Jagan Looks to Outsmart Chandrababu Naidu With Caste Gambit

In the run-up to the 2014 elections, YS Jaganmohan Reddy refused to promise a loan waiver for the farmers of Andhra Pradesh. His argument was that writing off loans worth Rs 87,612 crore would put an enormous burden on the exchequer of the bifurcated state of Andhra that was taking guard with a Rs 15900 crore revenue deficit. Many felt Chandrababu Naidu’s promise to do so, played a part in wooing the agrarian voter, helping him come to power after a decade in the opposition.

The question that arises now is whether Jagan is making a similar mistake once again. During his padyatra that he embarked on in November 2017 and is likely to reach the tip of north coastal Andhra Pradesh sometime this September, Jagan initially said he won’t give reservations for Kapus. That he announced this while touring east Godavari district which has a significant Kapu population and has seen agitations demanding a quota, meant Jagan came under instant attack for not announcing a palliative.

Naidu on the other hand, has announced a 5 per cent reservation for the community that has a 27 per cent population in Andhra. It was a smart political move because the decision needs the concurrence of the Centre. Naidu’s plan was to blame the BJP for obstructing his decision, even though he knew it exceeded the 50 per cent ceiling imposed by the Supreme Court, taking the quota to 55 per cent.

Facing a backlash from Kapu community leaders, Jagan tried to modify his position. The Leader of the Opposition in the Andhra Assembly said that he was only pointing out the unrealistic nature of Naidu’s promise. The real reason is that Jagan does not wish to woo the Kapus at the cost of antagonising his core backward class (BCs) votebank.

Jagan’s political calculation is two-fold. The YSRC knows that there is a race for the Kapu vote between Naidu’s TDP, riding on its legislation to give 5 per cent quota and actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena. Pawan is a Kapu himself and like it happened with his elder brother Chiranjeevi in 2009, the community may rally to an extent behind the actor-turned-politician. The YSRC points out that in 2009, Chiranjeevi despite picking up the Kapu votes in Palacole Assembly constituency in West Godavari district, lost from the seat that had a significant presence of his community.

Jagan thinks it makes little sense to chase the Kapu votes at the risk of losing its core backward class votebank, which enjoys 25 per cent reservation now. Another 4 per cent reservation is given to the backward Muslim communities. The YSRC also believes that the Kapu vote may get split between Pawan and Naidu, neutralising its efficacy in deciding the MLA or MP in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections next year. He also knows that the backward class that the Telugu Desam may finally push the Kapu quota as part of the backward class quota, thereby eating into their opportunities. It is this narrative that the YSRC is pushing in Andhra Pradesh right now to provoke an anti-TDP consolidation among the backward classes.

The third fallout will be that there could be a reverse anti-Kapu caste consolidation that could happen in pockets of the state, helping Jagan’s cause.

But in order to ensure he does not completely lose out on the Kapu vote, Jagan has promised Rs 10,000 crore to the corpus of the Kapu Corporation if he came to power next year. This will be significantly up from the Rs 1,000 crore that Naidu gave to the Kapu Corporation in 2016. The Corporation is mandated to provide loans and create employment opportunities for the Kapus.

Those following the politics of Andhra are also aware that the BJP, whose relations with Naidu have nosedived, is unlikely to help the TDP’s cause by clearing the Kapu quota bill that was passed last December. The TDP, in order to blunt the YSRC narrative, is saying that Kapus will be accommodated under a new Backward Class F category.

It is nevertheless a risk Jagan has decided to take. East Godavari district saw violence breaking out in 2016 over the issue, an indicator of how important the issue is.

Kapu-dominated East Godavari district with its 19 assembly seats is also known within political circles to decide who rules Andhra. Jagan won just 5 seats last time and drew a blank in neighbouring West Godavari that sends 15 legislators. Jagan’s calculation is that should that happen, he can cover up the losses in the Godavari belt by putting up a better show in other eleven districts of Andhra.

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