Violence Subsides in Coastal Andhra But the Caste Fire Still Simmers

Agitators belonging to the Kapu caste set fire to the Ratnachal Express when it halted at Tuni railway station in East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh on Sunday. The mob was demanding inclusion of the Kapus in the list of 'Backward Castes'. Credit: PTI

Agitators belonging to the Kapu caste set fire to the Ratnachal Express when it halted at Tuni railway station in East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh on Sunday. Credit: PTI

Coastal Andhra Pradesh was peaceful on Monday after the arson and violence the day before when former minister Mudragada Padmanabham revived his decades-old demand for inclusion of the Kapu community in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.

He suspended the massive protests after the shock and widespread condemnation evoked by the torching of the Ratnachal Express train, besides 25 vehicles and a police station. However, the maverick leader, now camping in his Kirlampudi village, threatened to launch an indefinite fast that he would end only after the government issued orders giving reservations for the Kapus.

Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu was busy campaigning for his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls when violence suddenly erupted in Tuni in the East Godavari district and spiralled out of control by evening, indicating woeful intelligence gathering by police.

It brought central coastal Andhra down on its knees by paralysing rail and road traffic on the crucial Kolkata-Chennai route. Terror-stricken passengers, particularly women, jumped out of Ratnachal Express to save their lives as protesters set bogie after bogie as well as the engine on fire. 

A shaken Naidu rushed to Vijayawada to take stock of the situation and indirectly blamed YSR Congress president Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy for instigating the violence which was apparently pre-planned. “A criminal was behind this”, Naidu said and hinted that the Congress too had a hand in it.  “They planted mischief mongers amidst the crowds (to burn public property),” he claimed.

TDP failure

But Naidu should also apportion the blame to his partymen for their abject failure in sensing the discontent brewing among the Kapus when Mudragada gave the call for ‘Kapu Aikya Garjana’ on January 31. They were perhaps lulled into complacence by the TDP’s good performance in the 2014 elections, when it bagged 28 out of 34 Assembly seats in Kapu-dominated East and Godavari districts. The party had belied forecasts that Kapus would plump for Jagan overwhelmingly.

Though a past-master in the game of mobilising for political rallies and launching fasts, Mudragada gave no advance notice of a rail or rasta roko agitation this time round. He simply gave a call to block the roads and railway lines after addressing a meeting. Giving it back to Naidu, Mudragada accused ‘bad elements’ enjoying TDP’s patronage for burning the train. “Never in the past have my agitations turned violent. My supporters won’t lift a finger without my orders”.

Mudragada may enjoy the unflinching loyalty of his supporters but his image as an upright and uncompromising Kapu leader has been dented over the years. In his four decade-long career, he has performed many political somersaults by swinging back and forth from the TDP to the Congress, depending on which way the wind was blowing.

Traditional Kapus-Kamma rift

Kapus and Kammas have not enjoyed a great political equation over the years and the former’s support to the TDP led by Naidu, a Kamma, in 2014 came as a surprise. Violent clashes between the two communities swept swathes of Andhra following the assassination of Vangaveeti Ranga, a Kapu leader in Vijayawada in December 1988. Both are influential land-owning communities, with Kapus, who can boast of stars like Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan, accounting for 28% of the state’s population.

Kapus are comparable to the Gujjars of Rajasthan and Patels of Gujarat not merely because of their common demand for reservations but also for being agrarian communities. The shrewd politician that he is, Naidu promised reservations for Kapus and a Rs.1,000 crore fund annually for their welfare to woo the community.

These promises were forgotten once Naidu became chief minister. He constituted a Kapu Welfare and Development Corporation with a Rs. 100 crore corpus – a far cry from the sum he had promised. Subsequently, under pressure, he instituted the Manjunath Commission to suggest guidelines for the inclusion of Kapus in the OBC category with the caveat that it should submit its report within nine months.

Reservations for Kapus is easier said than done because of the cap enforced by the Supreme Court. At the fag end of its term in 1994 after which it lost power to the TDP, the Congress government issued vague and imprecise orders for introducing reservations for Kapus.

“I can also issue such orders tomorrow. Will the Kapu leaders take the responsibility if these reservations are struck down by a court or if protests are raised by communities pre-existing in the OBC list? Moreover, how can the government allot Rs.1000 crore for Kapu welfare when it doesn’t have money to pay salaries to its staff”, Naidu said.

‘It’s all lies’

Mudragada retorted that all this was a fabric of lies since the government had spent a whopping Rs. 1400 crore on Pattiseema, a project for diversion of Godavari water into the Krishna basin, and when Naidu was travelling lavishly within India and abroad on chartered jets. “We don’t want to deprive BCs of their quota (29%). We demand reservations from the general category”, he said.

