Opinion
Jagan had accused the Naidu government of resorting to caste prejudice and cronyism to patronise their own community, triggering electoral mobilisation on caste lines.

In Andhra Pradesh, Mandal politics has come into play. Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has claimed to have ensured inclusiveness and social justice in creating his 25-member cabinet. But in reality, it is laced with populism. In an unprecedented move, five Deputy Chief ministers – one each from Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Kapus and Muslim Minorities – were sworn-in.

A handout released by the ruling YSRCP ahead of the swearing-in ceremony held on Saturday said a lion’s share of seven berths in the cabinet went to BCs who constitute close to 50% of the state’s population, followed by five berths for SCs, one for STs, four for Kapus and one each for Kshatriyas and Vaisyas.

What did not go unnoticed was the trumping of Kammas, the community that identifies Jagan’s bête noir Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) as its icon. Kammas received just one berth in the cabinet, whereas over five were accommodated from Jagan’s Reddy community, including Jagan himself. The Reddy population declined by 0.5% after the state bifurcation. In contrast, Naidu had four Reddys in his cabinet during 2014-19.

Kammas play second fiddle

The Kammas regard former chief minister NT Rama Rao, TDP founder and matinee mogul, and his successor Naidu as their community icons. The community had thus acquired a ruling class status since the launch of the party in 1983. The Naidu government was accused by Jagan of having resorted to caste prejudice and cronyism to patronise their own community, triggering electoral mobilisation on caste lines.

As the leader of the opposition, Jagan petitioned the Chief Election Commission (CEC) of India and Telangana/Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan, alleging that Naidu had shown undue favour to his own community in promotions and postings in the police and other departments.

Kammas as a ruling community earned the antipathy of other social groups. This is one of the major reasons that triggered anti-incumbency against the Naidu government leading to its downfall in the 2019 elections. The community, endowed with wealth and resources, has been engaged in a traditional rivalry with the emotive and numerically dominant Kapus in coastal Andhra region since the killing of the community icon Vangaveeti Mohan Ranga in Vijayawada in December 1988.

Jagan takes after his father, YSR

A shrewd Rajasekhar Reddy, as president of the AP Congress Committee, then backed Ranga and groomed him as a potential leader to use the caste divide to his advantage. This helped YSR build an invincible caste coalition involving Kapus, SCs and the other social groups under his leadership to unseat Naidu in 2004.

Soon after coming to power, YSR, in a calculated move, attempted to further consolidate the caste coalition in his favour by targeting Kamma business and media tycoons like Ch. Ramoji Rao of the Eenadu group.

Power battle

The post-Independence period in Andhra Pradesh saw a turf war for power between Reddys and Kammas. The power battle went on within the Indian National Congress between Kammas represented by NG Ranga and Reddys led by leaders like Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and Kasu Bramhananda Reddy. After failing to take on the Reddy dominance in the Congress, Kammas embraced left-wing politics.

2019 polls: Shift in caste dynamics

The elections in Andhra Pradesh witnessed a shift in caste mobilisation. Backward classes were long considered the backbone of the TDP. But Jagan made a dent in the TDP’s vote bank by taking away 60% of the BC vote, thanks to Kapu-BC conflict over Kapu quota. Similarly, 50% of Kapus who voted for TDP in 2014 also changed their voting preferences in favour of Jagan this time, said E Venkatesu, a political analyst from the University of Hyderabad.

The erosion of TDP’s voter base as a result of its alienation from different social groups is attributed to allegations of caste-preferences of the Naidu government in favour of his community. Like his father, Jagan has sought to build a broad caste coalition minus Kammas to continue his winning streak in 2024 as he did in the current elections.

Trumping of the Kamma community in the cabinet formation came as no surprise in the wake of fears in a section of Kammas who had affiliations to the TDP over reprisals from the Jagan government.

Speaking with TNM, YSRCP leader Kurasala Kanna Babu, who was sworn in as a cabinet minister, however, brushed aside all such apprehensions, saying Jagan’s cabinet is all-inclusive representing every social group, unlike the one headed by Naidu.

The TDP government was devoid of a tribal minister throughout Naidu’s five-year term. Muslims had no representation in his cabinet for more than five years. These groups were denied representation since they did not back the TDP in the 2014 elections, Kanna Babu said.

Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states. Views expressed are the author’s own.