Chandrababu Naidu in a bind over quota for powerful Kapu community in Andhra Pradesh
With passions rising among the Kapu community (27 per cent of Andhra's population), it is a risk Chandrababu Naidu cannot afford to take.
It is a part of India which is unlikely to attract the gaze of the national media. But what is happening in the tiny village of Kirlampudi in East Godavari district has the potential to change the political contours in the crucial NDA-ruled state of Andhra Pradesh.
The village, with a population less than 10,000, has been taken over by the Andhra police. They number close to 3,000 and have reinforcements from other uniformed units. Deccan Chronicle reports on how without a proof of identity (PAN or Aadhaar card or driving license), no villager can enter his dwelling in Kirlampudi. Even passengers in Kirlampudi-bound RTC buses are being checked.
Kirlampudi is under surveillance through CCTV cameras and Section 144 has been clamped on Kirlampudi with several youth reportedly detained. Close to 30 police pickets have been set up, converting Kirlampudi into a fortress.
This overdrive is because Kapu community leader Mudragada Padmanabham has threatened to undertake a 30-day long padyatra covering 400 km through the East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur districts starting July 26. Not surprising then that the 'Chalo Amaravati' plan has not been given green light by the political establishment.
While the police contention is that a similar effort to rouse Kapu passions in January 2016 led to the torching of Ratnachal Express and a police station in Tuni in East Godavari district, it is the political reasoning that is the real reason for the refusal to grant permission. The four coastal districts form the political nucleus of Andhra and it is common knowledge that whoever wins in these four districts (out of the total 13 in Andhra) goes on to form the government. With passions rising among the Kapu community (27 per cent of Andhra's population), it is a risk Chandrababu Naidu cannot afford to take.
Close to four lakh people attended the January 2016 meeting called by the Kapu Ikya Garjana (United Kapus Roar), reminding many of the Hardik Patel-led agitation of Patidars in Gujarat. The violence that followed diverted the attention of the public and the media but the messaging from the size of the crowd was not lost on Naidu.
What are the Kapus agitating for? They are demanding their inclusion in the backward classes list so that they are then eligible for reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. They would also get benefits like scholarships for studies and eligibility for housing schemes. It is not a new demand as it was made in united Andhra Pradesh in the 90s as well but previous attempts to extend reservations to all Kapus were struck down by the then Andhra Pradesh High court.
After the violence that rocked East Godavari district last January, Naidu set up the Manjunath commission to study the issue and give its recommendations in six months. With no word even after 18 months, it is obvious that the Kapus feel that Naidu is only biding his time and is not serious about keeping his promise.
Naidu and Padmanabham have been locked in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation several times in the last two years. Efforts by the 64-year-old leader who incidentally has been a political nomad, spending time with the TDP, Congress and BJP, to go on hunger strike have been foiled by the police. The chief minister cannot afford to ignore the community's demands either as a mass Kapu decision to vote against the TDP will send him hurtling into the Opposition benches in 2019.
Kammas, the community to which Naidu belongs, and Kapus have never enjoyed a comfortable relationship. The Kapus despite their numerical superiority have had to play second fiddle to the Kammas (less than 5 per cent) and Reddys (6.5 per cent). In the recent past, when Chiranjeevi who belongs to the Kapu community entered politics, they backed him. But his subsequent decision to join the Congress disappointed them. In the 2014 election, Chiranjeevi's brother, actor Pawan Kalyan campaigned for the TDP-BJP combine and that played an important part in the Kapus voting for Naidu as chief minister.
However, a lot of water has flown under the Godavari since then. Naidu's use of force to control the Kapus has come in for fierce criticism. While the government justifies the police crackdown on Kirlampudi citing the Tuni violence last year, the fact remains that controlling a community agitation by use of force is fraught with risk. The TDP government argues that the opposition YSR Congress will attempt to use the opportunity to smuggle in miscreants and indulge in violence and the clampdown is therefore in public interest.
In fact, the CID is in the process of filing its chargesheet in the Tuni violence, holding Padmanabham responsible. Doing so at this stage is only adding fuel to an already difficult situation as Kapu leaders will project it as yet another instance of State versus Kapus.
But politically, Naidu is in a Catch 22 situation since including the Kapus in the backward class list is resisted by those castes already enjoying the benefits of reservations. Then there is the question of whether the Kapus indeed deserve the quota. They are a socially powerful community though economically weak in certain districts.
With Pawan Kalyan striking out on his own and the BJP looking to woo the Kapus by appointing a Kapu president for the state unit, Naidu's options are getting limited. Andhra's political chessboard is getting busy.
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