Caste domination is at heart of political battle between Jagan and Naidu

Though such a bitter hatred between two chief ministerial contenders is not without parallels in the country, what makes Andhra Pradesh's situation different is its social character.

By Jinka Nagaraju  Published on  25 Oct 2021 4:51 AM GMT
Caste domination is at  heart of political battle between Jagan and Naidu

Andhra Pradesh is witnessing an unusual bitterness in politics. The antagonism between the two contenders for power i.e. Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy (YSR Congress) and Leader of Opposition N Chandrababu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party) has become so fierce that one can assume that the time between now and the next Assembly polls would be full of ugly scenes. Employing filthy language, physical attacks, midnight knocks by the police, Deeksha against each other have become the order of the day.

Though such a bitter hatred between two chief ministerial contenders is not without parallels in the country, what makes Andhra Pradesh's situation different is its social character.

The leaders' hatred for each other is rooted in their castes which have been locked in a power struggle for ages. Jagan represents Reddys and while Naidu the Kammas, two land-owning castes that achieved a monopoly of Andhra Politics over the years.

Never in the past has the caste rivalry between Reddys and Kammas been so brazen and reduced to two families represented by two individuals. Given their pincer grasp on politics, it is well-nigh impossible for anybody to wrest the post of chief minister from these two families.

Earlier the battle was fought at the community level. Though the TDP was represented by a single contender such as NTR and Chandrababu Naidu, Congress had never been monopolized by a single family. As the Reddys of Congress fought among themselves for leadership, the caste could not produce a stubborn opponent against first NTR, later Chandrababu Naidu. The TDP flourished.

Though YS Rajasekhar Reddy emerged on the scene as the unquestioned leader in 2004, he also faced uncertainty as the Congress party was somebody else's venture and he had to work at the mercy of the so-called high command. YSR's regime, however, had sown the seeds of family rule for the first time in the history of AP Congress. But, YSR's sudden death changed the fate of the state.

Barring a brief period of YSR, Congress could not give a personalized fight to TDP led by Chandrababu Naidu. This is the reason for the absence of bitterness between TDP and Congress leaders.

But, the bifurcation of the state followed by the demise of Congress brought about a radical change in Andhra Politics. Jaganmohan Reddy, son of YSR, revolting on Congress leadership after his father's death, launched his own party, YSR Congress, and emerged as an independent regional leader like Naidu, heralding a new era in political antagonism.

The rivalry between Jagan and Naidu is not simple lust for power that enables them to control the states' assets worth lakhs of crores of rupees. According to political activist Professor S Simhadri, it is the Reddy-Kamma caste antagonism that is adding fuel to the Jagan-Naidu power struggle.

"The Reddy-Kamma caste fight came to fore at the time Andhra state formation in 1953. Reddys, who were opposed to state formation, relented with great difficulty only after Kunool was chosen as the capital. This disappointed the Kammas who wanted Vijayawada as the capital. Reddys grip over the Congress got further strengthened after the merger of Andhra and Hyderabad states, another disappointment for Kammas.

Kammas had to wait for two and decades till the arrival of TDP to consolidate into a political force. The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 and TDP's win presented Kammas with a great opportunity to strike at Reddys and ensure that the new capital was not located in Rayalaseema, Reddys' stronghold.

Jagan though supported the Amaravati proposal on the floor of the house as Leader of Opposition, could not digest the fact that Amaravati is an alien land for him. After becoming chief minister, the first thing he wanted was to shift the capital out of Kamma lands. He thought dismantling of Amaravati would finish Naidu. But this has become a non-starter. None of his attempts to weaken Naidu politically and financially met with success, resulting in utter confusion in the Jagan's camp. The ongoing fight between Jagan and Naidu is the result of the deep-seated animosity between the two castes they represent," said Prof Simhadri, who was a former teacher of Osmania University.

Reddy-Kamma rivalry forms an interesting aspect of Andhra politics. As they could not contain Reddys' domination, Kammas came out of Congress and waged a battle as socialists and Communists. They could not succeed. Finally, they launched a successful assault on Reddy as TDP in 1983. But, Reddys bounced back and retaliated in 2004. Now, the fight is going on as YSRC versus the Telugu Desam party in its worst form.

Against this backdrop, Jagan's inability to destabilize Telugu Desam Party, despite his unprecedented majority in Assembly, and Naidu's amazing political durability is expected to further vitiate the politics of the state in the future.

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