In Andhra politics, Kapus are a factor no politician, worth his salt, can ignore. Though they may not be able to throw up a leader to lead the state, they can effectively mar the chances of anyone who rubs them on the wrong way.
This has happened in the past and is bound to happen now also, in the wake of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy throwing up his hands in a gesture of helplessness in taking up Kapu reservations issue since it is under the Centre’s purview.
The race for Kapu vote intensifies
When it comes to protection of their interests, Kapus are very emotional and think alike. Though the wounds inflicted on the psyche of the Kapus following the assassination of their leader and Congress MLA VM Ranga Rao (while he was fasting against “fascist rule” of the then chief minister NTR in Vijayawada, a day after Christmas in 1988) have healed, the scars remain even today.
His assassination drove a wedge between Kapus and Kammas so deeply that the differences remain sharply defined even today and this has been dictating the outcome of elections in Andhra Pradesh ever since. The look of of Vijayawada may have changed, and the once desolate stretch of Mahatma Gandhi Road may have become a street bustling with round- the- clock business activity.
The embers of hatred, however, continue to burn in the hearts of Kapus and Kammas. If Ranga’s assassination polarised Kapus, the mayhem that followed, resulting in more than 40 deaths and destruction of property worth more than Rs.100 crore, brought Kammas together. The fallout of the assassination turned Vijayawada unipolar with Kammas gaining an upper hand over Kapus.
This hatred for Kammas which happens to be a ruling class alternated with another class Reddys. There was no leader from among Kapus who could emerge as a state leader. Whenever a leader is born among Kapus, he is quickly branded as Kapu leader. When actor Chiranjeevi entered the fray ahead of 2009 elections, Kapus quickly owned him, not knowing that they were doing a disservice to him since a leader, unless he grows beyond the strait jacket of caste, he would not become acceptable to others and for one to lead the state, one should have a pan-caste appeal.
Now they have another leader in Pawan Kalyan but he too is now being seen as only a Kapu leader and not a state leader, so much so, he would remain a king maker but not become a king himself. As the population of Kapus and the allied castes is estimated to be about 24 per cent of the total population of the state, they are a powerful group. That is the reason why the leaders of both the Congress and Telugu Desam always handle them with kid gloves Ever since Naidu took over as the Chief Minister of the state in 2014, he had been conscious of the fact that he cannot ignore Kapus, a community which is not comfortable with the Telugu Desam Party because of the historical reasons.
He is also aware of the fact late YS Rajasekhar Reddy had bequeathed a large chunk of Kapus to his son Jagan Mohan Reddy. Late Rajasekhar Reddy built Kapu vote bank assiduously, going to their support immediately after Ranga’s assassination and providing much needed moral support to them. One of Naidu’s tasks is to wean them away from Jagan Mohan Reddy’s hold.
Naidu knows very well that whenever he says something to please Kapus, he is running the risk of antagonising BCs who happen to be the bulwark of the Telugu Desam Party. The BCs are emotionally involved with the TDP after NTR promoted them in politics during his life time and now a large chunk are quite well off and have recognition in society. That is why whenever the Kapu reservation issue comes up, he is very cautious as though he is walking on egg shells. That is because he knows the importance of the Kapus in an election as BCs’ support alone is not just enough.
Then there is the Pawan Kalyan factor this time. He has been quickly owned by the Kapu community and the youth have a lot of admiration for him. It is believed that Kapus for the first time split into two blocks in 2009, one supporting Rajasekhar Reddy and the other Chiranjeevi with the result that Rajasekhar Reddy had wafer thin majority in 2009 elections.
It is now believed that most of Chiranjeevi’s supporters are with Pawan Kalyan and with Jagan Mohan Reddy’s recent faux paus on Kapu reservations, appears to have made the Kapus who are on YSRC’s side too beginning to look at Pawan Kalyan. The Kapu youth are angry with Jagan Mahan Reddy for his comments on Pawan Kalyan’s personal life and when he said he cannot take up Kapu reservation issue later since it is under the purview of the centre, the die seemed to have been cast for the Kapus to rally behind Pawan Kalyan.
It is very well known that Naidu is more politically suave than Jagan Mohan Reddy since he does not offend any section the way Jagan Mohan Reddy did with regard to Kapus. This probably is the reason why Kapu patriarch Mudragada Padmanabham said that as far as Kapu reservations are concerned, it appears Naidu has more commitment to the cause than Jagan Mohan Reddy.
This is on account of the fact that Naidu had, at least, done something, like constituting a commission for Kapus, passing a bill providing five per cent reservation after including them among the BCs and then sending it to Delhi for inclusion in the ninth schedule of the Indian Constitution so that courts cannot review the decision which pushes up reservation percentage in AP beyond 50.
At the moment, Pawan Kalyan factor is very strong in politics and it remains to be seen if Kapus would move towards Pawan Kalyan or to Chandrababu Naidu as it appears there is no way they would trust Jagan Mohan Reddy though he denied saying he cannot take up Kapu reservation issue. Though it is believed that the BJP is facilitating an alliance between Jagan Mohan Reddy and Pawan Kalyan to win a majority number of Assembly seats but Jagan Mohan Reddy, by setting a cat among the pigeons, seems to have queered the pitch for himself in his anxiety to project himself as a leader who does not make promises which are difficult to implement.
Politics is a strange game. Jagan Mohan Reddy may have committed harakiri by making the ground fertile for friendship to blossom once again between Naidu and Pawan Kalyan. Naidu is very harsh when it comes to attacking Jagan Mohan Reddy but he always ducks out when it comes to cornering Pawan Kalyan. He knows that “until the game is over, the game is not over” and anything could happen anytime.