HYDERABAD: The alleged insult of a Dalit MLA from the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) at a Ganesh pandal in Amaravati last week, highlights the deep-rooted caste discrimination that exists in Andhra Pradesh where politics is brazenly played along caste lines.
Vundavalli Sridevi, a member of the state Assembly, was allegedly insulted by few men, said to be from an upper caste. The accused reportedly prevented the legislator from performing puja at the pandal on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi.
The accused said that if the MLA breaks a coconut there, the place will lose its sanctity. The legislator, who represents Tadikonda Assembly constituency in Guntur district, was left in tears.
The issue took a political turn as the accused belongs to the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The police registered a case against four men under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and arrested them.
While the YSRCP targeted the TDP for humiliating a Dalit woman MLA, the latter alleged that she was not a Dalit.
TDP president and Leader of Opposition N. Chandrababu Naidu tweeted that Sridevi had revealed in an interview that she was a Christian and her husband was from Kapu community.
"Is it not the YSRCP which did injustice by fielding a Christian from an Assembly seat reserved for SCs?" asked Naidu.
The former Chief Minister also alleged that state government was adopting double standards as no cases were booked when YSRCP leaders attacked Dalit women in the same district.
Naidu claimed that YSRCP was born with the "principle" of creating communal and caste clashes, adding that TDP was a party born for weaker sections and social justice.
The MLA's incident was not the first. Instances of caste discrimination were not new to the state, where politics has deep roots in casteism.
Political analysts have said that incidents of caste discrimination keep happening in the state. Telakapalli Ravi told IANS that two Dalits were beaten to death this May on suspicion of stealing mangos in East Godavari district.
"Dalits faced social boycott by caste Hindus in Garaparru village in West Godavari district over the installation of a statue of Dr Ambedkar near the panchayat office," said Ravi, referring to the conflict that began in 2017 but continued for several months.
The analyst said that in the past too, Dalit MLAs in Tadikonda constituency faced humiliation at the hands of some upper caste people.
Ravi said that since Dalits supported the YSRCP in a big way, both the TDP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were trying to project them as Christians. "A kind of communal polarization is being attempted here now, leading to further tensions," he said.
"Andhra Pradesh politics is divided among Kammas, Reddys and Kapus. Political leaders over decades fuelled these differences for their political gains," said another analyst P. Raghava Reddy.
The caste factor had dominated the recent elections with YSRCP, which enjoyed the support of the Reddys, highlighting how the TDP government led by Chandrababu Naidu went out of the way to favour senior police officials belonging to the Kamma community.
The TDP is considered as a party dominated by Kammas while YSRCP enjoys the backing of Reddys.
The YSRCP led by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy stormed to power in the state with a landslide majority.
Besides the Reddys, Kapus, BCs, SCs, STs and minorities were believed to have thrown their weight behind YSRCP.
The Reddy community traditionally dominated the politics of undivided Andhra Pradesh. However, with the emergence of the TDP on political scene in early 1980s changed the scenario. The party floated by popular actor N.T. Rama Rao changed the caste equation with support of the backward classes and weaker sections of the society.
However, an incident during N.T. Rama Rao's regime rocked the state. On July 17, 1985, six Dalits were killed and 20 injured in an attack allegedly by Kamma landlords in Karamchedu village, Prakasam district.
Nearly 23 years after the attack, the Supreme Court in 2008 awarded life sentence to the main accused and three years imprisonment to 23 others.
The second major attack on Dalits occurred on August 6, 1991m at Tsundur village of Guntur district. Eight Dalits were killed and many others were injured in the attack allegedly by people belonging to Reddy and Kapu communities.
Houses of Dalits were looted and set afire and several families were forced to flee from Tsundur and adjoining villages.
In 2014, the Andhra Pradesh High Court set aside 2007 order of a special court that sentenced 21 people to life imprisonment and 35 others to one year's jail for Tsundur massacre.
The Court struck down the sentence for lack of evidence in the sensational case, which had attracted national attention.
The Supreme Court later stayed the High Court order.