Renuka in caste crossfire

None | ByPankaj Vohra, New Delhi
Feb 05, 2006 01:57 AM IST

The minister finds herself smack in the middle of a power struggle within the state Cong, writes Pankaj Vohra.

The recent controversy over Union minister Renuka Chowdhury writing to the defence minister against awarding a contract to Denel — a South African firm trying to sell artillery to the Army — seems to have its genesis in the caste war in her home state of Andhra Pradesh.

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The controversy appears to have been generated by vested interests worried about the minister's proximity to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. And according to her supporters, it has the blessings of the powerful Reddy lobby, which is trying to neutralise the influence of the equally powerful Kamma community. Renuka is a Kamma.

First the facts. Renuka didn't write a fresh letter to the defence minister after she assumed office as MoS; she merely forwarded a letter she'd written as MP in the 13th Lok Sabha to the then defence minister, George Fernandes, raising questions about Denel and why a Russian gun was being overlooked.

A letter to a senior ministerial colleague, in any case, doesn't amount to impropriety. And in her case, it was an old letter forwarded to draw the senior colleague's attention to possible anomalies committed during the NDA regime.

But the matter has apparently been blown out of proportion to target her, even when there seems to be no basis. Similar letters were written by other senior Congress functionaries during the tenure of the NDA regime and while forwarding it, Renuka had warned that the Bofors scandal had hurt the Congress and the consideration shown to Denel by the NDA government could do the same to the NDA.

Now, the minister finds herself smack in the middle of a power struggle within the state Congress. What has happened is that the delimitation committee looking into the re-structuring of assembly and Parliament seats in the state has recommended that 22 Kamma-dominated seats be classified as either reserved seats or be totally reorganised, so that the community loses its hold. In the last polls, too, Kamma seats were sought to be given to alliance partners in order to eliminate representatives of the community from the party. The Reddys have the upper hand at present but the Kammas still enjoy considerable influence.

Renuka's supporters plan to serve a notice in this regard to the Election Commission. It is learnt that even Purandeshwari, NTR's daughter who was recently sworn in as MoS and is a Kamma, has complained to the poll panel.

The political reasoning being given by the Reddys is that the Kammas are supporters of Chandrababu Naidu and should be cut down to size. What is being forgotten is that if the Kammas hadn't voted in great numbers for the Congress this time, its victory wouldn't have been so complete.

As for Renuka, the charge is that she being the most prominent Kamma in the Congress (she won from Khamam Lok Sabha seat for the second successive time, a feat no other Congress leader has achieved), she has to be contained. Powerful government functionaries are reportedly briefing the Telugu media with the aim of creating a controversy around the minister, so that she is dropped.

This is allegedly being done at the behest of the Reddy lobby. If this charge is correct, the Congress leadership must sort out this mess before it snowballs into a major inter-caste confrontation in the only southern state dominated by the party.

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