Caste and politics have been intertwined in India even before the country became independent. The talk of caste-free society by ruling classes has remained an irritant and this colourless, odourless, dimensionless, and hypothetical social unit called caste has always aligned or polarised people. Reservations to eliminate social and financial inequalities have a long history in India.
When it comes to Andhra Pradesh, the advent of Telugu Desam Party has given a new dimension to the reservations. Telugu Desam’s founder and then Chief Minister NT Rama Rao, who trampled the Congress under his feet in his electoral debut in 1983, understood that his party had enjoyed an unstinted support from the Backward Classes (BCs). Ever since, he began giving the pride of place to BCs in every realm of activity his government had taken up.
The TDP’s tryst with caste-based reservations has favoured or reversed the political fortunes of itself and also its rivals. After facing a backstabbing by his own Cabinet colleague Nadendla Bhaskar Raoand resurging back and winning an election, NTR had thought he should insulate the BCs from any manoeuvring trick by the Congress. Hell-bent on his resolve not to loosen his party’s grip over the BCs, the legendary actor thought an enhanced quota would keep the large community stay glued to the TDP.
Hitting the bull’s eye, NTR had increased the reservation for BCs in jobs and college admissions from the existing 25 per cent to 44 per cent in July 1986, triggering widespread protests across the State. The upper castes, including Kammas, came on to the streets in protest against the decision of the State Government.
The State was plunged into a series of agitations. On September 5, 1986, a three-judge full bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court consisting of Justices B P Jeevan Reddy, K. Ramaswamy and Y.V. Anjaneyulu had struck down the increase of reservation quota as unconstitutional. Because, in effect, the reservations were increased from 49 per cent to a whopping 71 per cent. The break-up was: 44 per cent for backward classes, 15 for Scheduled Castes, 6 for Scheduled Tribes and 6 for special groups like handicapped persons. The bench had pointed out that the Supreme Court ruled that total reservations could not exceed 50 per cent as a precedent.
NTR, who had struck a deal to pacify the AP Nava SangharshanaSamithi (APNSS), had not gone in an appeal against the verdict and restored the 25 per cent reservation for BCs, who were angered by the deal.
It may be noted that Chandrababu Naidu has always played a key role in decision making of the TDP Governments since 1983. During this period, Naidu was, however, dubbed as an “extra-constitutional authority “ by his detractors. Eventually, NTR toyed with the idea of constituting a three-member committee to look into the reservations, following a backlash among the BCs. This had indeed impacted his government in the days that followed.
After the murder of Kapu strongman and Vijayawada MLA VangaveetiMohanaRangaRao on December 1988, several Kapu leaders, including Ministers MudragadaPadmanabham and ChegondiVenkataHariramaJogaiah, had resigned from their posts and eventually from the TDP.
After the ascendancy of the Congress to power in 1989, the Kapu legislators regrouped together and began mounting pressure on the Government. Finally, the Congress Government led by Chief Minister KotlaVijayabhaskara Reddy had included Kapus in the list of Backward Classes through G.O. No. 30 on August 25, 1994. However, the TDP Government that came to power had an independent person challenge the same in the court. The High Court declared the GO null and void and asked the Government to constitute a commission to look into the issue.
In the later days, Chandrababu Naidu, who became the Chief Minister in 1995through a palace coup, constituted a one-man commission led by Justice P RamachandraRaju who recommended classification of Scheduled Castes. Naidu’s move obviously brought the Madiga Reservation PorataSamithi under Manda Krishna Madiga closer to the TDP and gave political impetus to the TDP in the subsequent years.
Naidu used this opportunity and issued an Ordinance in June 1997 classifying SCs into A, B, C and D categories. However, the matter passed through the legal rigmarole and the Supreme Court had struck down on November 5, 2011 the Act passed by the AP Legislative Assembly. Eventually, a committee led by Justice UshaMehra was constituted, but the classification of SCs remained in cold storage.
On the eve of 2014 general elections, with a view to garnering the support of Kapu vote, which is estimated to be 25 per cent of the total electorate, Naidu used the inclusion of the community into the BCs as a trump card.
Thanks to the support extended by star of the tinsel town PawanKalyan, younger brother of Congress MP and megastar Chiranjeevi, and the Kapu reservation bait thrown by the TDP, the party romped home in the residuary Andhra Pradesh.
MudragadaPadhanabham, who is now spearheading the agitation on behalf of Kapus, has held Chandrababu Naidu responsible for the sorry state of affairs and also Sunday’s violence.
Ironically for the TDP, even PawanKalyan sought to know whether the Government would ever grant quota to the Kapus or not.
Meanwhile, YSR Congress leader AmbatiRambabu said that Kapus knew that they could not be included in BCs and their aspiration would never come true and nobody was trusting Naidu on this.
A senior leader in the BJP, on the condition of anonymity for obvious reasons, said that Chandrababu Naidu always pursued politics of divide and rule. He was fundamentally weak and had promised the impossible during 2014 elections, he quipped.
Thus, the TDP’s conviviality with the Kapus has now reached its precipice. The party’s relations and, cascading political fortunes, hinge on how Chandrababu Naidu would handle the situation.