Taking inspiration from the Jallikattu protest in Tamil Nadu, the youth, or shall we say a certain section of the youth in Andhra Pradesh, decided to conduct a silent protest on Republic Day at Ramakrishna Beach in Visakhapatnam. They emulated the method of mobilisation too from their Tamil brethren. Actor and Janasena Party chief Pawan Kalyan along with some other actors from the Telugu Film Industry tweeted their support for the protest. The protesters were demanding Special Category Status (SCS) to the state promised by the Centre and which was the key election plank on which Chandrababu Naidu and his Telugu Desam Party were voted to power in 2014.
The Centre made a U-turn when finance minister Arun Jaitley announced a few months ago that instead of a SCS it would give a ‘Special Package’ to the state. Seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, Naidu came back a disappointed man from New Delhi. He and his legislators-businessmen then started doing what they know best — ‘promote’ the ‘package’ as a better ‘deal’ than the SCS. Now it is unnecessary to go into the details as to which of the two deals would serve the interests of the state, or more importantly the majority section who are the poor of the state, better. But it is important to understand who benefits irrespective of what the deal is: The one simple answer: these very same legislators-businessmen of the ruling party and ‘their’ people usually from the same community. And this can clearly be seen in some of the reactions to the #APdemandsSCS protest.
As soon as the mobilisation for the protest gained momentum, the police descended onto Visakhapatnam. Section 144 of the IPC was enforced on the beach road and areas leading to it. Naidu in a hurried press conference warned students and their parents not to participate and encourage participation in this protest. He labelled it the handiwork of the opposition for ‘misleading the youth’. He even questioned the efficacy of such silent and candlelight-style protests. TDP’s Union Minister Y Sujana Chowdary mocked the protest saying if the protesters were not satisfied with jallikattu protests, they could take part in pig fight competitions. So much for being a suave Union Minister. But the one question is if the protest is for a cause which will bring benefit to the state, why is the ruling government reacting in such an extreme and caustic manner? Two reasons:
First, with the CII summit on the lines of Vibrant Gujarat being held in Visakhapatnam on Friday and Saturday, Naidu, or the CEO of AP as he is often called, does not want the investors to feel that after all, it is ‘not so easy to do business’ in the state; this protest would create a ‘bad image’ for the state he said in the press conference. Whatever the efficiency of these investment projects, the one important aspect is that these investments are the business of the businessmen who, more often than not, are either closely linked or want to be closely linked to the ruling party; be it the Congress or the TDP. This is the only reason which explains all those defections from the opposition party to the ruling party, both in AP and Telangana.
Everybody wants to be on the money train especially when the crumbs of international finance capital are up for grabs. These cold calculations about cutting ‘deals’ with the centre and ‘packaging’ these deals as development, are befitting of a legislator-businessman nexus, led by the invisible hand. But when that very invisible hand over a period of time uplifts others who start demanding a better ‘deal’ in sharing the spoils of state power, then panic sets in. And the ruling party sees conspiracy everywhere.
Second, it is no secret that the kapus, the poorer cousins of the dominant kamma community, have been agitating for inclusion into the OBC list and a larger share in the distribution of resources and political power in the state. With Pawan Kalyan, who himself is a kapu, although he never called himself a kapu leader, giving vociferous support to the kapu demand and now this protest movement in Visakhapatnam and YSRCP conveniently attaching itself to the protest, it makes it less of a student/youth protest. Hence every move towards this will seem like a direct attack and conspiracy against the TDP which is the vanguard of the kamma community. In this heavyweight fight for political and economic power it is both the unequal access to these resources and also the actual working out of these inequalities that will determine the future of the state.
Which brings us to the big forgotten message of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. It’s worth reading in Smith’s own words: “the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the masters of mankind…” But when most legislators in AP, including ministers like Ganta Srinivas Raos, Sujana Chowdarys, P Narayanas, and so on, also big businessmen are indeed the masters, it is anything but foolish to expect principled politics. And as long as this trend continues, politics in AP will continue to be all about cold calculations, conspiracies, mudslinging, shameless mockery and so on. And no visible or invisible hand can stop this downward spiral.
(The views expressed by the author are personal.)