A Facebook post with a hash tag #ironiesofIndia posted by The Indian Feed has a quote superimposed on a mug shot of Hardik Patel, who agitated for reservations for Patels or Patidars in Gujarat, that caught my attention. It sounded interesting, if not derisive. The quote was: “India is the only country where people fight to be called backward.”
While the agitation for inclusion of Kapus among the backward classes (BCs) has hit the headlines once again in Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam Party Government headed by N Chandrababu Naidu is caught in a bind. It is common knowledge that their inclusion in the BC list and providing them reservation cannot be done overnight. There is a well laid-down procedure by the governments and courts of law for fulfilling such demands.
Though Naidu is personally making a concerted effort in explaining to the people the procedural and legal intricacies involved in accomplishing one of his much-touted election promises – Kapu reservations — his unabated attempt to blame it on his bête noire and Leader of the Opposition Y S Jaganmohan Reddy by holding the latter responsible for the “unreasonable and violent” agitation is not cutting much ice with the people. On 31 January, a train was reduced to ashes, amid the serene and otherwise cool and lush green paddy fields in the prosperous East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
While the Kapu agitation and the response from the government are completely political, the demand for the inclusion of Kapus in the list of BCs is an age-old one. It has a historic background, too.
Mudragada reclaiming lost ground
Former minister Mudragada Padmanabham, who espoused the cause of the Kapu community and launched an indefinite hunger strike on Friday morning at his residence in Kirlampudi village in East Godavari district, wants to assert his position in the community. This is the sixth time he is starting an indefinite fast since 1988.
He said there were only two demands for which the community is agitating: 1. Inclusion of Kapus in the list of BCs; 2. Grant of Rs 1,000 crore for the Kapu Corporation a year for two consecutive years.
But the inherent intent of Mudragada must have been to regain his lost ground. This agitation may not just be brushed aside as a comeback trail by Padmanabham, who with the backing of his community that enjoys the largest vote share (nearly 25 per cent) in Andhra Pradesh, may be eyeing a bigger target in the next elections. He was replaced by actor Chiranjeevi in 2009 and the actor’s younger brother Pawan Kalyan, who is also a tinsel town star, in 2014.
After all, Padmanabham was an MLA four times and a minister in the N T Rama Rao Cabinet twice and an MP from Kakinada (TDP) between 1999 and 2004. He was seen as the icon and champion of the community a few years ago. This is not the first time that Padmanabham, a maverick leader whose decisions are highly volatile, hogged the limelight by taking up the Kapu agitation. His hunger strike in 1993 led to the issuance of a Government Order (G.O. Ms No 30) by then Congress Chief Minister Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy. This GO included Kapus in the list of BCs.
History of Kapus as BCs traces back to 1919
In fact, Kapus were recognised as part of the BCs under the Montague Chelmsford reforms of 1919. BR Ambedkar and Kaka Kalekar Committee recognised them as BCs. They enjoyed BC status up to 1956 until the Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy government derecognised them from the BC list. However, Kapus were included in the BC list in 1961 by the then chief minister Damodaram Sanjeevaiah through a GO 3250, but in 1966 they were once again derecognised.
Since then, Kapus continued as an upper caste community. However, some castes like Munnur Kapu, Turpu Kapu and a few others have been enjoying the status of BCs. Though the Kapu Reservation Porata Samithi took up an agitation and the GO 30 was passed, it could not be implemented for two reasons: 1. It had not classified whether the Telaga, Kapu, Balija and Ontari castes had been included in the A, B, C or D categories of BCs; 2. The BC Welfare Committee approached the court and the issue remained mired in legalities.
Mudragada can precipitate the matter. Whether there is an intent or not, the surprise call to squat on National Highway No. 5 and the Kolkata-Chennai railway line on 31 January led to burning of the train and saw vehicles coming to a grinding halt for several kilometres.
Mudragada’s hunger strike in 2005 demanding the BC status for Kapus had given some embarrassing moments to Chandrababu Naidu who had gone to call on him in Kirlampudi in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition. Mudragada had showed him the door without even demonstrating the courtesy of ushering him into his house.