It won’t be long before the conflagration assumes political dimensions as parties begin jockeying to capture the Kapu vote bank. The BJP has kept a distance from the incendiary caste conflicts in coastal Andhra. Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the violence would only harm the Kapus’ cause.

Down and out since voters delivered it a knockout punch in 2014, the Congress will extend support to Mudragada in the hope of revival. It would be interesting to track Jaganmohan Reddy’s moves as he has the most to benefit from the fresh churning in the Kapu community. After Hyderabad, where parties exploited caste divisions to the hilt after Rohith Vemula’s suicide, it is Andhra’s turn now to become the battleground for caste politics.

  • జ్ఞానం అజ్ఞానం

    This issue is the result of simmering discontentment and disillusion. @ncbn made lot of promises that he knew very well are impractical. The kapu community felt cheated/used/deceived as this reservation issue has been long pending and various political parties took advantage to come to power but never fulfilled on their promises.

    On the other hand, @ncbn also resorted to protecting his ministers and party base despite their criminal involvement in various incidents that deteriorated the law & order situation. He demoralized the police and the intelligence wings. He abused democracy with abandon and bulldozed any criticism and the opposition parties. He didn’t leave any chance for the opposition to express public discontentment. Take a look at few issues –
    #Cash4Vote bit.ly/1PM0u3g bit.ly/1QBXkSI
    #Vanajakshi bit.ly/23DR6Jl
    #Rishiteswari bit.ly/1SnkbW3
    #CallMoney sex extortion bit.ly/1TwQocz
    Suicides in a ministers colleges bit.ly/1nzv3lZ

    It is unfortunate that the public has to resort to violence to get their grievances noticed. Ask yourself, how many above issues did the national media report? What are the options left for the public when democracy fails them? Wait for the next elections and vote for another party? What if the other party fails them again? Suffer endlessly and find serenity in the Karma Siddhant?

    The public voice for reservation system overhaul to make it need based is yet another topic which the society didn’t find justification to fight for yet. Do political parties take proactive action and solve it, or does it need enough violence to justify public attention and outcry? It’s anyone’s guess!

  • Shanti

    It is indeed a weak man who, at the start of any violence, first seeks to cast stones at his political opponents without stopping to investigate the facts. His lack of maturity makes him incapable of being an effective mayor let alone the Chief Minister of a newly divided state faced with issues that will impact generations to come. How were people swayed to vote for him? His false banter giving irresponsible promises to gullible masses, he’s resorting to the same irresponsible blame game now instead of doing what a responsible CM would do, order an investigation, bring the issue under control and provide a game plan to end this strife.

  • Chinni

    In the context of CBN’s works that this is more likely to happen in Rayalaseema and not in Costa, not sure why CBN is making this a “Rayalaseema vs Costa” issue, by taking the names of regions explicitly. Isn’t he the CM of whole Andhra ? Cheapest form of politics. This explains why there are more calls from Rayalaseema for separate statehood – this is more because of this chief minister’s divisive and diversionary style of politics and his lies.

    Nothing new though. In the Cash4Vote, he diverted it to state(AP) vs state(Telangana), and went down to the level of publicly saying on n…ational TV that “They police, I have police. They have ICB, I have ICB” .

    Each of his false promises will come back to bite him, and he will use a new cheap tactic out of his pocket for each. He is setting an example, for the future leaders (same party or other party) on how to turn one against the other for personal benefits – and people usually don’t forget these, which will take the society down.

    Shame on this guy.

  • Chinni

    This agitation is happening because common people are frustrated by the fact that CBN did not fulfil his promises. CBN promised 1000 crore per year and reservations for kapu community.
    It looks like the violent incidents are a distraction created by CBN (as Mudragada pointed out), as it only benefits him, and not others. Now, instead of focusing on the issue, he is focusing on the distraction he himself created.

    He is also trying to make it a regional issue, by saying these things happen in Rayalseema, but not in this region.

    This cheap strategy has been used by him in many instances like in the Cash4Vote, where he diverted the issue to state(AP) vs state(Telangana), and went down to the level of publicly saying on national TV that “They police, I have police. They have ICB, I have ICB” showing his abuse of state machinery for his own selfish needs.

    In CallMoney case , where his dear friends were involved abusing women, he distracted it and abused and created chaos in common people who loan small amounts genuinely.
    He promised Job for every home, and there’s none today.
    He promised complete load waiver to farmers, and skipped the majority of people.
    It looks like this guy was born to lie and deceive.

  • animesh

    Excellent article! best analysis of the real issue at hand. It would have been good to also talk about how the future would look. Will be interesting to see the author’s views on this issue going forward.