The opposition parties in Telangana have been in hibernation ever since they were mauled in the assembly elections in December 2018 by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). Even their campaign during the Lok Sabha elections was largely listless except in few pockets due to the individual candidates.
But the Intermediate Results fiasco, where 20 students committed suicide after they were declared failed, has provided ammunition and vigour to the opposition parties to target the TRS. Though every year, close to one-third of the total students fail to clear the exams, this time was different because students who had performed very well in a subject in the first year (class XI) failed in the second year (class XII). That resulted in such a large number taking the extreme step.
A probe by a three-member committee confirmed mistakes in the evaluation process and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao ordered free re-evaluation for all the 3.28 lakh failed candidates. But with no heads rolling, the feeling that no one has been held accountable has gained traction. The opposition has been demanding that Education minister Jagadish Reddy be sacked.
But there is a political angle to the protests as well. With elections to the mandal parishad and zilla parishad to take place in May, the anti-TRS group feels there is a need to keep the attention focused on the issue.
“One crore rupees ex-gratia should be given,” shouted an activist of the Jana Sena. He was among those protesting in front of the office of Board of Intermediate Education in Hyderabad.
At the BJP office, Telangana state president K Laxman sat on an indefinite fast over the issue. The BJP realises there is a political vacuum being created due to the shrinking of the Congress and the TDP and is planning to replicate the Bengal and Odisha model where it gradually replaced the Congress and the Left as the principal opposition to the regional party in power.
The TRS also realised the need to cut off the oxygen supply of media glare over the issue. Which is why senior leaders of the Telugu Desam and Congress were taken into custody from their home on Monday morning to prevent them from taking part in the protest. The TRS government has been left red-faced, with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also sending it a notice over the suicides.
But will these political protests, high on theatrics and mostly done for the benefit of TV cameras, help the students?
Yes and No.
The optics of the protests in the form of sloganeering, the jeering and the police dragging away the protesters ensure the issue is kept alive in the electronic media. That ensures there is pressure on the government to be seen on the side of the student and parent community and ensure the narrative does not go against it.
The flip side is that it gives the ruling party an opportunity to dub the protests as politically motivated and quell them. The only recourse students belonging to poor and middle class families have is to tell their sob stories to the media, hoping the powers-that-be will render justice.
Like Saniya who fears her dream of becoming Dr Sania IAS has been snuffed out.