THE TELANGANA government’s recent decision to ban protests in the city by relocating the protest zone — for long at the iconic Dharna Chowk near Hyderabad’s Indira Park — has come in for severe criticism from opposition parties and civil rights activists, who accuse the the ruling party of trying to muzzle dissent. The Dharna Chowk is located in an area near the Secretariat, Hussain Sagar Lake, and Tank Bund road, a main arterial route, and has witnessed hundreds of protests and demonstrations since 1997, and was seen as causing severe bottlenecks on the busy stretch. Citing traffic management issues, the government “relocated’’ the protest site to outside the city limits on March 17. The move did not initially face much opposition but as the TRS government announced its intention of introducing reservation for Muslims, leaders of political parties, especially the saffron outfits, found themselves without a place to organise protests, and started protesting against the removal of the protest zone.
Claiming that the move has effectively curtailed any show of dissent or anti-government protests, the BJP, Congress and Left parties now plan to stage protests either at Gun Park near the Assembly or at the Rajiv Gandhi statue in Somajiguda, which is near the chief minister’s residence-office, to highlight the issue. On Saturday, BJP leaders held a dharna in protest against the TRS Government’s efforts to introduce Muslim reservation. Defending the move, officials said that residents from areas near Indira Park had been complaining for long about noise pollution due to dharnas at the site. This, added with the traffic snarls, prompted the government to “relocate’’ the protest site to locations on the outskirts of Hyderabad: Shamshabad on Benguluru highway, Gandimaisamma on Nizamabad highway, and Pratap Singaram on Warangal highway.
“We have also earmarked some land at these four locations,” an official from the Chief Minister’s Office said. “If the place is decided, the government is willing to provide 4 or 5 acres for people to organise protests, and enough space to park vehicles without disturbing traffic. It was necessary to move Dharna Chowk from the city because it was becoming a nuisance.” BJP state president K Lakshman, who is also an MLA, said, “A person like Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao should understand that his party came to power on the strength of protests. Now he is trying to muzzle any dissent against his government.” He said that the Telangana agitation took its final shape at Dharna Chowk.
Telangana’s Congress president N Uttam Kumar Reddy said, “To unilaterally decide and ban the place, and shift it 30 km away, is a clear indication that the government wants to suppress the voice of the people. The reasons of traffic and law order cited by the government are bogus because Dharna Chowk is not on the main road, and any congregation there has never caused any problems. It is a lame excuse.” Congress’s Uttam Reddy, BJP’s Lakshman, TDP president L Ramana, CPI leader C Venkata Reddy, National Backward Class Welfare Association’s president R Krishnaiah, and Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti (MRPS) president Manda Krishna Madiga met Governor E S L Narasimhan and submitted a memorandum protesting against the move.