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special article

Popular Culture and Ideology:

The Phenomenon of Gaddar
P Kesava Kumar

The cultural sphere has its own advantage over politics

in terms of pulling people into its fold. Through his songs
and cultural performances, Gummadi Vittal Rao,
popularly known as Gaddar, the Telugu poet singer,
maintains the historical continuity of peoples lives and
their struggles. He brings politics into everyday life
situations and translates terms like working class,
new democracy, revolution, classless society,
bourgeoisies state, capitalist class, etc, into concrete
life experiences of people. He explains the political
economy of Marx or Maos philosophy in simple
songs or words without borrowing any textual language
of Marxism. This paper is an attempt to explore the
emergence of the Gaddar phenomenon and its
significance by focusing on the performance of
peoples culture.

P Kesava Kumar (pkesav@gmail.com) is with the Department of

Philosophy, Pondicherry University.
Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 13, 2010 vol xlv no 7

No death for the song of peoples war

A slogan condemning the attack on Gaddar.

ummadi Vittal Rao, popularly known as Gaddar is a

revolutionary poet singer and has emerged as a powerful
and popular cultural icon in India. He has established
himself as an institution and a household name in Telugu society
and other parts of India. Gaddar has captured the public sphere
by bringing out the activities of the masses that were considered
to be the domain of the private sphere. Through his cultural performances lakhs of people have got influenced and attracted
towards the radical democratic struggles of India.
Gaddar and his Jana Natya Mandali (JNM) are a unique cultural phenomenon representing the revolutionary cultural struggles of the contemporary world. His work seems to be a culminating point of peoples culture and revolutionary politics. This
paper is an attempt to explore the emergence of the Gaddar
phenomenon and its significance by focusing on the use of
peoples culture for inculcating revolutionary consciousness
among the masses.
Gaddar as a cultural phenomenon has established an organic
link between oral and written culture. While the literary world
confined itself mostly to genres like poetry and the short story/
novel, the illiterate masses totally marginalised by the print
world expressed their social aspirations and anxieties in oral
form, mostly through songs and folk dance. Gaddar and the JNM,
the cultural organisation that he represents, work with a mission
to politically sensitise the masses. In Gaddars cultural performances, one can see the continuity of peoples culture and their
folk art forms in modern times. He is instrumental in enlivening
peoples culture by competing with the contemporary digital and
electronic media. He invokes the social memory of the masses
through his songs. He performs songs for a political purpose. For
him, song is a weapon to resist dominance and to liberate the
masses from oppressive social relationships. His songs work in
nexus with the peoples political struggles. While mainstream art
forms create subjective conditions and tend to relax the audience,
Gaddars art form creates objective conditions and tends to make
the audience think.
A study of Gaddar and his performance of songs would not
only explain the strong relationship between culture and
ideology, but also reveal the social and political purpose of
any culture. Gaddars art form is also crucial in the sense that a
subaltern himself will be voicing the concerns of subalterns.
This is the kind of knowledge or art form which has been
neglected for long by mainstream art and knowledge forms,


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on the ground that a subaltern speaking for subalterns has

subjective content in it.

Popular Culture and Ideology

Culture-making is a social process: all meanings of self, of social
relations, all the discourses and texts that play such important
cultural roles can circulate only in a relationship to the social
system. It is a constant succession of social practices. Culture is
the constant process of producing meanings of and from our
social experience; and such meanings necessarily produce a
social identity for the people involved. Culture is mediated
through various forms. It undergoes changes with changing
socio-economic and political conditions. As Marx argued,
women/men make their own history. Culture has to be understood and analysed from the ideological point of view. In making culture and finding meanings of culture, the social groups
that are involved and their ideological positions are crucial. In
that sense, culture has to be understood in relation to the struggles of society. Culture is an arena that represents the ideological/conceptual/theoretical space for the struggles/conflicts
of society. It means the struggles of the people determine
culture. There is another version of popular culture that
emerges out of political struggles, that differs from folk and
commodity culture.
To understand culture, one has to take into consideration the
specific character of Indian society. The political struggles of
nationalist movements and democratic struggles of post-
independent India produced a culture used extensively for
propagation of political ideals at the popular level. The Naxalite
movement is one such democratic movement that has given a
new meaning to the culture of the people (masses) and made a
serious attempt to reach out to the people through their own
cultural forms. The JNM which produced the singer-performer
Gaddar is the cultural organisation supporting the political
ideology of the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh. The cultural phenomenon of Gaddar is linked with the struggles of the people.
The struggle creates consciousness among people to construct/
reproduce their own culture to fight oppressive social relationships. The terrain of the common sense, which Gaddar identifies, goes against the dominant hegemonic common sense. In
other words, there is a conscious effort to produce/create counterhegemony to the dominant through popular cultural forms that
are rooted in the lived social experiences of people. Gaddar
picks up the folk cultural forms with which people at large identify. Most of the folk forms may have conservative connotations
in the present. So Gaddar makes it more political and effectively
uses them for the political mobilisation. The genre, the form,
the content, the tune and the musical instruments, all have got
totally revolutionised under the cultural performance of Gaddar
and have been used for a revolutionary cause. Further, this
politicised folk form also stands against the so-called popular
culture produced by the dominant class through cinema and
mass media. The Gaddar phenomenon reveals that the ideo
logical representation of popular culture matters a lot since it
plays a significant role in creating meaning or understanding
by the people.