Last ditch efforts
While kicking off the hunger strike on Friday, Mudragada made it clear that his intent was only to fight for justice for Kapus and he was ready to call off his agitation, if the government could come forth to reduce the timeline for the conduct of socio-economic survey from nine months to four months.
Telugu Desam MLAs Bonda Umamaheswara Rao and Thota Trimurthulu, and MLC Boddu Bhaskara Rama Rao tried to use their good offices till Thursday, to persuade Mudragada to call off the hunger strike. Though the Kapu leader was willing to budge, he insisted on the Government coming forth to concede his demands.
Deputy Chief Minister Nimmakayala Chinarajappa, who got the post by virtue of being a Kapu, has said that the government is ready to include Kapus in BC list and enhance funds to the Kapu Corporation. He has appealed to Mudragada not to precipitate the matter and remain calm and give the government an opportunity to fulfil its commitment. He, however, isn’t ready for negotiations or talks with the agitating leader.
Naidu has been alleging that Mudragada and YS Jagan are on the same wavelength and that he has been trying to ensure that benefits given to Kapus must stand legal scrutiny, for which he needs time to complete the procedure.
YSR Congress chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy has said that the Government can adopt the Tamil Nadu model of 69 percent of reservations to accommodate Kapus among the list of BCs without meting out any injustice to the list of communities in the existing list of BCs.
The entire activity has a legal rigmarole to pass through before the demands can be taken to a logical conclusion.
Justice Dalava Subrahmanyam, who had headed the BC Commission in undivided Andhra Pradesh from 2004 to 2011, said that a comprehensive socio-economic survey would be required to assess the quantum of percentage of reservation based on the percentage of needy people. This is how Tamil Nadu accorded 69 percent of reservations. Even for including Kapus and other communities in the BC list, a socio-economic survey of the communities needed to be completed. Only then the issues of inclusion and of widening the base of the reservations (in percentage terms) can be taken up.
“Just because someone has launched a hunger strike, a few communities cannot be included in the list of BCs. These communities have applied for their inclusion in the BC list. They had applied before Justice KS Putta Swamy Commission and they set a timeline for the commission to fulfil their demand. Judicial commissions have a constitutional obligation and procedures to fulfil. Their recommendations to the government should have a legal and scientific basis. So, the commissions work accordingly,” Justice Subrahmanyam pointed out.
Meanwhile, the AP government has appointed Justice Manjunatha to head the BC Commission. The government is trying to set a deadline for the commission to complete the socio-economic survey for ensuring Kapu reservations.
However, Justice Manjunatha said that the BC Commission headed by him would not confine itself to Kapu reservations alone. It was a BC Commission, he asserted. And, the other members of the Commission have yet to be appointed. He met the chief minister and also a six-member cabinet sub-committee, consisting of three Kapus and three BCs, on Thursday.
Justice Manjunatha feels that it is not as easy as it is being talked about. The procedures take a very long time and the state government has yet to issue the terms of reference to the commission. He said that he was ready to start work, provided the government could provide clarity on what exactly it wanted from the Commission within the constitutional framework.
Chandrababu to blame
The last president of undivided Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) Botcha Satyanarayana, who is currently sailing with YSR Congress, said that Kapu reservations, by including them in the BC list, was a commitment given by the Telugu Desam Party. Every party, including the YSRC, put this in their election manifestos. But apart from waiver of farm loans and DWCRA loans, the next big assurance of the TDP was Kapu reservations, he said.
Botcha hauled Naidu’s government over the coals for trying to blame others “for its failures”. There were set Constitutional procedures, but the government did not seem to commence any activity in that direction of fluffing its poll promise, hence the agitation, said the YSRC leader. He alleged that the TDP was trying to derive political mileage by creating a rift between BCs and Kapus, like it had done between malas and madigas through SC reservations.
Former Congress minister and senior Kapu leader Kanna Lakshminarayana, who is now with the BJP, said that it was wrong to throw the blame on the courts of law saying that the courts would strike down the reservations to Kapus. He pointed out that successive governments did not follow the procedures to legitimately accord BC status and provide reservations to Kapus, which has close to 100 years of history.
Whether or not Mudragada Padmanabham’s attempt this time leads to the government fulfilling its poll promise, he is sure to regain lost political ground and be successful in his attempt to become politically relevant again.