The large scale arson and destruction at Tuni, a major commercial town in the mainly agrarian East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh on 31 January, following a massive congregation of protestors belonging to the Kapu caste, was waiting to happen. So volatile is the situation that the Kapus, who want to be declared as OBCs (Other Backward Classes), even pose a threat to the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party government in the state.
Like other recent stirs by Gujjars in Rajasthan, Jats in Haryana, Patels in Gujarat and Vanniyars in Tamil Nadu for caste quota in jobs and educational opportunities, the Kapus, too, have been fighting for OBC status for the past eight decades, from much before Independence and the formation of united Andhra Pradesh in 1956. The failure of successive governments to resolve the matter and the power games played by different political parties for their narrow gains during elections have turned quotas-for-Kapu into a burning problem in AP. Dormant for years together, this issue erupts in the state and turns violent time and again.
In the latest agitation, the Kapus set fire to 14 bogies of the Ratnachal Express, two police stations and dozens of private and public vehicles in Tuni. Two days after the violence, the police registered around 1,500 cases against 2,000 people.
Mudragada Padmanabham, the 63-year-old maverick Kapu leader, who led the Kapu Garjana at Tuni, has been slapped with 73 criminal cases for instigating the mobs to resort to violence. The former minister, who threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike on this issue from 5 February at his home in Kirlampudi in East Godavari, alleged that it was the TDP workers who were behind the violence.
Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who held a series of meetings with his Cabinet colleagues and leaders of the Kapu community in the past few days, has alleged that forces that wanted to destabilise his government and tarnish the image of AP as an investment destination were behind the Tuni violence.
Naidu, in his video conference with around 8,000 TDP leaders on Tuesday accused the workers of the Opposition YSR Congress, led by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, of orchestrating the violence. “Otherwise, it is impossible for ordinary Kapu activists to set fire to a train and police stations,” Naidu said.
Smelling renewed activity among the Kapus for the past couple of months, Chandrababu Naidu has constituted a commission headed by retired Karnataka HC judge K.L. Manjunatha to sort out the quota issue.
Jagan, of course, denied that he played a role in the violence. He alleged that the violence was the handiwork of Naidu and the local TDP leaders to defame the “Kapu garjana”.
The government is now likely to constitute a probe team to identify the miscreants.
However, the larger question of finding a lasting solution to the Kapus’ main demand of OBC status remains tangled in political, legal and procedural wrangles. Since 1993, three commissions have been constituted for the purpose of deciding whether the Kapus can be included on the list of OBCs; and if so, what was their percentage. However, no one has been able to finish the job.
Interestingly, the Kapus, who include around half-a-dozen smaller sub-castes, enjoy OBC status in Telangana and parts of north-coastal Andhra region. They are treated as a forward community in East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur districts, where they constitute around 25% of the population.
The then Vijayabhaskara Reddy-led Congress government had, for the first time, issued a GO (government order), agreeing in principle to OBC status to Kapus following a massive stir under the aegis of Kapu Nadu, an umbrella organisation of dozens of Kapu outfits. However, the courts struck down the GO as it was not based on any proper social and economic data.
Then, a commission led by retired High Court judge K.S. Putta Swamy was appointed in 1993. It worked until 2004. During these 11 years, the commission toured the state and spent about Rs 20 crore, but failed to come up with any report. Weeks before the commission was wound up, its entire records and files were gutted in a fire in its office. Another commission headed by Dalva Subramaniam was constituted in 2011 to decide the status of the Kapus. But the AP bifurcation process made his functioning uncertain and he left without submitting any report. All this fuelled frustration and dissension among the Kapus over the intentions of successive governments.
Smelling renewed activity among the Kapus for the past couple of months, Chandrababu Naidu has constituted a commission headed by retired Karnataka HC judge K.L. Manjunatha to sort out the quota issue. As Manjunatha assumed office only last week, he cannot be expected to submit a report on this anytime soon.
Naidu told a Kapu delegation on Wednesday that he would ask the Manjunatha commission to submit its report within nine months so that the issue of including Kapus on the OBC list can be finalised. Kapu leaders have insisted on three months for the purpose. However, Justice Manjunatha has ruled out submitting any report within a year.
Opposition from OBCS
The inclusion of Kapus on the OBC list is not that easy. Even if the Naidu government goes for the move, it will face stubborn opposition from OBC leaders. The OBCs think that including Kapus on the list will dilute the existing OBCs’ share in quotas in jobs and educational institutions. Prominent OBC leader R. Krishnaiah told The Sunday Guardian that the OBCs would never agree to any such proposal. “OBC status is applicable only to the castes that suffered social and economic oppression over centuries. But the Kapus are strong both socially and economically,” said the legislator.
Currently, OBCs enjoy 50% quota in jobs and educational institutions in both AP and Telangana. Mudragada Padmanabham, who is spearheading the present agitation, has suggested that Andhra Pradesh can emulate Tamil Nadu’s example of enhancing reservations to over 50% so that the existing OBCs do not get affected.
Perhaps Tamil Nadu is the only state in India where there is 69% caste-based reservation. Naidu is ready to follow the Tamil Nadu example, but he is not sure whether it would stand judicial scrutiny as the Supreme Court in recent times has not allowed quotas to go up beyond a point, officials close to the Chief Minister told this newspaper.
Even if the Naidu government agrees to a Tamil Nadu model and is ready to increase quotas to above 50%, there will be problem as there are many other genuine backward classes that are waiting to be included on the OBC list, and they need that extra quota.
Meanwhile, every prominent Kapu leader in AP, right from mega star and Congress Rajya Sabha member Chiranjeevi, his younger brother—Telugu film star and Jana Sena president—Pawan Kalyan, former Union ministers M.M. Pallam Raju and Dasari Narayana Rao, have all jumped into the fray, demanding the immediate inclusion of Kapus on the OBC list.
Naidu is also finding it difficult to face the pressure from his Cabinet colleagues—Deputy CM N. China Rajappa, Ganta Srinviasa Rao, P. Narayana—and around 25 Kapu MLAs to take an urgent decision on the issue. These Kapu ministers and MLAs, too, are under pressure from the Kapu community to quit their posts if the government fails to act on their demand at once.
As Mudragada Padmanabham is expected to commence his hunger strike soon, the situation is likely to turn volatile in coastal AP. Keeping in view the large-scale arson and destruction that rocked Vijayawada when a prominent Kapu MLA, Vangaveeti Ranga, was murdered in 1988, the top police brass and officials are fearing further trouble in the coming days.