Historical Background of JNM and Gaddar

One cannot understand Gaddar in isolation to the cultural organisation JNM of Telugu society. The JNM came into existence
with Naxalite struggles. Further, the JNM maintains the historical continuity of progressive literary culture produced by communist ideology and its struggles. The struggles inspired by the
communist ideology paved the way for progressive literature and
culture as against the classical conservative literary culture. The
Progressive Writers Association (known as Abhyudaya Rachayitala Sangham, in short, Arasam in Telugu) was formed in 1943,
and gave a new direction to literature and peoples arts. This literary space emerged out of the anti-feudal, anti-colonial and
anti-fascist struggles. The Telangana peasant struggle of 1946-51
came with new aspirations; the literature and cultural forms become inseparable from the struggles of peasants. With the intensification of peasant struggles, Praja Natya Mandali as a cultural
platform came into existence to reach out to the people and for
effective propaganda of the communist ideology. Through this,
many writers, artists and poets from the lower strata of society
were introduced. They gave a literary and artistic expression to
the living culture and social experiences of people. The Naxalbari
movement of 1967 came as a radical alternative to parliamentary
politics and differed from the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
(CPI(M)) by supporting armed struggle. In the light of the Naxalite
struggles, the Revolutionary Writers Association (in Telugu known
as Viplava Rachayatala Sangham, in short, Virasam) was formed
in 1970 further radicalising progressive politics and literature.
The political movements changed the literature and literary
forms qualitatively and were also responsible for creation of new
art forms of people. The new cultural form named Burrakatha1
came into prominence in the midst of anti-fascist struggles to
propagate the political conditions of the nation and to explain the
communist ideology. Nazar is the prominent artist of this form
and is dedicated to Praja Natya Mandali. The cultural forms, like
Burrakatha of Nazar and Jamukula Katha of Subbarao Panigrahi
of the Srikakulam struggle had their roots in folklore. They
politicised the folklore to meet their contemporary political interests. Oggukatha is a similar kind of cultural form used by a community called the Yadavas in the Telangana region. In the postSrikakulam struggle era, Gaddar of JNM further radicalised the
form and content on the same line of Nazar and Subbarao Panigrahi. It had a popular appeal.
Gummadi Vittal Rao was born in a poor dalit family of Telangana region. He was bright in school and active in cultural performances. He dropped out of engineering course due to financial
problems. In the early days he organised a Burrakatha troupe and
named it Bapuji Burrakatha Party and gave performances for
the department of field publicity, Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting. Initially, he gave performances on family planning
and later on Allure Seetharamaraju, a hero of Rampa rebellion of
1922-24 against British imperialism. For some time, he worked as
a manual labourer in a chemical factory. In 1971, the contact with
art lovers, led by B Narsinga Rao totally changed his world view
and he became politically committed. The Art Lovers Association
on the initiative of Gaddar became JNM. Vittal Rao changed his
name to Gaddar as a tribute to the Gadar Party of Punjab under
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the leadership of Hardayal, who stubbornly resisted British

