By Suresh Ghattamaneni
On a silent Sunday, Tuni, a small town in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh witnessed a massive agitation by the Kapu community for 'reservation' that turned violent leading to destruction of public property and caused grievous injuries to the police and railway personnel.
Section 144 and 30 of the IPC were imposed in the East Godavari District prohibiting any kind of meetings or congregations. A Rapid Action Force was called from Delhi to bring the situation to back to normalcy. Based on video footage, protesters were identified and police planned to book cases on them.
Responding to the call given by Kapu Aikya Garjana led by Mudragada Padmanabham, former minister and Kapu community leader, a massive number of members of the community reached Velama Kothuru village in East Godavari District by afternoon to attend the meeting.
The unity meet brought all Kapu leaders cutting across the party lines onto a single platform to demand for the inclusion of Kapus in the 'backward castes' list.
The ruling Telugu Desam Party leaders did not attend the meeting and the same was criticized by the members present there.
Within fifteen minutes of Padmanabham’s furious speech and call for blocking the highways and rail routes, a seemingly discontented crowd responded in no time, causing violence all over the town blocking hundreds of vehicles on the highway, burning the rail coaches of Ratnachal express and attacking the police and railway personnel.
Rail and road traffic was restored late Sunday night after Padmanabham announced the withdrawal of agitation but threatened to sit on “fast- unto-death” if government fails to respond. He has demanded for issuing a Government Order (GO) in a day’s time if the government is serious about including the Kapus in the BC list. Though the government formed the Kapu Commission to facilitate the process, the community says it was forced to take to the streets due to the delay in meeting its demand.
Caste Politics and Andhra Pradesh: A background
Caste has been an important factor in the politics of Andhra Pradesh. Though caste as a political factor in Independent India dates back to 1950s, it was only after the emergence of the Telugu Desam Party in 1983, significance of the caste has become more pronounced and open.
The rise of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1983 with an actor turned politician NT Rama Rao as it’s supremo, paved the way for the Kamma caste to root itself deeply in politics thereafter benefitting the caste on the whole. Further, the encouragement of political parties also helped the caste gain political prominence. It is now, a well established practice for all the political parties in the state to select candidates from the castes that will play a decisive role in forming the governments.
The non-Brahmin movement in the South gradually sidelined Brahmins from positions of power and led to the emergence of agrarian castes as the dominant ones. In the Telugu areas the most dominant non-Brahmin communities are the Reddys, Kammas, Velamas and Rajus and the merchant communities like Vysyas. But there are various other non-Brahmin communities such as Kapus who did not get their share out of the spoils of the non-Brahmin movement.
Constituting around 27 percent of the population of Telugu states, Kapus as a caste unit comprise of various sub castes such as Turpu Kapus in North Coastal Districts of Andhra Pradesh, Kapus or Telagas in agriculturally prosperous districts of East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur, Balijas in Rayalaseema region, Prakasam and Nellore Districts, Munnur Kapus in the Telangana region.
It is believed that the Kapus of the East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur together are economically stronger compared to other sub castes. All together, they form a significant majority who has been playing a decisive role in the state politics.
It is believed that majority of the kapus have voted for the Kamma led Telugu Desam Party after its establishment, due to the star image NTR had and his famous slogan for Telugu pride: Telugu vari aatmagouravam (self respect of the Telugus). Over a very short period of time, TDP was found antagonistic to kapus by it’s members and therefore sided with Congress party in which they felt they have an identity.
The rise of Vangaveeti Mohan Ranga, a Kapu leader based out of Vijayawada and Mudragada Padmanabham from East Godavari district in the mid 1980s, led to the consolidation of the Kapus thereby forming a political force. The sudden demise of Ranga in 1989, which sparked violence all over the state leading to destruction of public and private properties worth several hundreds of crores has left Padmanabham alone in his fight and thereafter weakened their political position.
Hopes bloomed again for the Kapu community with the emergence of Praja Rajyam party by an actor turned politician Chiranjeevi who had a great following in the Telugu region and the backing of his community.
