Karne Shireesha (26), alias Barrelakka is the youngest of all the candidates who filed the nominations in the state for the current assembly elections.
Amid an intense battle among the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the Telangana assembly elections scheduled on Thursday, an independent candidate fighting the battle on behalf of the unemployed youngsters is creating ripples in the remote constituency of Kollapur in Nagarkurnool district, people familiar with the matter said.
Karne Shireesha (26), alias Barrelakka, the youngest of all the candidates who filed the nominations in the state for the current assembly elections, is taking on two seasoned politicians – sitting BRS MLA Beeram Harshavardhan Reddy and former minister Jupally Krishna Rao, who represented Kollapur five times in the past.
While there is nothing unusual in independent candidates filing nominations – there are as many as 11 independents in the fray from Kollapur this time – most of them are generally non-serious contenders unless they are powerful local leaders with solid political and financial background.
But Shireesha has no such background. Yet, she has come into limelight in the constituency with her innovative campaign and emotional appeals. She has been a raging hit on social media and local television channels virtually made a beeline to Kollapur to get her interviews, people familiar with the matter said.
Thousands of young men and women – students of various universities, unemployed youngsters, NGO activists and social media campaigners from different parts of Telangana, neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are thronging Kollapur to extend their support – moral, financial and cadre support to Shireesha.
The young men and women, sporting specially-designed T-shirts and scarfs with pictures of Shireesha and her election symbol Whistle, have been campaigning extensively in the vehicles covered by her posters and stickers, and have been attracting the voters.
“They are with me round the clock. Even the vehicles – campaign jeep and a car, including the driver, have been provided to me by these people. Many of them made monetary contributions to sustain my campaign. It was unexpected and overwhelming. It has given me a lot of strength and courage to fight the electoral battle,” Shireesha said.
People privy to the matter said some digital media channels made audio-visual programmes on Shireesha for display in different parts of the constituency, while some others wrote and composed songs on her, that go blare on auto rickshaws that go round the town campaigning for her.
Among those who extended support to her include former CBI joint director V V Lakshminarayana and former minister of Pondicherry Malladi Krishna Rao.
Who is Shireesha?
Hailing from a poor Dalit family in Marikal village of Pedda Kothapalli mandal (block) in Nagarkurnool district, Shireesha lives with her two younger brothers and mother K Anuradha, who runs a small fast-food outlet in front of her small hut covered by tin sheets. Her father deserted the family long ago.
After completing her graduation in B Com from B R Ambedkar Open University five years ago, she had been preparing for competitive examinations to get government jobs, while doing a petty job in a private factory in Hyderabad for a year.
“I was feeling frustrated, as the promised job notifications from Telangana state public service commission were nowhere in sight. As a pastime activity, I used to post funny videos on social media platforms like Instagram reels, Facebook and YouTube and started getting good responses,” she said.
After waiting for job notifications, Shireesha returned to her village in 2021 to buy four buffaloes by selling a few cents of land her family had and started grazing them. “I posted a funny video on social media while grazing the buffaloes, stating that the government’s apathy towards the unemployed made me a “Barrelakka” (buffalo grazer),” Shireesha said, in a series of interviews to TV channels.
The video went viral and brought her instant popularity as Barrelakka. At the same time, it also landed her in trouble, as the police registered a case against her Section 505 (2) of Indian Penal Code, on the charge of promoting feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will in the society.
“I never knew that posting such a video highlighting unemployment is a crime. I had to go to the police regularly to sign the register. That made me mentally stronger and I decided that I should fight for the cause of the unemployed youth,” she said.
Last year, when the TSPSC finally conducted examinations for Group-I and II examinations, Shireesha appeared for the same. “But the examinations were cancelled due to alleged leakage of question papers. It was all the more frustrating,” Shireesha said.
When the Election Commission of India announced the schedule for the assembly elections, she got the idea that she could highlight the cause of the unemployed, if she contested the elections. When she told her plan to her mother, she discouraged her.
“But I was not disheartened. I quietly went to the returning officer on November 8 and filed the nomination with the support of a few friends. I posted the same on my social media accounts along with a video explaining why I had to take the decision,” Shireesha said.
In the next one week, she started an overwhelming response. “Not many people in Kollapur were aware of who I was. But now, the entire constituency is talking about me,” Shireesha said.
Though she has been a sensation on social media and even on mainstream media channels because of the instant publicity she is getting, locals say it is not so easy to win the election. “She is just a media hype. All those who are seen around her and attending her meetings are non-locals. Though the local youth are also curious about her, we cannot say all of them vote for her,” said D Rajesh Goud, a private employee working at Somasila, a tourist spot near Kollapur.
Echoing the similar opinion, Vinod Kumar, reporter of a popular vernacular TV channel, said it was not so easy for her to fight the political stalwarts of Kollapur like Harshavardhan Reddy and Krishna Rao. “I doubt whether she gets even a few thousand votes. She is at the best a nuisance factor in the elections,” he said.
Nevertheless, Barrelakka is confident that at least the cause for which she is fighting will be acknowledged.
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