colonial exploiters between 1913 and 1930. Prior to the JNM, there
was only a literary organisation to propagate the ideology of the
Srikakulam armed struggle, the Revolutionary Writers Association. It could not reach out to the masses and was confined to
writers and intellectuals. The JNM was born out of historical
necessity and Gaddar filled this gap as no other artist ever could.2
Initially, he experimented with the art form Burrakatha, later he
adopted several other folk art forms to express his ideology. The
undercurrent of all the art forms are songs. The popularity of
Gaddars songs cuts across the barriers of region, dialect and
social status. The JNM under the guidance of Gaddar discovered
several poets, artists and performers and trained them to spread
the message of the revolution. Gaddars discovery of folk art
forms has to be understood in tune with the demonstrative effectiveness of the principle of from the masses to masses to propagate revolutionary ideology.3
The JNM has produced more than 2,000 songs and has performed thousands of times all over the nation with varied audiences. Most of the songs are still alive and people own them
passionately. More than three lakh copies of the books of songs
of the JNM are reported to have been sold and its audio cassettes
are popular in almost all the villages of Andhra Pradesh. 4 His
songs are popular through the audio cassettes. So far, he has
written 3,000 songs and 35 audio cassettes have been released
on different themes.
Gaddar not only sings a song, but also performs it. His rustic
voice and vibrant body, which sways to the rhythm of a song,
and especially, the social connections he makes, bring to life the
spirit of the lyric. It is difficult to evaluate his performance
according to the conventional principles of aesthetics. He has
evolved his own aesthetics. The aesthetics of his art is located in
his commitment to the cause he believes in. The peoples movement in Andhra Pradesh has produced Gaddar. The significance
of Gaddar cannot be understood unless we put him in that
context. He is not an isolated great artist. Gaddar is both a
phenomenon and also a product of a phenomenon. But a phenomenon like Gaddar is extremely rare in any language. It is not
for nothing that literary artists call the present age in Telugu
poetry as the age of Gaddar.5
The growing importance and popularity of Gaddar can be
understood from the attack on him, allegedly by state functionaries,
on 6 April 1997. He miraculously escaped from death and still
survives having a bullet in his body. The song Jamedari Koyalo
by Bhoopal explains the context in which the attack on Gaddar
took place.6 This song reflects on the emergence of Gaddar as a
human rights activist, a leader of dalits (both for Mala and
Madiga subcastes), and a symbol of the Telangana agitation. In
simple words, he becomes a culmination point of all alternative
struggles of Telugu society. His voice is felt in the meetings of all
alternative movements such as of dalits, women, and Telangana.
Though he has performed on all these platforms, he has maintained the stand of the Maoist party. In his capacity as secretary
of the All India League for Literature and Revolutionary Culture
(AILRC), he has toured all over India by performing and organising
cultural programmes in support of the new democratic revolution.
Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 13, 2010 vol xlv no 7

In 2004, he was one of the emissaries of the Communist Party of

India (Maoist) to hold peace talks with the government
of Andhra Pradesh.

Politicisation of Folklore
Folklore is a rich source for any cultural movement of contemporary times. Folklore is effectively used by religious groups, feudal
lords, nationalists, capitalists and communists to meet their
political ends. It is the collective wisdom of the people and has
historical continuity. Mostly, it is carried through an oral tradition by invoking the social memory of the people. In the Indian
context, the social groups involved in labour belong mostly to the
lower castes. In this sense, folklore is marked by an identity of the
lower castes. Folklore had undergone significant changes with
changing contexts. The social groups involved in this process
played a decisive role in giving it an ideological direction. The
popular modern art form like cinema emerged out of modern
drama. It is argued that the roots of modern drama are in folklore, Veedhinatakalu (street play).7 In all the living folk art forms
of today, the song lives in the undercurrent. The song is a powerful popular medium not only for revolutionary politics, but also
for feudal lords and capitalists.
The folk song was born out of labour, whereas the popular
revolutionary song was born out of social movements. It lived
along with the movements/struggles of society. It brings the
change in tunes along with changes in its content. It is progressive and has a clear vision of the future. It makes the people
aware of the exploitative system and makes them politically conscious. The revolutionary song makes a conscious effort to enliven peoples culture by destroying its anti-democratic elements.
The revolutionary song is not only entertaining, but it also makes
songs more meaningful for the people. The JNM has identified
that it should carry its cultural performance or songs through
groups. For the JNM, the song is the medium to propagate revolutionary ideas. It changes the song in many ways in tune, dialect,
content and conclusion. The JNM has a powerful imprint on the
minds of people with the growing importance of Gaddar as its
cultural leader. The source for Gaddars songs is folklore and
Gaddar has revolutionised this folklore.

Revolutionary Songs of Gaddar

The songs of Gaddar go along with the struggles of Indian society, especially of Telugu society. The revolutionary struggles have
influenced his ideological position too. From the mid-1970s to the
mid-1980s, he wrote and performed many songs on martyrs of
revolutionary struggles. The song centred on masses in the name
of peasant and agricultural coolies (Rytu-cooleelu). The crux of
his songs is the struggle, and comes out from oppression. As a
Marxist, he identifies the unequal relations in the society due to
appropriation of property by a few people. The song titled Bharatadem Bhaghyaseemara reveals unequal relationships in Indian
society and exposes the primary contradiction of the Indian
society. Though we have rich resources, why does there exist
poverty? In this, he sings that the country of India is prosperous
with no dearth of resources, fertile lands that give gold, perennial
rivers and such prosperous country, yet poverty is ruling.8 In a


