The current political mood in the state of Andhra Pradesh is largely geared against the Centre. Ever since the NDA partners TDP and the BJP had a fallout, all major political outfits are trying, albeit for their own personal gains, to cultivate and sustain this mood.
With each of them challenging the others to set aside their regional differences and fight collectively for the rights of the state, it is clear that the battle against the Centre would be the central issue for the upcoming elections.
But there is one other issue, within the state, which has the potential to impact these elections — the issue of reservations for the Kapu community. With Kapu Nadu leader and former minister Mudragada Padmanabham setting March 31, 2018 as the deadline, the politically and numerically strong community is going to play a decisive role, just like they did in the 2014 elections.
The TDP, in their 2014 election manifesto, promised to include the Kapu community in the list of OBCs. The Kapus constitute 27% of AP’s population and wield substantial influence in close to 42 Assembly constituencies in the East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur districts. Pawan Kalyan, himself belonging to the Kapu community, campaigning for the TDP-BJP combine, played a crucial role in swinging the votes in favour of the TDP in 2014. With the difference in vote share between the TDP and the YSRCP being just 2.06% it is clear that the Kapu vote propelled the TDP into power.
Post victory, the TDP made no concrete efforts to fulfil this promise. Disappointed with the ‘dishonest’ attitude of the TDP, Mudragada Padmanabham called for a Kapu Garjana at Tuni in January 2016. As Mudragada lost control of the menacing 4 lakh strong crowd, they went on a rampage setting a train, police station and police vehicles on fire, and blocking road and rail traffic for several hours.
With pressure mounting, the TDP appointed a three-member commission led by Justice KL Manjunath, an action typical of an indecisive government, under the AP Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993 in February 2016.
Just as the commission was in the throes of submitting its recommendations report, the TDP introduced a bill in the Assembly on December 1, 2017, after claiming that one of the members submitted a report to the government recommending 5% reservations in employment and education. The bill was passed unanimously.
Later that very afternoon, confirming the shadiness involved in the process, Justice Manjunath speaking to the press said: “I am not concerned about what transpired yesterday and the day before yesterday. I am concerned with today’s affair. As per the BC Commission Act, 1993, no single member can submit the report. Even as Chairman, I alone cannot submit the report. It has to be done by all the members. That is the legal procedure”.
Speaking to TNM, film critic turned political critic Kathi Mahesh says: “Leaving aside the shadiness in the whole process, I think, it has given some data to make a case for the proposal to give reservations to the Kapu community. But by subverting this process it clearly seems like the government intends to preserve this issue for the upcoming elections”.
On February 6, 2018, the Central government’s department of personnel and training (DoPT) raised objections regarding Kapu reservation. In its letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the DoPT said that the government of AP has not brought out any facts or grounds to prove that its reservation proposal, which is in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court, merits an exception. They also requested the MHA to withhold the plea for Presidential assent in this case.
“Reservations for the Kapus is not possible. The Supreme Court in more than one judgement has time and again said that the total reservations should not exceed 50%. In fact, the SC did not yield in the cases of both Gujarat (Patidars) and Haryana (Jats), so how can it yield in the case of AP?” asks senior political analyst Prof. K Nageshwar.
This is both bad and good news for the TDP. Bad because Padmanabham, is already blaming the CM of lacking any will and playing with their sentiments. In an open letter written to the CM on February 13, Padmanabham set March 31 as the deadline, before he would resume his protest. And good because the TDP can conveniently push the blame onto the Centre.
“Chandrababu being the shrewd politician that he is, will be waiting for the elections results in the states of Karnataka and Rajasthan, before he completely decides to ‘distrust’ the BJP. Until then such ‘friendship’ drama will continue. Similarly, Padmanabham I think would be waiting until then to get some clarity on where each party stands, vis-a-viv special status and such. Therefore, Padmanabham would be trusting the TDP just as the TDP is trusting the BJP now,” says Mahesh.
In terms of options, Padmanabham cannot easily go with the YSRCP since it would also involve the Centre. Therefore, he can go into discussions with the INC, hoping they would win at the Centre in 2019. But that seems unlikely as of now. Moreover, the alleged role that Pawan Kalyan is playing in terms of softening the blows against the TDP should force Padmanabham to trust the TDP again.
“Pawan Kalyan wields a certain influence. He can poll a minimum of 2000-5000 votes in every constituency, especially in the new votes in the age range of 18-25 years. This vote bank includes both Kapu and Dalit youth who are hardcore fans of the star. This might look like a small number but has the potential to split the votes in favour of the TDP. If you look at the 2014 elections, in almost 39 constituencies YSRCP lost by an average of 2000 votes. Such is the disruptive impact that Pawan Kalyan can have”, adds Mahesh further.
In fact, in his latest open letter to the CM, Padmanabham professed love for Pawan Kalyan by questioning Naidu’s tactics of using Pawan Kalyan as pawn in the fight between the TDP and the BJP. This lends a clue to Padmanabham’s understanding of the hand in glove role that Pawan Kalyan is alleged to be playing for the benefit of the TDP.
Despite the allegation, Pawan Kalyan has made it clear that he would not side with a corrupt leader like Jagan. So, if Padmanabham does find himself in opposition to the TDP and Pawan Kalyan, who clearly has the potential to split the Kapu votes, he and the Kapu community would find themselves in a much weaker state than in 2014.
Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that Padmanabham would go with the YSRCP which would only increase the chances of the TDP winning if they can play the heads-I-win and tails-you-lose game against the BJP in the coming months leading up to the elections.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.