) has consolidated the party here. I am going ahead on the strength of our work in Srikakulam district,” says Chaitanya.
How have his friends and family reacted to his decision to embrace the life of a full-time politician?
“I studied in Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada. My friends are now coming over to help me with the campaign. They are happy for me,” says Chaitanya.
On the campaign trail, Chaitanya is promising to focus on lack of quality hospitals and schools, if elected as a lawmaker. With lack of jobs in the district, Visakhapatnam (110 km away) remains the sole destination for employment. But brushing aside the challenge from the Telugu Desam and the YSR Congress in a three-cornered fight won’t be easy.
“My main rival will be YSR Congress. The TDP is discredited here, with lot of allegations of being part of the sand mafia against the local candidate,” says Chaitanya.