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similar tone he explains the fate of the productive classes/castes

in a song, Kammaroni Intlabutti/Kattipeeta Suttileka. In this
he highlights the plight of traditional jobs taken by particular
caste groups and how they are alienated from their own produce.
For instance, he says that in spite of being born into a blacksmiths family I dont have a sickle and hammer...9
Gaddar not only narrates the oppression and exploitation of
the masses, but also develops confidence among the masses. His
songs essentially engage in making the masses revolt against the
system. The song Ooru Manadira develops confidence among
the villagers by asserting that this village is ours and every work
is done by us.10 This song was written by Guda Anjaiah in a revolt
against feudal oppression in Telangana. This has been made
popular through the voice of Gaddar.
Like any Marxist, Gaddar believes that society is always in a
dynamic state and that the working class will never be silent and
will revolt against the system for a better life. So change is the
underlying principle of his songs. He firmly believes that change
will be brought about by organising the masses under a revolutionary party. In a song Aagaduu Aagadu, he sings that the ordinary people who are starving will definitely lead the armed
struggle. He invokes the illustration saying that the army of ants
started marching and the snakes hearts are pounding. The herd
of cows started moving, seeing that the lions started running
away. This, he draws parallel to the mass movements of working
class fighting against the landlords. By invoking day to day life
illustrations Gaddar was able to make an impact on the thinking
process of people.11

Songs on All Social Categories

Gaddar has a clear vision of what comprises class in the Indian
context. He has composed songs on all the social categories of
Indian society. There are a good number of songs on peasants,
agricultural coolie and industrial workers. He has translated
the term class through his songs in the concrete terms of Indian
social reality. The songs identify with dalit subcastes, railway
workers, stone quarry workers, gardeners, rikshaw pullers,
women agricultural labourers, beedi workers, coal mine workers, and road transport corporation (RTC) drivers. He tries to
unite all these groups under the label of the labour class.12 Capitalism works on the extensive use of machines and produces
goods in large scale. Its ultimate goal is the profit by expanding
its market. It commodifies everything. Human relations are based
on the value of utility. Life becomes mechanical. In the line of
Marxism, he has many songs. The song Yentrametla Tirugutuvundante,13 Gaddar explains the process of production of goods
by machines and how it sucks the blood of labourer. One may get
the idea of capitalist exploitation of workers from this song. The
song Rikshawwala not only bursts out his miseries, but also
ridicules capitalism in a subtle form I will run my rikshaw with
by blood, my blood is petrol to my rikshaw.14
The movements of dalit and women in the Telugu society have
started influencing Gaddar in a significant way from the decade
of the 1980s. In fact, these movements are critical of Marxists
movements in relation to their understanding of caste and
gender. The Naxalite movement was not an exception for their


criticism. Till then, the Naxalite party was not serious about
issues of caste and gender. The dalit movement has forced all
the alternative movements to understand Indian social reality
from the point of caste, in addition to the class point of view.
Womens movements put forth the issue of patriarchy. These
movements had different strategies for emancipation of dalits
and women. In the literary-cultural realm of Telugu society,
emerged the feminist and dalit literature. This kind of environment even pushed the Naxalite movement into a crisis. This kind
of political atmosphere facilitated Gaddar to bring his songs in
line with the more concrete social reality of Indian society.
Being a dalit, he is an internal critic of the Maoists on the issue
of caste. Being nurtured in Maoist political struggle, he is critical about the ongoing dalit movements and their strategies to
reach out to the powers. Gaddar emerged as a link between the
Naxalites and dalit movement, not only as a singer, but also as a
theoretician with commitment. Against the backdrop of the dalit
movement, he too changed his language from identifying
people earlier with coolie and labourer to Malas and Madigas (dalit subcastes). The significant transformation can be seen
from his earlier songs referring to Coolanna (coolie brotherhood) to his songs of the 1980s with Dalita Pululamma (dalit
tigers). It is true that his early songs centred around coolies,
peasants. He sings for Coolie Rajyam. But even prior to the
dalit movement, he came out with a song Yelaro ee Madiga
Batukulu. In the song Rajyadhikaraniki Malanna, he categorically explains there will be no change in the lives of dalits unless
and until you get political power. Even if you change your caste
or religion, there will be no change in your life. For this armed
struggles is the only way.15
In Telugu society, the Karamchedu massacre is a landmark in
dalit politics. Six dalits were killed by upper caste Kamma landlords in 1985. In response to this, dalits of Andhra mobilised in
large scale in support of the victims of Karamchedu. Gaddar
invoked the struggle led by dalits in Karamchedu in the form of a
song in order to campaign and sensitise dalits. The song Dalit
Pululamma praises the dalits of Karamchedu of having fought
against the feudal lords like lions.16 The Karamchedu massacre
was followed by Chunduru massacre in which eight dalits were
killed by the upper caste Reddy landlord community in the year
1991. Gaddar sang a song this time to finish the hegemony of
Chunduru landlords in Chunduru Dalitanna. Gaddar believes
that the liberation of dalits is linked with a land struggle. He
emphasises the need of united struggle of caste with the struggles
of class. In the post-Mandal context, he focused exclusively
on the issue of untouchability. The condemned lifestyles of the
dalits transformed into a symbol of protest. He had songs on
chappals (Kirru Kirru Seppuloyamma!), garbage bins (Yenta
Chakkagunnadee Na Chettakundi), Payakhana (lavatory)
(Sundarangi Paikana).17 Through these songs, he has made an
effort to bring dignity and respect to the untouchables.
Gaddar has written many songs under the influence of the
womens movement in Telugu society since the 1980s. Till the
1980s, there was no focus on the specific issues of women.
Womens oppression was considered a part of the class struggle.
The songs Gaddar sang until then had seen women only from the
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revolutionary perspective Sirimalli Chettu Kinda Luchumammo...Luchumammo,18 Bavayyo Vokkasari Chusipova19

