Communist Party of India (Marxist) senior leader and Andhra Pradesh Girijana Sangham state President Sunnam Rajaiah succumbed of Covid-19 in the wee hours of Tuesday. Sixty-two years old Rajaiah has tested Covid-19 positive on Monday and reportedly died while he was being taken to a hospital in Vijayawada.
He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. His last rites were held in his native place, Sonnamvarigudem village in V.R.Puram mandal of Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district on Tuesday.
Rajaiah left behind a legacy of relentless struggles as a communist leader, especially in the Tribal regions of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, recalled Left party leaders across the country.
Expressing deep sadness, CPI(M) said that Rajaiah was the leader of various struggles waged for the rights of the Tribals. “He participated in many Tribal agitations, protecting Tribal lands and their rights in the Agency areas in Telangana’s Bhadrachalam and East and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh,” stated the party and added that he was committed to the cause of the working class all his life.
Condolence meetings were held in all units of CPI(M) party and its affiliated mass organisations in Telugu-speaking states.
CPI(M) Kurnool district secretariat member T Shadrack (62) also died of Covid-19 on Tuesday. Speaking at a condolence meeting, CPI(M) Andhra Pradesh State Secretary P Madhu said: “Coronavirus pandemic has killed two great communist leaders in the state today. While Rajaiah had been a peoples’ leader for the causes of Tribals, Shadrack has led numerous agitations for people’s rights.”
Rajaiah was elected thrice as the Member of Legislative Assembly, in 1999, 2004 and 2014 from Bhadrachalam constituency. During the last Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, he contested from Rampachodavaram Assembly constituency unsuccessfully.
In July, Rajaiah participated in protest demonstrations in East Godavari district demanding proper rehabilitation for Polavaram project displaced victims.
In 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre shifted seven mandals of the erstwhile Khammam district (which were to be submerged after the completion of Polavaram multipurpose irrigation project) to Andhra Pradesh through a presidential ordinance, Tribals in the region led a series of agitations against the move. Rajaiah, who was then the sitting MLA of Bhadrachalam, had gone on an indefinite hunger strike in support of the Tribal groups and the displaced families for a week. Later on, as the Andhra Pradesh government went on to construct the project, Rajaiah had led movements demanding proper rehabilitation and resettlement for the affected victims of the project.
In 2015, Rajaiah, along with other senior CPI(M) leaders, had led massive agitations in which Andhra pradesh Girijana Sangham and other Tribal groups had participated forcing the then Telugu Desam Party government to suspend its own order of granting bauxite mining lease for Jerrala reserve in Visakhapatnam.
Furthermore, Rajaiah was at the forefront in leading Tribal movements for claiming their rights on podu lands. According to CPI(M) leaders in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Rajaiah used to lead decentralised protests whenever Tribals approached him complaining of forced evictions from their lands by police and forest officials.
During his last term as MLA in Telangana’s Assembly, Rajaiah was vocal on numerous issues such as the diversion of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes sub plan funds, and the filing of the backlog posts of SCs and STs. He is popular for his simplicity as he used to go to the Assembly via public transport or in autos or bikes.
Mourning Rajaiah’s death, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao said that Rajaiah will be remembered for the simplistic political career of someone who had struggled all his life for people’s rights.
Rajaiah was also the vice president of Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM). “Rajayya was born in a very humble Adivasi peasant family and rose to be a very popular Adivasi and Marxist leader through his entire effort to the causes of Adivasi and toiling masses,” said Jitendra National Convenor of AARM.
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