Mudragada Padmanabham was branded everything – from being a maverick to a turncoat – but never a mass leader. Until last Sunday, that is.
In a career spanning four decades, the politician from Andhra Pradesh has switched loyalties several times – from the Janata Party, to Telugu Desam (TDP) and the Congress.
Mudragada, however, never gave up one issue which would one day propel him to the national centre stage – the demand for reservation for his community of Kapus which constitute over a quarter of the state’s population but backward in terms of education and jobs.
Though one of the dominant caste groups exerting electoral influence in the state, the Kapus have always played second fiddle to the Kammas and Reddys who have allegedly wielded political power all the time.
The time of the Kapus, Mudragada feels, has come.
A high school dropout, Mudragada has now invigorated the agitation for education and employment opportunities through inclusion of the Kapus – an agrarian community -- in the backward class category.
The massive turnout of people on Sunday for the Kapu-garjana (Roar of the Kapus) might be surprising as Mudragada, a senior journalist says, was never considered a mass leader.
“Unlike Ramadoss or Vaiko in Tamil Nadu who mobilised the masses on caste and linguistic lines, Mudragada could not emerge as a sole representative of the community,” says Jinka Nagaraju, a senior journalist.
“He suffered political insecurity as he knows he is not a mass leader. That is why he took to political adventurism, confronting those in power with threats of fast-unto-death etc. But for the last 10 years, Mudragada was largely silent,” the political analyst says.
That is until his speech sparked unprecedented violence in Tuni in East Godavari district – his home district - where an express train, two police stations and several vehicles were set afire by the Kapu agitators.
“The Kapu community would never exceed the line I’ve drawn,” Mudragada reportedly claimed.
Between 1988 and 2005, Mudragada is said to have sat on fast on half-a-dozen occasions to press with his demand of reservation. One such fast in 1994 forced the Congress government then to issue the Government Order 30 (facilitating Kapu reservations).
The Kapu leader accuses the TDP -- regarded as a party of the Kammas with whom Kapus share a rivalry -- which came to power later in 1994 of dishonouring the GO.
Mudragada was once a minister in the TDP government under NT Rama Rao in the 1980s and was also the party Lok Sabha MP from Kakinada when Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister.
Now, Mudragada has set a deadline for Naidu to reissue the government order for inclusion of Kapus in the BC list.
“I am committed to obtain reservation for our community and I do not mind giving up my life for the cause,” Mudragada says.
And yet another indefinite fast, the leader says he is prepared to sit on at his house in Kirlampudi from February 5 if his demand is not met by the government.