and Laskar Bonalanta, Kongu Nadumuki Chuttave Chellamma. Under the influence of the womens movement, Gaddar
composed many songs exclusively on the problems of women.20
From 1990s onwards, India had undergone a significant transformation. It liberalised its economy and forced privatisation of
the public sector. Globalisation is now taking place in full swing.
It has had an impact on the lives, culture and value system of
people of third world nations like India. Gaddars song Ameikodostunnadu resists the warmongering imperialism.21 In the
name of globalisation, imperialist dominance is mediating
through mass media and information technology. Analysing the
impact of satellite channels on the culture of Telugu society,
Gaddar sang a song saying the channels culture has given rise to
conflict in the family with invading channels.22 The immediate
effect of globalisation could be seen in the suicides of a number of
farmers and handloom workers. The song on the suicides of
farmers is Oriselu Aadginayi?23
As a supporter of separate Telangana, Gaddar has written
songs on Telangana, based on sub-nationalism of Telugu nationalism. In Dagabadda Telangana, he narrates how Telangana as
a region is deprived by the ruling communities and he praises the
glory of Telangana.24
The songs of Gaddar have to be understood in relation to the
nature of state and struggles of the people. In contemporary
times, there are ongoing struggles of the people in the name of
class, caste, gender and region. Gaddar songs were born out of
the Naxalite movement that entered Telugu society in the late
1960s. The movement has undergone different phases.25
It is evident that Gaddars songs got sharpened further with
the contemporary struggles of Telugu society. His songs have
more performative meaning than the textual meaning. He says
that he had taken songs from the life and cultural traditions of
people and is taking back to the people by playing the role of
an effective communicator. His songs provide a rich resource
material of the struggles and culture of the people, which are not
entered in the official historical documents.

Analytical Study of the Cultural Performance

As it is observed, Gaddar cannot finish a single sentence without
a song. He does not differentiate between the song and the life of
people. He humbly portrays himself as a communicator of the life
and struggles of the masses. The song gets its meaningfulness
through the performances of Gaddar. He is the voice of the voiceless people. His songs not only represent the social aspirations of
the marginalised suffering masses, but also inform the direction to
lead a meaningful life by joining hands with ongoing struggles. In
making revolutionary culture, Gaddars songs reflect the perfect
blend of life, literature and politics. Apart from setting the ideological tone, the songs of Gaddar powerfully capture the folk tunes
of the people for a political purpose. The songs with tunes of the
people are accompanied by the musical instruments of the people.
The song gets its perfection in the performance. Over the years
Gaddar and his JNM found that the principles of success of their
songs are: Prajala Bhani (folk tune), Prajala Palukubadi (peoples
Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 13, 2010 vol xlv no 7

vocabulary) and Prajala Jeevitam (peoples life).26 When the song

fulfils all these, automatically people will own it.
The language used by the Gaddar and JNM is the language of
the masses. The language and life of the ordinary people have
got respect only through the songs of Gaddar. This phenomenon
countered the hegemony of the print culture. He uses the basic
dalit-bahujan language, idiom and symbolism by completely
transforming the linguistic structure of Telugu society. Before
Gaddar emerged on the Telugu revolutionary literature scene,
most writers belonged to the upper caste/middle class and with a
landlord background. Their Telugu was rooted in Sanskrit, while
Gaddars writings draw upon linguistic structures, idioms, pro
verbs and euphemisms of illiterate, productive masses what is
more, of a Telangana dialect which finds no place in written texts.
Gaddar, thus, established a link between the producing masses
and literary text, and, of course, that text established a link
between the masses and higher educational institutionsbut
Gaddar used the song form to communicate to the masses a vision
of restructuring the institutions of family, private property, civil
society and the state.27
The music is inseparable from the song. What kind of instruments to be used in their performances is debated in the JNM.
The JNM is aware that its cultural form is not in a position to compete with the dominant forms unless and until it is artistic and
skilful in presentation. The instruments to be used in programmes are in tune with the targeted audience. The targeted
audiences for the JNM programmes are the peasants and agricultural coolies (dalits), artisan communities in the villages, workers and petty bourgeoisie in cities. It is obvious that dappu and
dholak remain as main instruments in the JNM programmes. The
JNM has experimented with many instruments going along with
the interests of the people who join the organisation. The JNM
experience reveals that dappu and dholak would be with them
till the end. Musical instruments are needed to be revolutionised.
As Gaddar reminds us, when people are appreciating our music
and are not bothered about the content, it means we have failed
to revolutionise the music.28
Mostly, Gaddar has a grip over his audience through his power
ful tunes. The political message is carried effectively through the
tunes he selects from the lives of the people. He has a thorough
knowledge of the folk tunes. In Indian society, the folk tunes are
born out of the involvement of people in production process of
agriculture. People come out with their own tunes from the struggles of everyday life. The folk tune has the element of transforming and developing further. Gaddar believes that the usage of the
folk tune gives the identification of the artist with people. More
over, the folk tune is appropriate to describe the contemporary
social conditions of Indian society since they are produced from
the same agrarian set-up.29 Gaddar reaches his audience of
different languages of the nation with the help of folk tunes.30
The song is an inseparable mix of the raga, tala and content. To
get the attention of the audience all these are important and the
singer should maintain the overall balance of these elements.
A singer like Gaddar never allows the raga and tala to overtake
the content. But at the same time, he will carry his audience by
humming. Many a time he involves his audience in providing a


