A new political battle-front has opened up for Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu with Kapu Ikya Garjana called by former minister Mudragada Padmanabham, seeking Backward Class (BC) status to Kapus here turning violent this weekend. The sudden turn of events has clearly caught the ruling TDP off-guard as they now struggling put off the flames triggered by an otherwise innocuous meet. Taking a leaf out of the book of the Pattidars in Gujrat and also Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, thousands of Kapus, led by former minister Mudragada Padmanabham, blocked roads and rail traffic between Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada on NH16 for several hours. As part of the protest, several thousands of people stormed the Tuni railway station and blocked the Ratnachal Express. Some of them pelted stones at the train’s engine, overpowered four railways staffers and injured them. Things suddenly got out of hand when the protesters set the train on fire and the passengers hurried out panicking. Police and fire and rescue personnel could not reach the spot on time as the routes to the spots of violence were already blocked by the agitators. The entire area was burning till late in the evening.
The ruling party is now blaming the Kapu leader Padmanabham on whose provocation the protesters run amok. Earlier, addressing Kapu Ikya Garjana that was attended by thousands of Kapus, Mudragada blamed Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu for the backwardness of Kapus, who make 27 per cent of the State’s population. He demanded to know what happened to the TDP chief’s election promises of including Kapus in the backward communities’ list and sanctioning 1,000 crore per year for their development. “He had said he would see to it that Kapus are included in the BC list in six months, but it has been 18 months and there is no development in that direction. It was that delay and reluctance to keep promises that brought all of us here today,” Mudragada said. The speech that turned vitriol when he accused the Naidu government of trying to create obstacles to the meeting by denying, RTC buses interrupting power and drinking water supply, the former minister said, “It is time to confront Naidu. I want you to travel with me and not rest till our goal is achieved. Well, what are the demands of the Kapus and why the delay in implementation what is the electoral calculus?”
Kapus are 27 per cent of the population of AP and are uniformly spread all over the bifurcated State. That makes them politically vital to any party’s victory and they demand inclusion in the list of Backward Classes so that they can access job and education quotas. It is also a fact that the present Chief Minister promised in his party manifesto to extend quotas to them. But other groups already in the BC list who roughly constitute 48 per cent oppose it because their share of the quota would shrink. But conceding the demand of Kapus is likely to trigger a political backlash from the BCs who are against providing reservations to the Kapus as they fear that they would corner all positions in the Panchayat Raj institutions and the central government departments where there is no categorisation of BCs.
A senior Kapu leader this correspondent spoke to said, under the Montague Chelmsford reforms of 1919, Kapus were regarded as BC's duly endorsed by Kaka Kelkar and Dr Ambedkar, but unfortunately the late Chief Minister Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who also became our Nation's president quashed the reservation. In 1993, late CM K Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy announced Kapu status for BCs, issues a government order which BC Welfare Association president R Krishnaiah challenges the GO in High Court which strikes it down terming it unconstitutional. In defense the Chief Minister Shri Chandrbabu Naidu said, he had constituted a panel, headed by former Karnataka High Court judge KL Manjunath, to look into the issue and called for restraint and has allotted Rs 100 crores to its welfare despite poor finances of the state. Kapu community leaders would do well to cooperate, rather than confront and blamed the opposition led by Jagan Mohan Reddy of YSR Congress for provoking the agitation and indulge in Vandalism by anti social elements and countered his rivals with What stopped them to implement the same demand as they were in power from the past decade?
The political /Electoral calculus is very complicated. The Kapu vote is much sought after by the Congress, BJP and YSRC. If the Kapus are brought into the BC list, it might trigger a division of the Backward Class vote, which accounts for about 48 per cent of the population. A fission of the BC vote bank would bring about tectonic changes in AP’s politics. Reservations for BCs are already 50 per cent. Supreme Court has laid down that quota can’t go beyond 50 per cent. If a state passes a resolution and sends it to Parliament and if it included in the ninth schedule of the Constitution, BC quota could go beyond 50 per cent.
The BCs have already made their stand clear that they do not want reservations for Kapus. They are afraid that quota for Kapus would cut into their reservations may trigger another backlash, they perceive if the government fails to get an amendment made to the ninth schedule of the Constitution. Needless to say such a Constitutional amendment is easier said than done. This is precisely the reason, why successive governments have put the intractable issue on the back burner for the last three decades.
Blackmailing governments with violence cannot be condoned in any way, be it in Gujarat, Rajastan or Haryana however justifiable the demands may be. Shri Naidu has the uncanny ability to weather the political storms and survive but again he supported the same agitation while in the opposition. He is now on the firefighting mode dousing flames. When reports last came in he promised to implement and accord BC status on submission of report by Justice Manjunath within six months. A fertile ground for opposition and his rivals and will they stop using reservation system as a gimmick to have a permanent vote bank? Never!
Recalling a write up of a well known political commentator on caste based reservations, he likened these caste based reservations to Indian Railway unreserved compartment. Those on the platform attempt to get in to reach their destinations but those already inside prevent to avoid overcrowding. N Nagaraja Rao