In what could be an electorally significant move, the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, on Saturday, passed a bill providing a 5% reservation quota to the Kapu community in education and public employment. The passage of the bill comes nearly 20 months after the Manjunath Commission had been set up in February 2016 to look into the demand.
Significantly, the Assembly’s nod to the quota comes just days before the December 6 deadline specified by Kapu leader Mudragada Padmanabham for the Chandrababu Naidu government to sort out the issue.
Despite the long delay in bringing about the passage of the bill, political observers say, CM Naidu has stolen a march on his opponents by pushing it through at this juncture.
After all, says senior political analyst Telakapalli Ravi, the Kapu vote drawn to the TDP thanks to its alliance with actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan and the BJP significantly helped the party to victory in 2014. While the TDP had won with a margin of just 2.06% in vote share, he observes, the Kapu community comprises a very significant 27% of Andhra Pradesh’s five crore population.
Of course, reservations for the Kapu community are not yet a reality, since the new 5% quote pushes the total quantum of reservations in the state to over the 50% ceiling mandated by the Supreme Court in 1992 in the Indira Sawhney case. For the bill to have legal validity, it must now be included in Schedule 9 of the Constitution, as has been done in the case of Tamil Nadu, which has 69% reservations.
However, says Ravi, despite the technical obstacles standing in the way of the quota, the TDP is already in a position to reap benefits from it. "This can become a new rallying point in Andhra politics, as despite the technical procedure, the TDP can claim that they have done their part," he says.
More than the passage of the bill, adds Ravi, the timing of it has worked to the TDP’s advantage. Coming as it does at a time when the Opposition YSRCP has been boycotting Assembly sessions over the lack of action against defectors, the TDP does not have to share the credit for the reservation bill.
"This could be a major hit. The ruling party will now claim that this was their leader’s sop and the YSRCP has no stake in it," says Ravi.
Indeed, indicating the shift in fortunes, Kapu leader Mudragada told Telugu news channels after the passage of the bill that he was hurt by comments from TDP men that he was being backed by YSRCP YS Jaganmohan Reddy or others.
However, Mudragada also said that he intends to continue his fight until all the legal hurdles in the way of the reservation bill are resolved. He also argued that 5% was too small quantum of reservation for the numerically large Kapu community.
“The CM has offered us breakfast while saying that he will offer us meals," Mudragada told media persons.
However, not all political observers see such a large effect emerging from the passage of the reservation bill. Senior journalist K Nageshwar, for instance, says, “It is true that there was a lot of anger in the Kapu community towards Chandrababu Naidu for not addressing their cause at the earliest. But the passage of the bill does not mean that their anger will immediately turn into favour.”
With a long road left to the next elections, he adds, it would be too early to draw any conclusions on electoral fortunes from a single issue or single factor.
Rather than seeing a major boost to the TDP, says Nageshwar, the bill must be seen as a way for the TDP to avoid erosion in its current levels of popularity. "If the government had failed to pass the bill or had not taken the decision to push it through, then it would have been cornered. Now, Naidu can at least claim that he has done his part," he says.