“Politics is maybe in your diet, but it is in my blood. State politics was born in my house. If I enter the field, who can confront me?”
These lines, uttered by popular actor-politician Nandamuri Balakrishna in a scene from the movie Legend, perhaps best symbolise the politics prevalent in Andhra Pradesh, where several dynasties rule the roost to this day.
Across the state, one could pick any district and there would emerge the name of at least one prominent family. Whether it is the KE and Kotla families in Dhone and Pattikonda constituencies of Kurnool district or the Vangaveeti and Devineni families that have been feuding across several years in Vijayawada, dynasties are intrinsically linked to politics in the state and they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
Even in the latest candidate lists released by the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the opposition YSRCP, many second generation and third generation politicians were announced, including Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh and Jagan’s cousin YS Avinash. Actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party was perhaps the only exception, but even that changed with the entry of his brother, Naga Babu, who was given the Narasapuram MP ticket.
The dynasties wield power and often carry a lot of clout with their aides having a foot in all fields, as contractors, businessman, brokers, etc.
As for the lines from Legend, while one may argue that it is mouthed by a fictitious character, Balakrishna, who is the son of former chief minister NT Rama Rao and a sitting TDP MLA from Hindupur, seems to agree with the dialogue. “We are different. Our blood is different, our breed is different. We have sustainability (in politics),” he said in an interview when asked about the Nandamuri family in politics.
Writer-activist Prof Kancha Ilaiah calls this phenomenon the “Indian model of political democracy”.
“Politics in India, and more specifically Andhra Pradesh, sees capital, caste and dynasty go hand in hand. The politicians are fully prepared and ready to bring their off spring into the political domain as successors even as they are active,” he says.
“These were never parties for the people but parties for a family. Going by that principle, they have to accommodate their own family members as well as other dynasties as well,” he adds.
The families also continue to function with impunity, irrespective of the party they are in.
In Kurnool, the politics of Nandyal and Allagadda constituencies have traditionally revolved around the Bhuma, Silpa and Gangula families.
Allagadda MLA Bhuma Akhila Priya, daughter of late politician Bhuma Nagireddy, is currently the youngest minister in the Chandrababu Naidu Cabinet. She is also a third-generation politician. Akhila and her father were elected on a YSRCP ticket but defected to the TDP. Following the death of her father, she lobbied hard within the party and ensured that Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy, her cousin, not only bagged the Nandyal ticket but also managed to secure the seat.
Brahmananda was up against Silpa Chandra Mohan Reddy, another member from a prominent family, who had defected to the YSRCP from the TDP after being denied the Nandyal ticket. Despite his loss, Mohan Reddy’s son Silpa Ravichandra Kishore Reddy was given the Nandyal ticket by the YSRCP for the April 11 elections, along with another family member, Silpa Chakrapani Reddy, being allotted the Srisailam seat.
Left: Naidu with Bhuma Akhila and Brahmananda; Right: Jagan with Silpa Mohan
Additionally, like those in her family before her, Akhila is now confronting another third-generation politician, Gangula Brijendra Reddy, for Allagadda.
The rise of dynasties
Professor Haragopal, a senior academic and a prominent activist, says that the phenomenon of dynasty politics has been prevalent in the state’s politics since independence.
Scholars also point out that the success of the Green Revolution, mainly in the Krishna-Godavari basin, saw a rapid change that led to land-owning communities like the Kammas and Reddys amassing surplus wealth, which, in turn, needed to be channelled somewhere.
The surplus wealth was routed into other sectors with some members of a family investing in cinema, real estate, liquor trade, education and health, even as other members of the same family entered the political ring.
“These dynasty politics are rooted in structural concentration of wealth. Everything is channelised through their social capital. As a result, electioneering also became an expensive affair, which would eliminate any alternative that could emerge,” Prof Haragopal says.
He also observes that in the 1980s, there was a significance change in the political class with NTR launching the TDP and new faces emerging.
“Down the decades since then, NTR’s own party itself has become an example of a family party as his son-in-law, sons and grandson control the upper echelons of the party,” Prof Haragopal notes.
So why do people continue to vote for these politicians?
“People are exhausted by the policies of successive governments and they look out for their survival, as they don’t have the resources to confront these families. As a result, they peg their hopes on the families, hoping to see some development or populist welfare schemes that could benefit them,” Prof Ilaiah says.
Observers also point out that there is no legal or judicial prohibition in the Constitution that bars multiple members of a single family from contesting, as long as they are elected by the people at the end of the day.
“The families did not allow any alternative to emerge because power is concentrated in the hands of a few. Change can happen when there is a serious mass movement, which will bring alternative leaders into the fold. Absence of mass movements will continue giving space to the established politicians allowing them to consolidate power and continue to rule,” Prof Haragopal says.