Sunday, July 14, 2024

Ratna Column :Caste war on the cards for political supremacy in AP!

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Using caste card to influence the electorate has become common in modern-day politics across India. Over the decades, certain castes have become very powerful. With huge land holdings and money bags, they have come to be called ‘ruling castes’ because of their continued clout in the political space.

Initially after Independence, the nation witnessed the emergence of leaders whose strength lay in the services they had rendered to people during and after the freedom movement, irrespective of their caste background. Gradually influential castes became ruling castes, influencing other sections of society. Andhra Pradesh is no exception to this caste-oriented political alignment.

No wonder, caste war like situation is prevailing in AP once again, ahead of the 2024 Assembly elections. For nearly half a century following the formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic lines in 1956, Andhra Pradesh state had witnessed dominance of its political space mainly by two major castes:  Reddy & Kamma. They had been the ruling castes for more than fifty years in the 58-year history of combined AP until bifurcation.

Chief Ministers belonging to other castes Damodaram Sanjeevayya (SC-Mala), P V. Narasimha Rao (Brahmin), Jalagam Vengal Rao (Velama) and K. Rosaiah (Vysya) were in the hot seat of the state for brief periods. Vengala Rao was an exception in that he ruled the state from 1973 to 1978. The Emergency period in the country came in handy for him to continue in power for five years. Nine CMs from the Reddy community  — Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy (1956-60 &1962-64), Kasu Bhrahmananda Reddy (1964-71), Dr. Marri Channa Reddy (1978-80 & 1989-90), Tanguturi Anjaiah (1980-82), Bhavanam Venkatram (1982 Feb-Sept), Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy (1982-83 & 1992-94), Nedurumalli Janardhan Reddy (1990-92), Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy (2004-2009), Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy (2010-2014) and three from the Kamma community – N. T. Rama Rao (1983-84, 1984-89 &1994-95), Nadendla Bhaskar Rao (1984 August16-Sept16) and Nara Chandrababu Naidu(1995-2004) ruled the combined state of AP. NTR was dethroned twice (1984 &1995) by members of his own cabinet, both belonging to the Kamma community.

Caste war between the two communities came to a head following the appearance of the Telugu Desam Party in 1983. Till then, the Congress party had ruled the state with its chief ministers hailing mainly from the Reddy community. The TDP, under the leadership of matinee idol NT Rama Rao changed this equation.

There was no scope for a third caste to enter the political scene until bifurcation. Now, the predominant Kapu community is eyeing for a pie on the political front under the leadership of Jana Sena Party (JSP) headed by film star Pawan Kalyan. A feeble attempt had been made by the community previously when mega star Chiranjeevi launched the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP). Despite securing 70 lakh votes and winning 18 Assembly seats, it failed to make an impact. Chiranjeevi later merged his party with the Congress.

In 2019, Pawan Kalyan tried his luck and his party won only one Assembly seat. Pawan himself was defeated in both the seats from where he had contested. Even this fact has not deterred Pawan now because his community accounts for nearly 30% of the vote bank.
In a way, it is ‘now or never’ moment for the Kapu community, which is aiming at political supremacy. Thirty-five years ago, then Vijayawada (East) MLA of Congress Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga Rao was an icon for the Kapu community. He was physically eliminated by his political opponents, believed to be Kamma leaders.

Ranga has since become a household name among members of the Kapu community. It has become a compulsion for every political party in AP to celebrate the birth and death anniversaries of Ranga every year only to appease Kapus. Interestingly, though TDP was blamed for the murder of Ranga, his wife and son (both former legislators of Congress) joined the TDP and are still sailing with the same.

The entry of Pawan has kindled hopes of the community now. Post bifurcation, Reddy and Kamma communities have shared one term each in AP. Chandrababu Naidu (TDP) and YS Jaganmohan Reddy (YSRCP) are now political enemies. If necessary, they may not hesitate to join hands to prevent Kapus from attaining power in the battle for political supremacy.

During the 1994 elections in combined AP, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Kanshi Ram had tried to unite the Scheduled Castes in the state. Later, dominant castes viz Reddy and Kamma took steps to scuttle the unity efforts among the Scheduled Castes by introducing categorisation of SC reservations into A, B,C, and D groups under the leadership of then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu 26 years ago.

The question in some circles is: What if Chandrababu has to share power with JSP? Some say such a third force may become ‘Bhasmasura’ for both Reddys and Kammas. Another related question: Whom will Naidu support if he has to choose between Pawan and Jagan? So, an ascendant third caste can change political dynamics forever in AP.

Caste would take centre-stage in the event of direct electoral fight between ruling YSRCP and TDP-combine! Bharat Rashtra Samiti’s capability to influence the Kapu community will also have some impact on the contours of the final political picture! Left parties and BJP may be pressed to strengthen possible united opposition against the ruling YSRCP.

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