VIJAYAWADA is notorious for its gang culture. It is a mix of varied ingredients -- caste, crime, politics, private justice, film-star samaritanism, street law and even dewy sentimentality. Gangsters here inspire fear and awe.
Curiously enough, the origin of rowdyism in Vijaywada dates back to the early 1970s, perhaps to a single event. Back in the early days, a group of autorickshaw drivers banded together, colonising bus stands to attract custom and graduating to harassing women and then to organised youth groups comprising cinema ticket touts, pickpockets, etc.
The city was then a bastion of the Communists.
These gang of hoods were resisted by then CPI city secretary Chalasani Venkataratnam. So the gang murdered him on March 19, 1972.
The CPI retaliated viciously. All those accused in the murder of Chalasani, including Vangaveeti Radha, were killed within two years and the police filed cases against the CPI leaders. A peace was brokered between INTUC leader Vangaveeti Chalapathi Rao, brother of Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga, and CPI leaders at a meeting at the Hanumantaraya Grandhalayam.
Later the gang fissioned into the Ranga and Nehru groups along the lines of caste, Ranga being a Kapu and Nehru a Kamma. The city witnessed numerous violent clashes between them.
Nehru’s brothers Gandhi and Murali were both murdered. Ranga was jailed for the Gandhi murder.
His popularity grew and he contested the civic elections as an independent and was elected as a city councillor in 1981.
Vijayawada’s gang warfare between the Ranga and Nehru gangs moved from the streets to politics with Ranga joining the Congress and Nehru the TDP in 1983. Ranga even won the 1985 election on a Congress ticket.
When Ranga was staging an indefinite fast on Bandar Road seeking house site pattas for the residents of Giripuram locality, he was attacked with bombs and murdered on Dec. 26, 1988. The killing of Ranga sparked unprecedented rioting in the city, with Kamma businesses selectively looted and burnt. The police, ironically led by the present DGP and then SP RR Girish Kumar, imposed an indefinite curfew which lasted for more than a month. The bitterness between Ranga and Nehru never really abated, with Nehru’s brother Murali becoming a victim.
After Ranga’s death, his wife Ratnakumari was elected as MLA in the byelection of 1989. She switched to the TDP in her second term. Ranga’s gang slowly drifted away into respectable professions and businesses.
To withstand Ranga’s rise in politics, Nehru joined the TDP, then newly in power, and duly got elected as an MLA and even became a minister.
He switched to the Congress after the death of NTR and emerged as a strong leader in that party by protecting the interests of his followers.