Though Chiranjeevi was expected to satiate the quest of Kapus to attain power, his party miserably failed to secure the magic number and thereafter merged with the Congress disappointing major sections of the community.
Most of the kapu leaders returned to congress and later on with the YSR Congress party started by Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of former Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhar Reddy. After the bifurcation of the Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema), people in the residual Andhra Pradesh voted for TDP-BJP combine led by Nara Chandra Babu Naidu, known famously amongst his supporters as a 'Hi-tech' chief minister for his role in developing software industry in Hyderabad.
Though the formation of Telugu Desam government is attributed to Naidu and his experience as the Chief Minister for 9 consecutive years by his supporters, the role played by Pawan Kalyan, younger brother of Chiranjeevi, in consolidating the Kapu vote bank and the young voters cannot be denied.
Pawan Kalyan, who has floated his own political party Jana Sena in 2014 did not contest in the elections but had decided to support TDP-BJP combine. Moreover, the promises made by the TDP to the Kapus which includes including them in the backward castes list has brought them overwhelming majority in the East and West Godavari districts where kapus are numerically stronger.
Affirmative action and the Kapu Community
Inclusion of Kapus in the backward classes dates back to the 1990s wherein Mudragada Padmanabham, who was a minister then in the Kotla Vijaya Bhasakar Reddy led Congress government, quit his ministerial position demanding reservation for kapus.
The government succumbed to the pressure and issued a Government Order in a hurry which was struck by the High Court later, on the basis of lack of rationale and justification for inclusion in the Backward Classes list.
After a period of more than two decades, Kapu Aaikya Garjana meet (Unity meet) on 31 January, 2016 saw members of the Kapu community assembling on large scale led by their leader M Padmanabham demanding for inclusion of Kapus in the BC list and release of GO by the government immediately. This probably could have been inspired from the Hardhik Patel phenomenon in Gujarat though it may not be possible to compare the Patel community with the Kapus of Andhra Pradesh as the demand of Kapus is a long standing one and therefore needs to be looked at from a different angle.
On the flip side, TDP government has reiterated several times, it’s promise of including the kapus in the BC list. It has issued GOs forming The Andhra Pradesh State Kapu Welfare and Development Corporation Limited and announced a commission led by Justice Manjunath for providing a pathway to provide BC status to Kapus that includes sub castes such as Balija, Ontari, Kapu and Munnur Kapu.
The government did not want to go with recommendations of Justice Puttuswamy committee as it was more than two decades old and was conducted in the erstwhile united state of Andhra Pradesh.
Political parties, over a period of time have been playing with the emotions of communities for their political dividends. Though the Kapu reservation issue is an old one, TDP- BJP combine in 2014 was quick enough to gauge this emotion and capitalized on it by declaring that they would provide reservation to the community if voted to power.
Providing a new hope to the Kapu community for realizing their long pending grievance on reservation, TDP has even included it in their election manifesto. Though there were certain moves in that direction after it came to power, TDP Government failed to instill confidence in the Kapu community that it is serious about their issues and the delay in responding to them has made them vent their anger in the violent form leading to destruction of public and private properties.
Though the incident appears to be a spontaneous outburst of angry crowd, the events that turned violent are in fact a result of long standing discontent manifest in the community that was triggered by opportunist politicos to cash in on government’s quandary on the issue.
Infuriating speeches of the politicians and other leaders who enjoy the trust of the people is unwarranted. Incitements creates lawless atmosphere and the speakers need to be held accountable for the acts of their listeners.
While the Kapu agitation could be a ephemeral phenomenon which the government might brush it away, in the light of the more serious issues such as growing internal discontent in various communities and issues of the other backward classes with inclusion of new castes in the BC list needs to be studied in detail.
A more serious discourse needs to be built on the relationship between reservation, growth and development. A far reaching solution therefore would be in destruction of the religious notions on which the ‘caste’ was formed and thrives.
At the same time, as said by Dr.B.R Ambedkar, dividing the castes into sub-castes further based on the income levels may not yield any better results as it will only help to strengthen the Castes and make them more powerful and therefore more mischievous. This remedy is therefore neither practicable nor effective.