TUNI: Violence flared up in Andhra Pradesh with agitators demanding reservation for the numerically strong Kapu community burning four coaches of the Ratnachal Express at Tuni in East Godavari district on Sunday. Passengers in the train hurried to get down and ran for their lives.
There were no confirmed reports of injuries to passengers. Fire personnel could not reach the spot as thousands of agitators blocked access to the spot where the train was detained.
Kapu leader Mudragada Padmanabham led thousands of protestors in blockading the rail tracks by parking his car across the tracks. At least four coaches of the train are said to have been burnt to cinders.
The incident took place on the important Kolkata-Chennai route. With agitators blocking vehicular movement, traffic on National Highway 16 came to a standstill on either side of the town. Vehicles were backed up several kilometers since 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Taking a leaf out of the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, thousands of Kapus were mobilized by their leader Mudragada Padmanabham, a former minister, to participate in an agitation billed Kapu Ikya Garjana. The Kapus are a numerically strong social group of four allied castes: Kapu, Balija, Ontari and Telaga.
They demand inclusion in the list of backward classes in the state, which would enable them to access reservation in jobs and education. Padmanabham organized the Kapu Ikya Garjana to block trains and vehicles on the state’s main transportation routes.
As part of the agitation, several thousands of protesters occupied the tracks at the Tuni railway station and detained the Vijayawada-bound Ratnachal Express. First they pelted stones on the locomotive and overpowered four railway employees, who sustained injuries. Police officials at Tuni were taken by surprise and passengers waiting for trains on the platforms were confounded by the commotion. While reinforcements were quickly summoned, the blockade of roads leading into town hampered the police from reaching the railway station.
Prior to the train burning, the Kapu Ikya Garjana public meeting was attended by lakhs of Kapus in a coconut grove on the outskirts of Tuni. Speaking at the meeting, Padmanabham expounded on the genesis of the Kapu agitation for reservations and put forth an action plan to achieve it. He said the Kapu caste complex makes up 27 percent of the population of Andhra Pradesh and deserved reservation because they continued to be disadvantaged in society.
He blamed Chandrababu Naidu for using the community’s votes to win elections but doing nothing to fulfil promises made to them. “He promised to ensure that the Kapus are included in the backward class list within six months of coming to power in June 2014. But 18 months hence, there has been no development in that direction,” he said. “We must now take our own action. It is time to make the lies of Chandrababu Naidu come true,” Padmanabham said.
The cabinet of Naidu did announce its intention to extend reservation to the community but, anticipating protests by other disadvantaged groups already included, set up a committee to recommend ways to make the legislation pass. “It is time to confront Naidu and I want you to travel with me and not rest till our goal is achieved. Let's block roads and railways and not rest till our goal is achieved,” Padmanabham said.