To the layperson it appears to be the proverbial slip between the cup and lip. But the context in which the YSR Congress party president YS Jaganmohan Reddy did the U-turn on the question of BC status for Kapus could well be a pre-planned and well-orchestrated move.
Jagan ruled out the possibility of the Kapus’ demand materialising in case of his party coming to power in the upcoming election. He seemed to be speaking in the same language that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did while turning down the quota demands of Patidars and Gujjars during the Gujarat Assembly elections.
Jagan cited intricacies involved in amending the Schedule-IX of the Constitution to provide immunity to the quota from legal scrutinies and the 50% cap imposed by the Supreme Court on reservations as the reasons for the inability to realise the Kapus’ demand. Unlike Jagan, his rival and Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu sensed which side the wind was blowing and delivered a quota promise to the Kapus in 2014 that ultimately helped him come to power.
Jagan’s statement came at a rally in Jaggampeta during his padayatra in the East Godavari district, a Kapu stronghold with 19 Assembly segments in the state. This also came close on the heels of a big spat between Jagan and actor Pawan Kalyan of Jana Sena Party, that was spiced with personal issues. Pawan seems to be emerging as an icon of the Kapus after he came out of the BJP-TDP fold.
In fact, former minister and Kapu community leader Mudragada Padmanabham patented the demand for a quota for his community by leading a violent protest at Tuni in East Godavari district and has been facing government repression for the last three years. CM Naidu has even labelled him Jagan’s trump card in the past.
Taken by utter surprise by Jagan Reddy’s speech against the quota for Kapus, Mudragada had to shed his hatred for the TDP saying, “Naidu is better than Jagan for that matter.”
Well, why did the opposition leader make such a statement on a caste-sensitive issue with far-reaching implications before the elections? Is he not aware of its after-effects in the Kapu-dominated belts at the time of elections?
According to insiders, the YSRCP leader made his stand clear on the Kapu quota only after a meeting of the party’s core committee and based on suggestions from his political advisers. Understandably, Jagan seems to have come to the conclusion that it was nothing but a wild goose chase if the party continued to placate Kapus for votes.
Discarding Kapus to woo BCs?
The outcome of the previous Assembly election must have strengthened Jagan’s perspective on this. The YSRCP secured only five out of 19 Assembly seats in East Godavari while drawing a blank in West Godavari, both considered strong Kapu bastions. Had he mustered support from this community, he would have had a fair chance of becoming the first CM of bifurcated Andhra Pradesh. The twin Godavari districts alone constitute 34 seats in the 175-seat state Assembly.
Besides, the emergence of a youthful Pawan Kalyan from the community, with the glamour of his film background, as a force to reckon with might make it near impossible for Jagan to gain Kapu votes any longer. Pawan has even managed to eclipse Mudragada in the community. Pawan’s influence is pan-Andhra Pradesh while Mudragada is limited to certain pockets in his native East Godavari district. Interestingly, Pawan remains non-committal on the issue of quota for his community even as the Naidu government threw the ball in the Centre’s court by passing a resolution in the Assembly.
Numbers-wise Kapus are strong in the central parts of coastal Andhra, from East Godavari to Guntur, in such a manner that they can influence the course of elections. But the community, emotional by nature, suffers from certain existential issues to harmoniously fit into the social spectrum, unlike the other dominant communities such as Kammas and Reddys, resulting in conflicts with backward classes and SCs. It’s this lack of harmony with the backward classes that led to the humiliating defeat of Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) founder and Pawan’s brother Chiranjeevi in his native Palacol of West Godavari district, in spite of the fact that his party scored 16.22% of the vote share in the 2009 elections.
Keeping in mind the unpredictability of the Kapus, Jagan appeared to have set the tone for some fresh social engineering with altered caste equations ahead of the elections. He claims to have a sway over Muslim minorities, Scheduled Castes and Christians. If he ensures a turnaround in the BCs in his favour, it may result in success for him, feels his think tank. Introduction of the 4% quota for Muslim minorities during the period of his father, the late YS Rajasekhar Reddy, as the Congress Chief Minister consolidated the Muslim vote bank in his favour and it was further strengthened after the TDP aligned with the BJP.
The quota debate has widened the gulf further between the Kapus and BCs and the rhetoric against Kapu interests will obviously be music to the ears of BCs.