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Two Stampedes in Five Days: Has TDP-YSRCP Rivalry Cost Lives in Andhra Pradesh?

Were enough measures taken to manage crowds at TDP events where 11 persons died in stampedes?

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Andhra Pradesh has now attained the dubious distinction of allowing stampedes to claim lives at political events. So far, eleven people have lost their lives at TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu's public meetings held on 28 December and 1 January.

While the deaths occurred at the events organised by the Opposition party, the ruling YSR Congress Party cannot completely wash their hands off the incident.

In both the cases, the state police, which comes under the state government's Home department, had not taken enough measures to manage the crowd. Here's how political rivalry could have led to loss of lives in AP.

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Tussle Between TDP and YSRCP Which Led to Deaths

Ever since Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the principal Opposition in AP, was routed in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the party has been reorganising to gain back prominence in the state.

Led by former Chief Minister and TDP National President, N Chandrababu Naidu, the TDP has been holding events in different parts of AP to mobilise people against "poor performance" of the incumbent YSRCP government and AP Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. The public events, united by a common theme 'Idhem Karma Mana Rashtraniki' meaning 'What fate has befallen our state,' has been ongoing since the first week of December 2022.

However, according to TDP leaders the YSRCP had failed to extend required police protection for the public events. "There was no presence of police at both the events where stampedes took place. The police, instead of controlling the crowd, were watching the whole scene from a distance," said TDP leader K Atchannaidu.

According to Nellore Police, who deployed personnel at the event, protection was given to Naidu as per the protocol. TDP leaders, meanwhile, stated that police presence could not be seen at any of the videos of the stampede.

A police investigation is on to look into the shortcomings that led to the death of eight persons at Kandukur, Nellore on 28 December.

Meanwhile, the TDP has also blamed the YSRCP government of not allowing public events to be held at venues where crowds could have been managed easily. The second stampede, that killed three, occurred on 1 January at Guntur when the TDP was only recovering from the fatalities of the first.

The YSRCP, meanwhile, has accused the TDP of holding events that have "killed" unsuspecting bystanders. Lashing out at Naidu, CM Jagan Mohan Reddy said on Tuesday, 3 January, that some of those who died were "misled by Naidu" who failed to ensure their security.

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Was the Crowd Managed At All?

According to both YSRCP and TDP leaders crowd control was almost absent at both the events because thousands had gathered to populate narrow roads.

"In the first event, people thronged Chandrababu Naidu's vehicle and there was no space for police to intervene as there were no barricades. In addition to that, vehicles were parked on the road to further congest the place," a YSRCP leader, who has followed the police investigation into the incident, said.

The TDP, meanwhile, accused YSRCP of not just putting the lives of TDP leaders and cadre at risk but also that of thousands of bystanders who had gathered at the event.

"Surprising the YSRCP, general public had turned up at the events and the state's police was not equipped to deal with the rush. It was a miscalculation from the government's side and YSRCP's negligence has led to the deaths," a TDP leader said.

In a nutshell, controlling the crowd was indeed out of question at the massive events and the police were not prepared for the same. Did political rivalry lead to deaths?

The YSRCP's response to the deaths has led to speculation that the ruling party now wants to ban all roadshows of the Opposition. As per a Government Order (GO) issued on 3 January, the state has banned large gatherings on all public roads including National Highways. Events on Panchayat roads too were not spared. Meanwhile, the TDP will now have to hold events only at stadiums or grounds in the state where the CM Jagan Reddy had earlier taken up a long march or padayatra to woo people before the 2019 elections.

Also, in what can be seen as political one-upmanship, both the TDP and the YSRCP have announced ex-gratia for the families of those who died.

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What Can Prevent Such Tragic Mishaps?

According to retired police officers whom The Quint contacted, crowd control at political events have always been tricky. Mishaps are, however, prevented by following some protocols including:

  • Cordoning off the stage on which political leaders stand.

  • Providing wide exits for the public to evacuate in case of emergency.

  • Providing separate seating arrangement for women and children who are vulnerable.

While the first two are often provided in consultation with the police, the latter is usually arranged by the organisers of the event. In both the events during which stampedes took place, none of the above measures were in place, TDP leaders alleged. As per the videos that were purportedly taken at the events too these measures were found to be missing.

The Quint did not get a comment on precautionary measures taken by either Guntur Police or Nellore Police.

It is to be noted that refusing police protection for Opposition leaders has been a recurring phenomenon in AP. When the YSRCP was the Opposition party from 2014 to 2019, Jagan Mohan Reddy had accused the TDP government of denying him security detail. Similarly, YSRCP was also accused of pulling the plug on security cover for Chandrababu Naidu in 2020.

Meaning, in AP's model of political vendetta, denying police protection to those not in power has been a constant. Has this led to the loss of innocent lives? Only a thorough, independent probe into the events can reveal what caused two fatal stampedes within a span of five days.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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