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chorus for his songs. In the first instance itself, he will evolve an
effective communication with his audience and will maintain
direct interaction till the end. He creates an environment of the
song on the stage. For instance, for the audience to switch over
from one situation to the environment of the jungle,31 he will
start with the sound of Rela Rela.32 He repeats this with a
different twist of Rela Rela till he psychologically involves them
in the song that he is going to perform. The song will be followed
with Rela Rela. He dances rhythmically along with the song.
In response to humming (aalapana), the raga will be added and
followed by the song. The song is performed through a dance.
Gaddar plays all these processes spontaneously. This kind of
dance form is very much present in all the folk art forms. Ata
(dance), pata (song) and mata (speech) are proportionately
internalised in his cultural activity. It is difficult to differentiate
him as a singer, performer or a political ideologue.
While singing the song, Gaddar moves his hands and legs
rhythmically. Through the body movements, he activates the
eyes of the audience and their ears instantaneously. It is difficult
for any artist to perform continuously for a long time on stage.
Gaddar manages well on stage involving the audience for hours
together. In the JNM programmes, usually he takes the lead and
the other members of the cultural team continue with the songs.
In this way, he maintains the collective folk spirit of the song. It is
not easy to stay on stage without being exhausted, for an artist
involving in singing, dancing and keeping an eye on audience
consciously. Gaddar is very economical in using his energies,
both in singing and dancing. He jumps, shouts, sings, dances, and
talks with audience. In taking his audience to the peak along with
his song, he suddenly appears as a still photograph by freezing
the song and movement of the body, by ending with a focused
expression Haa.33 This simple word Haa is loaded with many
feelings and expressions depending on the context. This Haa
not only gives breathing time for the artist, but also breaks the
continuity. This kind of discontinuity may provide his audience
to think rather than carry on emotionally with his song.
Apart from his songs, language and politics, Gaddar has made
a distinctive mark on the people as a visual image and as an individual. People remember the image of Gaddar with a black blanket on his shoulder and wearing a ghochi (lion cloth). He remains
half naked. He ties gajjelu (ankle bells) to his legs and holds a red
kerchief in one hand. This attire is an effort to identify with the
masses. This is the regular dress of a poor shepherd in a Telangana village. (Of course, this visual image is most demanded on
media at present.) As a person, he has erased all the distinctions
in everyday human relationships. At the most, people call him as
Gaddaranna. For the people from middle class and ruling class, it
is an embarrassing situation as to how to call him.
The red kerchief in his hand plays many roles in his performances. As he dramatises every song/situation, he creates many
scenarios with his handkerchief. He symbolically uses it as a
mother, revolution, martyr, and a weapon. He plays with holding
the kerchief meaningfully to provoke the feelings of both veera
and karuna rasa. As has been observed, Gaddar is the top most
in performance. He will play diverse roles on stage. He will be a
mother who has lost her son. He will be a rytu coolie who does


