Andhra Pradesh: Caste politics takes centre stage as assembly, LS polls approach | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Andhra Pradesh: Caste politics takes centre stage as assembly, LS polls approach

By, Hyderabad
Jan 30, 2024 09:22 AM IST

The caste politics in Andhra Pradesh has intensified ahead of the state assembly and Lok Sabha elections, with major parties trying to appease various caste groups. The ruling YSR Congress Party is targeting Dalits, while the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is focusing on the OBCs. The TDP has also formed an alliance with the Jana Sena Party to attract Kapu votes. The Kapus, a politically influential community, have been attempting to gain political power in the state.

Ahead of the state assembly and Lok Sabha elections, both scheduled to be held in April-May, the caste politics in Andhra Pradesh has taken up the centre stage once again, with two major contenders — ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP)-Jana Sena — going all out to appease various caste groups in the state, people familiar with the matter said.

Voters stand in queue to cast their votes at a polling booth in Jubilee Hills of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. (HT Photo)
Voters stand in queue to cast their votes at a polling booth in Jubilee Hills of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. (HT Photo)

While the chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP is said to have the backing of the predominant Reddy community, the TDP headed by former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu has been a traditional Kamma-dominated party. On the other hand, the Jana Sena Party (JSP), founded by renowned actor Pawan Kalyan, is backed by the Kapus, a politically predominant community in the state’s coastal areas.

According to people familiar with the matter, YSRCP, however, is banking on the vote bank of Dalits through a slew of welfare schemes and programmes, most of which are targeted at luring these sections.

“Nearly 66% of the cabinet berths have been given to the SC, ST, OBC and minorities. Besides, assembly speaker, legislative council chairman, nine zilla parishad chairperson, 58 municipal chairpersons, 79 municipal corporation chairpersons, four Rajya Sabha members and 117 market committee chairpersons are all from these sections,” Jagan had claimed, while addressing Samajika Samatha Sankalpa Sabha (a rally to take a resolve to achieve social justice) at Vijayawada, before unveiling the statue of BR Ambedkar on January 19.

He further said that his government had ushered in social justice by allotting 50% of the nominated posts and contracts for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities through a special law. Even 80% of the jobs of village and ward volunteers were given to these sections, he pointed out.

While the inauguration of the giant Ambedkar statue weeks before the assembly elections was aimed at attracting the Dalits, the 10-day long caste survey that concluded on Sunday all over the state is an attempt to woo the OBCs.

State backward classes welfare minister Ch Srinivasa Venugopala Krishna said: “The survey will help identify the actual percentage of the OBCs so that the benefits of the welfare schemes will reach the real beneficiaries”.

The Jagan government also launched “Samajika Sadhikara Yatra” (social empowerment tour) in the last week of October in which the YSRCP ministers and MLAs took part in a big way by undertaking bus yatras across length and breadth of the state to attract the Dalits, STs and OBCs by explaining the initiatives taken up by the government. The yatras concluded in the first week of January.

On the other hand, the TDP, along with its alliance partner JSP, has been undertaking “Jayaho BC” (Hail OBCs) campaign since January 4 all over the state to attract the BCs. The party leaders have been conducting meetings and rallies in every district.

“We want to create awareness among the OBCs how the Jagan government has been hoodwinking them in the name of welfare schemes, while looting their hard-earned money by increasing prices of all commodities, including liquor,” Chandrababu Naidu told reporters while launching the programme.

Kapu votes turn crucial

While trying to win back the confidence of the OBCs, the TDP, this time, is trying hard to attract Kapu votes by forging an alliance with the JSP. Kapus are a community of land-owning cultivators and are one of the dominant castes of Andhra Pradesh, generally affiliated to like Balijas, Telagas and Ontaris, constitute 15.2% of the total population in the state. While they are spread all over the state, East and West Godavari districts are considered as strongholds of the Kapus.

Though in the past, the Kapus had voted in favour of the Congress due to their traditional rivalry with the Kammas, who account for 4.8% of the total population, they have been making attempts to gain political power in the state, according to official data. In 2008, there was such an attempt when prominent Telugu film actor Chiranjeevi floated Praja Rajyam Party.

But the Praja Rajyam Party could only win 18 out of 294 assembly seats and got 17.5% vote share. Chiranjeevi could not sustain the party for long and merged it with the Congress in February 2011.

There was yet another opportunity for Kapus to show their power when his younger brother Pawan Kalyan floated Jana Sena Party in 2014, but he did not contest the elections but supported the BJP-TDP combine.

In the 2019 elections, however, Jana Sena contested in alliance with the Left and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) but failed to make any impact. It could win only one MLA seat with a vote share of only 5.54%.

“Pawan Kalyan was inconsistent on his stand and did not appear to be a serious contender. As a result, the Kapus voted largely in favour of the YSRCP led by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, which won 27 out of 34 seats in East and West Godavari districts. Kalyan himself lost in the Kapu-dominated constituencies like Bhimavaram and Gajuwaka,” political analyst Mallu Rajesh said.

Now, the Kapus have got a third opportunity to come to power, but Kalyan is not confident that he, alone, has the capacity to pull down the Jagan Mohan Reddy government. So, he joined hands with the TDP and is bargaining for a good percentage of votes.

“Though there is a resentment among the Kapus on the alliance between Kalyan’s JSP and the TDP, they have no other option but to support the alliance, as they know that if Jagan is allowed to come to power, the political power to Kapus will remain a distant dream,” Rajesh added.

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