“Hello, I am Teenmaar Mallanna.”
That’s how this 36-year-old journalist, named by his parents as Naveen Kumar, introduces himself. He is a popular face in Telangana, having got into the skin of this character for the `Teenmaar Vaarthulu’ (Teenmaar News) on Telugu news channel V6. In 2011, he started playing the character of the elderly person who would present the news in his inimitable style. The character became so popular that Naveen Kumar decided to permanently change his name to Teenmaar Mallanna, publishing it in the Government Gazette in 2014.
Mallanna has decided to quit journalism and plunge into politics full-time. He is contesting as an Independent candidate in the Huzurnagar byelection in Telangana and takes on heavyweight candidates from the TRS (Saidi Reddy) and Congress (Padmavathi Reddy). The seat was won by Telangana PCC chief Uttam Kumar Reddy in December 2018 but after he also won the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat in May 2019, he resigned and now his wife is contesting this byelection.
Mallanna’s poll symbol is the matchbox, the ubiquitous accessory for the common man and one, he hopes, will register an immediate connect with the voter. T S Sudhir of Filter Kaapi spoke to Teenmaar Mallanna.
Sudhir : People have seen and loved you on television. You are a popular character. How different is the response in real on the election campaign?
Mallanna : Response is very good. I am the new face as the candidates of the two mainstream parties have been tested before. Padmavathi Reddy’s husband Uttam Kumar Reddy has been the MLA from Huzurnagar in the past. Saidi Reddy has contested and been rejected before. People love my genuine manifesto, they have confidence in me. The others are landgrabbers. My candidature is giving hope to SC, ST, BC and minority communities.
Sudhir : While people’s support is fine, unfortunately elections in India come down to who has more money power. Your pockets aren’t obviously as deep as your rivals. Won’t this be a serious handicap?
Mallanna : I am asking for note along with vote. With close to 20000 people contributing, I could collect Rs 15 lakh in donations for running my election campaign. People have given even Rs 10 and Rs 20 towards this campaign fund. It is a crowdfunded election campaign. The same people will vote for me.
Sudhir : But cash-for-vote is a serious menace, just like it is many other south Indian states.
Mallanna : Money power won’t work this time. For seventy years, they have ruled. This time, SC, ST, BC, Minorities and the poor among the upper castes form 85 per cent of the electorate in Huzurnagar. They will all vote against the capitalist and land grabbers.
Sudhir : The term `land grabber’ is a constant in your poll narrative. Is it tall talk, empty allegations or do you back it with evidence?
Mallanna : I have exposed several cases of corruption and incidents of land grabbing on my social media platforms. I have documents with me that prove this corruption and all of it have been put out by me in the public domain. They should be ordering a probe into all of this.
Sudhir : You went to the Telangana High court complaining that the Suryapet district police was not allowing you to campaign. What were the hurdles put in your path?
Mallanna : Yes. I allege that on the instructions of (industrialist) Jupally Rameshwar Rao of the My Home group, the police have filed four false cases on me. The local DSP told me on my face – I will see whether it is you or me. The local CI also issued similar threats. Both belong to the Reddy community. I was not allowed to campaign, claiming that I will disrupt public order. So I had to go to the High court which has given a favorable order, asking the police not to put any restrictions on my campaign.
Sudhir : But why this angst against Rameshwar Rao who is neither a candidate in Huzurnagar nor is involved with the election? It would seem like you are deliberately dragging in his name to hit the headlines.
Mallanna : Uttam Kumar Reddy and Rameshwar Rao are close friends. KCR and Rameshwar Rao also are close friends, belong to the same caste. Whoever wins this byelection, the victory will go into Rameshwar Rao’s account. Thousands of acres of land belonging to SCs and STs have been grabbed. That is why my fight is against him. Both Saidi Reddy and Uttam Kumar Reddy have lands in benaami names.
Sudhir : This has also become a byelection about who is a local and who is not.
Mallanna : Yes, I hail from the undivided Nalgonda district from Bhongir unlike Padmavathi Reddy who is originally from Kurnool in Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh and Saidi Reddy who comes from Guntur.
Sudhir : So is it goodbye to journalism or will you keep your feet in both boats?
Mallanna : It is goodbye to journalism, it is the political arena for me now. In 2023, we need to have a SC, ST or BC as the chief minister of Telangana.