not get anything for his labour. He will be an activist who is motivating people for revolution. He will be a government official
who shows his power and arrogance. He will be a courageous
fighter who has sacrificed his life. The kercheif he ties to the hand
and the blanket on his shoulder becomes a vodi (lap), cheera
chengu (saree fall), a red flag. He will mesmerise his audiences by
performing all these diverse roles with distinctiveness.34 It
seems this is appropriated from the cultural form of Burrakatha
in which one could see all these elements. As Gaddar in an interview explains, Earlier Nazar brought the cultural form Burrakatha close to the people by politicising it. I have changed this
form significantly. This happens because of my close association
with people living in villages.35
The form of cultural performance of Gaddar and his programmes of the JNM have evolved from practice and have been
standardised over a period. The performance of songs has been
imbibed from many other literary and cultural forms.36 The JNM
has succeeded in having a new form of cultural performance:
Dialogue + satire + song + poetry + action + expression of
Gaddar has established the organic link between oral and wri
tten cultures. The cultural traditions of the people are enlivened
through him even in modern times. The folk culture has been
dialectically transformed and has got revolutionised through
him in contemporary times. This phenomenon imbibed many
genres like song, dance, drama, music, prose and poetry in a
unique revolutionary plane. Gaddar stands as a culmination
point of culture, literature, politics, life and struggles of oppressed people. The way Gaddar and his image transcend the
caste and class identities in the era of identity politics and reaches
the upper caste and middle class is very significant. His
(Gaddar) cassettes adorn the decks of rich, upper middle class,
middle class families. Ideology, class or caste is no bar to listen to
his songs. The sincerity in his voice makes his bitter critics guilty,
moves and melts their hearts.38 Gaddar symbolises the powerful
cultural leader of the hegemonic subaltern culture in countering
the hegemony of elite and capitalist ruling castes/classes. He
represents a rare phenomenon that has evolved over a period in
third world societies.

As it is observed, there are many reasons for celebration of
Gaddar as an icon, a legendary figure or an institution in revolutionary cultural politics of Indian society. The issue to be debated
is whether Gaddar is an extraordinary artist or his strength lies
in the politics that he is representing. Gaddar himself never
claims to project his importance isolated from the politics he represents. He humbly accepts that without Naxalbari politics, one
could not imagine Gaddar. He is the product of the Maoist politics.
But at the same time, it is puzzling to see why only Gaddar has had
an appeal among the people than any top most Maoist political
leader. The political leader, however articulate, with a grasp on
Indian social reality and commitment to revolutionary politics,
has had a limited reach. The political language, especially
Marxist terminology, is full of rhetoric and it is not so easy to
reach out to the people in convincing terms. Added to this, people
february 13, 2010 vol xlv no 7 EPW Economic & Political Weekly

special article

may have genuine fears to identify with the revolutionary politics,

in the context of heavy repression by the state. In the case of
Gaddar, it is quite the opposite.
First of all, Gaddar brings down the politics into everyday life
situations. He translates the terms like working class, new
democracy, revolution, classless society, bourgeoisies state,
capitalist class, etc, into concrete life experiences of people. He
explains political economy of Marx or Maos philosophy in simple
songs or words without borrowing any textual language of Marxism. Of course, cultural sphere has its own advantage over politics
in terms of pulling the people into its fold.
Second, it is true that Gaddar is not a born artist, he was
made out of conditions. To reach the celebrated heights, it is not
so easy. It needs talent, insightful mind, capacity to grasp the
social reality and effective communicative skill, apart from the
social commitment of artist. The extraordinariness of Gaddar
has to be understood for his grasp of dynamic social relations
that are operating in the cultural terrain and in putting things
in a proper perspective and in giving direction to the oppressed
people. The way he creatively explored the rich cultural traditions of the people for a political cause is marvellous. No other
artist will match Gaddar for tapping the folklore of the people.
Through his songs and cultural performances, he maintains the
historical continuity of peoples lives and their struggles. The
essence of his songs could be seen as the continuity of pre-
modern philosopher saints and yogis of artisan and sudra
communities of Telugu society like Veerabrahmendra Swamy
and Yogi Vemana. These people contested the brahminical
1 It is evolved from Jangam Katha or Saradakalla
Katha. It has one narrator of the story and two
supportive players. They play a role of satire and
politics. Burrakatha is a synthesised form of the
Jangam/Saradakalla Katha method with a visual
portryal of Yakshaganam. These two forms got
united in Burrakatha.
2 Gaddar (ed.), J V Ramana Reddy (1990), Gaddar,
The Voice of Liberation (Secunderabad: Janam
Pata Publications), 2002, p 4.
3 Gaddar, The Voice of Liberation, p 17
4 Interview to Prastanam, special issue on literature, Neekochina Bashalo Rayi Neevimuktikosam
Rayi (Hyderabad: Prajasakti Publications), 2002,
p 127.
5 Ibid, p 5.
6 Bhoopal Jamedarikoyalo, Eeviplavagnulu.
Sandhya swaralu, JNM: AP, 2004.
7 See Kalyana Rao, G Telugu Natakam Mulalu
Veedhinatakam lo Vunnayi.
8 Gaddar, Taragani Gani, p 139. This song is popular even in the language of Hindi as, Bharat
Apanee Mahan Bhumi.
9 Gaddar, Taragani Gani, p 104.
10 Popular in Hindi as Ye Gao Harama Guda
Anjaiah. Quoted in Gaddar, Taragani Gani, p 129.
11 Gaddar, Taragani Gani, p 42.
12 See Gaddar (JNM), Rikshaw Tokke Rahimanna,
Gaddar Gunde Chappullu, audio cassette.
13 Gaddar (JNM), Yentramelta Tirugutuvundante,
Gaddar Gunde Chappullu, audio cassette.
14 Gaddar, Taragani Gani, p 81.
15 Gaddar (ed.), Rajyadhikaraniki Malanna, Jana
Natya Mandali, Patalu JNM: Secunderabad, 2001,
pp 71-72.
16 Ibid, pp 206-07.
17 Gaddar, Gaddar Songs, pp 15, 60, 63.

