A State Of Flux
- Dominant castes Reddys and Kammas form 8 per cent and 4-5 per cent of the population in present-day Andhra Pradesh
- United Andhra makes Reddys stronger because they are split between the Andhra and Telangana regions. Feudal dominance continues in Telangana.
- Kammas want a united AP as business interests in cinema, industry, IT, real estate lie in Hyderabad, which is in Telangana
- United AP must for Reddy dominance: division will split their social base, reduce them politically
- In a divided state, the regions will throw up new influential political groups. In Andhra, Kapus (10-15%) and Malas (15-20%); in Telangana: Velamas (8%), Madigas (20%), Malas (15%).
- In a separate Andhra state, Reddy and Kamma CMs will get replaced by either Kapu (Chiranjeevi) or a Mala (Panabaka Laxmi/J.D. Seelam). In Telangana, it could be a Velama Dora (KCR) with Madiga dy CM.
The Congress chief minister in Andhra Pradesh, N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, hasn’t shown the grace and political acumen of, say, a Digvijay Singh. As the then incumbent Congress chief minister, he presided over the seamless and fuss-free division of the biggest state India has seen—the original Madhya Pradesh—to create Chhattisgarh in 2000. Contrast this with Kiran Reddy’s response to a near-identical circumstance. But everything else aside, there is one under-appreciated fact: Kiran’s open resistance to the creation of a new Telangana state embodies the historical arrogance of a community that has ruled over the Telugu-speaking people for several decades. Indeed, his politics is nothing but an attempt to prolong the ‘Reddy rule’ of Andhra Pradesh.
The state of Andhra Pradesh, as we see it on the map today, was created through the merger of two regions with distinct identities. History, and the benefit of hindsight, throws light upon what was essentially a Reddy project to merge the Hyderabad state and the Andhra state in 1956. (Interestingly, the Reddys were not even enumerated as a separate caste in the 1931 census.)
Starting with B. Gopala Reddy in 1956, for the next few decades seven out of 10 times it was a Reddy who took oath as the chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh till N.T. Rama Rao, a Kamma, stormed to power in 1983. During these 27 years, the Reddys effectively managed to oust D. Sanjivayya, the country’s first Dalit CM (1960-62) and also P.V. Narasimha Rao, a Brahmin (1971-73). J. Vengal Rao, from the land-owning Velama Dora caste of Telangana, was the sole exception—the only non-Reddy allowed to complete his term. Only to be replaced in 1978 by Marri Chenna Reddy—who indeed came to power, not to forget, riding on a separate Telangana plank.
The Reddy domination in the Congress was so complete that the CMs’ list till 1983 is a ready-reckoner for the community: Bezawada Gopala Reddy, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, Tanguturi Anjaiah, Bhavanam Venkatarami Reddy and Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy. No other caste could even aspire to a leadership role within the Congress party.
In fact, it took matinee idol NTR and his ‘Telugu aatmagauravam’ idea to break this unnatural stranglehold of just one community over an entire state, his Telugu Desam Party vehicles carrying the land-owning, entrepreneur Kamma caste to power. But the Congress still retained its Reddy leadership to take him on. When the Congress defeated NTR in 1989, it was again the Reddys ruling the roost: M. Chenna Reddy (1989-90); N. Janardhana Reddy (1990-92) and K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy (1992-94) till the TDP came back to power in 1994. The decade-long TDP rule after that was disrupted only by another Reddy of the Congress, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. YSR, like Chenna Reddy, again made the false promise of Telangana to win votes and become CM in 2004.
Meanwhile, the continuous churn in society led to the emergence of an OBC caste, the Kapus. One sign of the arrival of this social bloc in politics came in the fleeting existence of the Praja Rajyam Party, built around the appeal of the popular Telugu movie star, Chiranjeevi. The party, attracting Kapus in droves, debuted in the 2009 elections. But as it turned out, it could only absorb the anti-incumbency votes against Rajasekhara Reddy, paving the way for his re-election in a triangular contest. And so, unfortunately, the Kapu emergence again only worked to the benefit of the Reddys.
After YSR’s death in a helicopter crash in 2009, the community’s demand was that Jaganmohan, his son, be installed as CM. When the Congress chose their most experienced minister in the government, K. Rosaiah (a Bania), as CM, Jagan resigned from the party in November 2010 and formed a new party taking his father’s name. Quickly, a panicky Congress fell back upon the Reddys and installed N. Kiran Kumar Reddy as CM. To balance the fallout, the party high command also got Chiranjeevi to merge his party with the Congress.
When the Congress eventually decided to implement its election promise of 2004 and create a separate Telangana state, little did it realise that the current CM would be no different from YSR in trying to stall the process. Kiran Reddy has in fact raised a banner of rebellion, opposing the decision of the Congress leadership. Meanwhile, Jagan Reddy, fresh out of jail after a 16-month-long incarceration, too has pitched in for an undivided Andhra Pradesh. His party has even started negotiating with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has always been a Telangana supporter.
With everyone trying to get their two pennies’ worth, the other dominant caste, the Kammas, too have decided they don’t want a separate state (they have been sharing power with the Reddys all along). They have been citing Hyderabad city as a bone of contention. As for the TDP under Chandrababu Naidu, they did a flip-flop on Telangana only to later oppose the division of the state.
Any change in geographical boundaries of the state will upset the territorial dominance of Reddys. Though Kamma dominance is restricted to just the Andhra region, it has economic interests in Hyderabad city. The rest of the castes are not really bothered about the outcome, for their lot is to be ruled by either the Reddys or the Kammas. This scenario of caste dominance and power can possibly be changed only by the emergence of a separate Telangana and Andhra states which will unsettle the caste equations and give rise to new democratic forces.
(Mallepalli Laxmaiah is a senior journalist and co-chair of the Telangana Joint Action Committee )