TDP, YSRC jockeying for political space in Seemandhra as these posters in Chandolu village in Guntur dist show | Express photo
A bloody caste war is all set to unfold in Election 2014 in Coastal Andhra-Rayalaseema.
While people are more or less united in their opposition to division of the State, appearing beneath the surface are caste contours that are likely to firm up as polls draw close. A little over two days of travel in Andhra, one could make out who represents which caste, depending on their response to what the future holds for the Telugu Desam of Nara Chandrababu Naidu or YSR Congress of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
We stopped by at a make-shift camp for Samaikyandhra at Pedaparapudi village before Gudivada in Krishna district, this one put up by teachers and employees. The discussion was sober, with each of the dozen present coming out with his/her own reasoning on why the State should remain united.
The cracks appeared as we began to scratch the surface to get a feel of the political thought-process. The tent itself was put up in the forecourt of Prashant’s house, a farmer from the Kamma community. “I voted for YSR in 2009 because he genuinely did good to farmers but this time, it will be for Telugu Desam,” he declared. Within no time, Nagaraju, a Brahmin and a teacher who owns 10 acres, literally pounced on the farmer. “What wrong has Jagan done? Who is clean in present day politics? No one talks about missing coal files in the PMO but everyone questions how Jagan got bail?”
As we tried to change the discussion to figure out if an alliance between the Telugu Desam and the BJP would help, revenue officer Koteswara Rao was inclined to say Yes. If you have not understood, he is a BC, a good number of whom are said to be moving towards the Telugu Desam. The lowest strata among them, who had benefited during the YSR regime, along with the SCs, are, however, still with the YSRC. The officer was quickly cut short by another teacher, a Dalit, who made no secret of his love for the YSRC, justifying the same with the assertion that if there was one party committed to Samaikyandhra, it’s Jagan’s.
He then told everyone this was not the time to talk politics.
A little further, at Jamispeta village junction, the equation plays out more clearly. “Jagan is like a flowering Jasmine,” claimed Venkateswara Rao, a daily-wage earner. No prizes for guessing: he is a Dalit. Srinivasa Rao, a farmer, fumed: “Don’t you see foreign (read Christian) influence behind his bail?” He then pressed the auto-start button to zoom off on his new motorbike. He is a Gowda, one of the BC communities.
The exception to this are constituencies where one community - Kammas in Andhra or Reddys in Rayalaseema - maintains a stranglehold and the rest follow the diktat depending on whose patronage they desperately need for livelihood. In such places, we found powerful leaders of the same community aligning with different parties, one with the TDP and the other with the YSRCP - as it happened in the recent Panchayat elections in Bommuluru village in Gudivada constituency, where two Kamma leaders fought for the post of sarpanch and the one aligned with the TDP scraped home by 30 votes. That was in a village which has 2400 votes. Or in Velpur in Tanuku constituency where two women belonging to the same community contested for the sarpanch’s post and the TDP nominee won by 500 votes against the one backed by the YSRC. Auto-driver Suryanarayana, himself a Kamma and a YSRC loyalist, offered this logic: the relatively rich sections backed the TDP nominee while others including the low income groups among Kammas supported the YSRC candidate.
If there is one community which still appears undecided and has historically never sailed in one direction, it is the Kapus, despite indications that many of their leaders are looking towards the Telugu Desam.
Women, of course, and as always remain an enigma as Nani, a backward class TDP member and taxi driver, explained at Mudinepalli junction. “My wife was jubilant after Jagan got bail and says she will vote for him this time.” So will Sharif, a Muslim, part of a group of drivers standing on the roadside, waiting to ferry passengers.
The Reddy-Kamma war for political control will, perhaps for the first time in the history of state politics, come out in all its true colours and nakedly at that.