From “road roller” to “baby stroller”: war of symbols, but not symbolic, for the Telangana competitor

In the past two days, 45-year-old Kolisetty Shiva Kumar has become more famous than all the other candidates in the by-election in Telangana region. Munugode. His war with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) above the “steamroller” election symbol which was assigned to him by the Electoral Commission, and opposed by the TRS, catapulted him to the front of the stage.

Shiva Kumar has made headlines before. In 2010, it was he who founded the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP). A staunch follower and admirer of the late Dr. YS Rajashekara Reddy, he handed over the party to YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in May 2011. “I resigned from the party, informed the Election Commission of India and handed it over to YS Jagan Mohan Reddy,” he said. When Jagan took office in May 2019, he appointed Shiva Kumar, who was no longer with TRS, to the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) board, where he served from 2019 to 2021.

Kumar says he is committed to the protection of cows and has devoted a large part of his life to it. He runs the Gau Maha Kshetram, a large cow shelter near Batasingaram on the outskirts of Hyderabad near Ramoji Film City, where at least 1,000 cows are sheltered. “These are mostly cows rescued from slaughterhouses,” he said. In 2016, Shiva Kumar, a businessman, farmer and social worker, founded the Yuga Thulasi party with the sole purpose of promoting cow protection and thulasi (holy basil). “I am campaigning for the cow to be declared our national animal and given full protection. That’s my only ambition,” he said. On March 6 this year, he filed documents seeking recognition of his party with the ECI, which approved it on September 14.

Kumar was given the “steamroller” symbol on October 17. It is one of eight the ruling TRS opposes, saying that on EVMs and ballots they look like the car symbol of the TRS and may leave voters confused. Despite protests and objections from the TRS, the EC awarded the symbol to Kumar. The Telangana High Court also rejected a TRS petition to remove the symbol, saying it could not interfere in the process of awarding the EC symbols. However, on October 19, the Returning Officer of Munugode Assembly Constituency, Jagannath Rao, rescinded the awarding of the symbol to Shiva Kumar without informing anyone, and awarded the symbol “stroller”. “He did it surreptitiously late at night without consulting the others. He did so under pressure from the TRS,” Kumar alleged, and filed a firm complaint with ECI. He also filed a petition with the Telangana HC. The EC took notice of the complaint, removed Rao and returned the symbol to Shiva Kumar on Thursday.

Kumar says TRS lawmakers camping in Munugode put a lot of pressure on him to withdraw from the contest, but he refused to budge.

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