Like Marathas, Kapus in Andhra in agitation mode for quota

Amaravati, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy - The Federal, English news website
Andhar Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. Photo: PTI

The Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh has a new challenge on hand: the threat of revival of quota stir by the Kapu community.

Kapus, who constitute over 15 per cent of the state’s population, had largely voted for Jagan’s YSR Congress Party in the April 11 elections. The state had repeatedly witnessed agitations in the past, demanding reservation for Kapus under the OBC category in educational institutions and government jobs. It was a campaign issue in the recent polls too.

Interestingly, during the election campaign, Jagan made a candid assertion that he would not make a false quota promise. He said he would not make promises which he cannot fulfil since the issue falls under the ambit of the central government. Instead, he had promised to double the funds for the Kapu Welfare Corporation from the existing ₹5,000 crore. “It is not in our hands. There have been instances where quotas provided by states were struck down by the central government,’’ Jagan had said during the election rallies.

The former Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP from Kakinada M Padmanabham, who had spearheaded the quota agitation in the past, has now threatened to revive the stir if the new government failed to take up the cause of the community.

Padmanabham (66), a four-time MLA in the combined Andhra Pradesh representing Prattipadu constituency in East Godavari district, led the reservation movement, including the violent one at Tuni in East Godavari district in January 2016 when the agitators set fire to Visakhpatnam-bound Ratnachal Express, demanding reservation for the community.

“We hope the new government will do justice to the community. The previous TDP government had crushed the Kapu agitation using brutal police force and humiliated us,” Padmanabham told The Federal.

Reminiscent of Maratha stir

Like Marathas in Maharashtra, the Kapus in AP are politically influential and prosperous community. However, they never got to control the levers of power because the two other dominant castes — Kammas and Reddys — have traditionally dominated the power politics.

With the BJP government in the poll-bound Maharashtra recently granting 16% reservation to the Marathas, who form more than one-third of the state’s population, the Kapu leadership has stepped up pressure on the YSRCP government to follow suit. The reservation for Kapu community has been a long-pending demand. They are concentrated in East Godavari, West Godavari and Krishna districts. Historically, whichever party swept the two Godavari districts had formed the government in the past.

“In the recent Assembly elections, Kapus had voted in large numbers in favour of YSRCP, with the hope that Jagan Mohan Reddy will resolve the long-pending issue of reservations,” said Padmanabham who went on hunger strike over the issue several times in the past.

Long history of quota politics

There is a growing perception among the Kapu leaders that their community was used as a vote bank by politicians of other dominant castes but was never given its due.

Incidentally, the quota for Kapus was one of the key poll promises of the TDP in the 2014 elections.

Two years later, a Commission, headed by former Karnataka High Court judge KL Manjunath, was set up to study the issue. The TDP government had also constituted a six-member cabinet sub-committee to examine the issues pertaining to the community and released ₹1,000 crore for the Kapu welfare board.

Though the State Assembly had unanimously passed a bill in December 2017, providing for five per cent reservation for Kapus, and sent it to the Centre for approval. However, it remained on paper as the proposed quota breached the 50 per cent ceiling set by the Supreme Court.

The Assembly had then passed a resolution, requesting the Centre to amend the Constitution and include the Kapu quota under Schedule 9 to ensure it’s not  legally challenged. The move was in response to a violent agitation in January 2016, demanding reservations for the community.

At present, Andhra Pradesh provides 25 per cent reservation for OBCs, 4 per cent to backward Muslim communities, 15 per cent to SCs and 6 per cent to STs, totalling 50 per cent. With an additional 5 per cent quota for Kapus, the total reservations would have gone up to 55 percent.

Just before the recent Assembly elections, the TDP government included Kapus under the economically backward classes (EBC), introduced by the NDA government, and provided five per cent quota to Kapus under this category. “But so far, even this EBC reservation has not been implemented for Kapus in any educational institutions or jobs,” Padmanabham said. He shot off a letter to the Chief Minister, pointing out how Kapus were betrayed by the previous TDP government.

During the recent elections, there was apprehension in the YSRCP camp that the actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan, who belongs to Kapu community, will split the community votes, and thereby help the TDP. However, the actor’s tryst with electoral politics ended in a disaster with his Jana Sena Party winning just one seat in the 175-member Assembly. The film star himself lost both the seats he contested. The voters largely favoured the YSRCP as the party bagged 27 of the 34 seats in the Kapu-dominated districts of East Godavari and West Godavari.