dominance and exposed the hollowness of brahminical wisdom

in practice of its own principles.
Third, Gaddar has explored all possible ways in invoking the
social memory of the audience than any other artist. In fact, this
helps him in broadening the audience base. The existing society
might be divided into various groups and diverse interests may
prevail. Gaddars songs capture the common sharing element of
these diverse groups, the cultural past, the nostalgic life. The differences among the conflicting group of modern times are minimal at this point. This may be the secret of Gaddar reaching
castes/classes other than working class and lower castes. He has
the grip over these people at least as sympathetic rather than the
activists of revolutionary politics. Through the loaded karuna
rasa in his songs, he works on the minds of even apolitical people,
and through veera rasa he invokes the feelings of revenge and
protest among the suffering masses. However, he touches the
human sensitivity and tries to conscientise them. As a result, the
hegemonic culture created by him counters the ruling class/caste
hegemony. The counter-hegemonic culture involves more and
more social groups having an organic link to their life experiences.
The image of Gaddar circulated in mass media may also help
in establishing his legitimacy in public sphere and civil society.
Finally, the identification of Gaddar as an artist with the people
and his commitment to revolutionary politics as an individual
established his credentials as peoples artist. The attack on him
reveals how powerful and popular with the Indian masses the
singer performer, balladeer Gaddar is. He remains in history as a
symbol of protest forever.

18 This is a song about his mother who is working

in the fields. This symbolically represents any
dalit woman.
19 This is the song composed by Gaddar in the
underground, after receiving a letter from his
wife, Vimala. This experience he generalises
through this song.
20 O Lachagummadi, Adolla Batuku, Amma
Nenu Bone (on anti-arrack movemt), Mogolla
Nollallo. Beedilai Kaletollam (on beedi workers).
See Gaddar Patalu Janam Pata Publications,
Secunderabad, 1999.
21 Amerikodostundu, ibid, p 49.
22 Gaddar Patalu, Janam Pata Publications, Secunderabad, 1999, p 26.
23 Gaddar Patalu, Janam Pata Publications, Secunderabad, 1999, p 12.
24 Ibid, p 23.
25 The Naxalite group, Gaddar sympathised with
was CPI(ML) Peoples War headed by Kondapalli
Seetharamaih of the late 1970s and 1980s. It
transformed into CPI (Maoist) in the early decades of this millennium by merging with other
Naxalite parties like the MCC and Party Unity.
26 Gaddar, Taragani Gani, p 164.
27 Kancha Ilaiah, The Bard Whose Song Is His
Weapon, Buffalo Nationalism A Critique of
Spiritual Fascism, Samya, Kolkata, 2004, p 46.
28 Ibid, p 232.
29 Ibid, p 175.
30 Gaddar explains that the particular folk tune will
have particular talas all over India. Because of
this the folk song of one place will be effortlessly
sung in another part with the help of folk musical
instruments (p 204).
31 Jungle is the symbolic representation of the
struggles. It is the place where the Naxalite struggles are concentrated and the Naxalites take

Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 13, 2010 vol xlv no 7

32 Rela Rela is a powerful folk tune of adivasis.

Gaddar and JNM had songs starts with humming
of Rela Rela and had a great impact on adivasis
in mobilising them in favour of Naxalite struggles.
33 The artists of all the alternative cultural politics
imitate the gesture of Haa in their performances.
34 N Venugopal, Avisranta Janahrudaya SpandanaJana Natya Mandali.Yavanika, January-March
2003, Hyderabad, (p 30).
35 Gaddar, Nee Kochina Bashalo Rai, Nee Vimukti
Kosam Rayi, Prasthanam, p 127.
36 Initially, the JNM artists used to sing by standing
at one place as a group. Later, they started to introduce the songs with a dialogue/word (mata).
Later, it had focused on performance of the song
effectively and strikingly. Play is added to the
song and dialogue. Satire got added to this by
ridiculing the bourgeoisie songs or ideology of the
exploitative class.
37 Gaddar, Taragani Gani, Prajala Patal Puttupoorvotharalu Jana Natya Mandali Publications,
Hyderabad, 1992, p 126.
38 APCLC, Twin Cities: The Singer Who Charms the
Oppressed, Deccan Chronicle, 14 April 1997,

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