The Telugus

Telugu Khadi, National Flag

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The Telugu World    column# 9         

Telugu Khadi, National Flag

Khadi was an article of faith in Gandhiji’s movement. He wanted it to symbolize freedom from foreign goods and Swadeshi.  All freedom fighters wore hand-s[in khadi. There was a time when the best Khadi in India was spun in Andhra and old khadi bhandars (shops selling khadi cloth) in many states showed boards like ‘Andhra Certified’ indicating  they sold the best khadi.

As a child, I remember seeing these signs. My father and his elder brother spun at home and wore khadi, though government servants. They did so till they saw the assassinated Mahatma’s body covered with mill cloth and Congressmen’s greed for power. Father was a favourite of the British principal of his college. Before the convocation for his MA degree, the principal said he would design and get stitched a special convocation gown as the hired ones were faulty. My father put a condition: It must be Khadi. The principal then put forth his terms: “Only if I buy the cloth and pay for stitching.” The principal, an Englishman, went to a khadi shop, bought the handspun cloth, cut it, and got it stitched. Everyone in my family used it when taking degrees, instead of hiring academic gowns. 

A Telugu man, Pingali Venkayya, designed in 1921 a flag on which is based the tricolor rectangular (2:3) flag with three horizontal stripes, saffron on top, white in the middle with an Ashok Chakra at the center and green at the bottom. Venkayya may have turned in his grave knowing a political party took all credit for the freedom movement and made the flag its own. He felt the saffron at the top symbolized Hindu renouncement, the navy blue wheel the Dharma chakra with its 24 spokes each representing one of Ashok’s principles.  The green at the bottom represented nature and farming. This was soon forgotten. Now the saffron (kesari) is taken as symbol of Hindus, the green of Muslims and the wheel, an official seal of governmental power. Now though the tricolor is ‘national’ on two days a year and most states have ‘state flags’. Khadi, which was of Andhra, became ‘national’, that is a mere notion! Flags sell online from Rs.150 to 400 each but Venkayya, born on August 2, 1876 near Machilipatnam, died on July 4, 1963 in Vijayawada in utter poverty.

Also reduced to poverty was ‘Andhra Kesari’ Tanguturi Prakasam, first CM of Andhra.  Born in Vinodarayunipalem village in Ongole (now Prakasam) district of AP on August 23, 1872, he was a very rich lawyer of Madras. He had studied in England to be Barrister, but gave up his wealth for the freedom movement. 

He was the Congress general secretary in 1921 and was called ‘Andhra Kesari’ (Lion of Andhra) when, during a demonstration against the Simon Commission, police shot dead one Parthasarathi. Prakasam rushed to the spot, bared his chest and dared them to shoot him. After being in the C. Rajagopalachari ministry, he later became CM of Madras from May 1, 1946 to March 23,1947, voted out by the Kamaraj faction and Rajaji’s  ‘Reform Group’, as he was an Andhra Brahmin.

The man who was chief minister of a Presidency that included entire Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Laskhadweep and parts of OdishaKerala and Karnataka, sacrificing all his wealth for the Congress, was twice ousted from power, both times due to factions in Congress. Prakasam left that party, joined Prof. N.G. Ranga and then formed the Praja Party. Its merger with J.B. Kripalani’s Socialist Party formed the Praja Socialist Party. Like Pranab Mukherjee, he too returned to the Congress.

In his last days Prakasam was reduced to such poverty that at a meeting where he was honored with a shawl and citation, he reportedly mumbled: “Oh…shawl? — bananas would have assuaged hunger.”

Besides wealth he also lost health in his last days. Walking in Hyderabad’s hot sun, he died of sunstroke. As Andhra CM in Kurnool he was criticized by Communist leaders like Nagireddy and Sundarayya for appointing his own son as a PA. His reply, a senior journalist who covered the then Andhra Assembly said, brought tears to the listeners as well as the Opposition leaders. They walked to his seat, held his hand and apologized. He had prostate enlargement resulting in loss of bladder control. So he was unable to find someone to take care of him and had to appoint his son. It did not stop Sanjeeva Reddy from plotting. Later Indira Gandhi backed an Independent, V.V. Giri, to defeat her own party candidate, Sanjeeva Reddy, leading to the Congress split in 1969.

Prof. Ranga, Giri and Reddy were also Telugus who shone outside their state.

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