Andhra Pradesh is moving on a path that Bihar moved away from during the last elections. Each passing day the politics of the state is becoming increasingly corrupt, casteist & criminalized.
Both Chandrababu Naidu (CBN) & YS.Rajashekara Reddy(YSR) have wreaked havoc on the state in the last 11 years although the loot under latter’s watch easily qualifies as unprecedented, and way beyond comparison with any other Chief Minister in India. The extent of corruption patronized by YSR reached such extents that government servants and some sections of the society at large almost consider it their legitimate right. Political observers have since called YSR’s regime a psychological game changer for legitimizing the loot by destroying institutions and the last remnants of ethics in public service within the bureaucracy and the power-elite. But how did Andhra of today become the Bihar of yesterday?
The following is a brief background on the evolution of politics of Andhra Pradesh and its three major game changing regimes beginning with the legendary movie actor NT.Rama Rao’s historic win in 1983. After his regime we look at CBN’s regime which lasted for a good nine years from 1995 to 2004 before attempting to understand the YSR phenomenon.
Andhra political background
Since independence and perhaps even before that Andhra’s political landscape was dominated primarily by two feudal castes 1) Reddys and 2) Kammas. Both these groups were active in the Congress and the Communist parties.
Congress was dominated by Reddys led by Sanjeev Reddy after successfully undermining his rival N.G. Ranga from the Kamma caste who then joined Swatantra party but returned back to Congress later. The Communist party on the other hand was mostly dominated by leadership from Kamma caste though there is significant Reddy leadership notably P. Sundarayya who later became popular general secretary of CPI (M). This was the scenario of political Andhra before Telangana merger.
The Telangana merger happened in 1956. It is said that if it were not for the Telangana merger the communists might have captured power in coastal Andhra.
In one stroke the merger significantly diminished the communists.By extension it diminished the leadership of Kammas who incidentally had little or insignificant presence in Telangana. The Reddy community which already had a large presence in Rayalseema and pockets of coastal Andhra was reinforced by the merger of Telangana and now with its numerical spread across the entire state was able to occupy and dominate the political leadership for the most part of early decades prior to the arrival of NTR on the scene. With its members occupying nearly 1\3rd of the legislative assembly seats the Reddy community gained upper hand in the contention for plump ministerial posts. The Kammas on the other side with not more than 40 odd members at any given point were confined to marginal roles.
Post Telangana merger it emerged that opposition parties had failed to evolve leadership cutting across the three regions: coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalseema. It was advantage INC all the way. The Congress enjoyed strong central leadership to the extent that caste-community maneuvers against another community were not outside the Congress ecosystem but within its party organisation. The ‘high command’ could change Chief Ministers at will. Between 1977 to 1982 Andhra Pradesh saw four Chief Ministers due to interventions from ‘high command’. The high commands control over the party extended to such levels that one of the Chief Ministers Tanguturi Anjaiah is alleged to have been slapped by Rajiv Gandhi on an occasion at the Hyderabad airport.
The scenario was ripe with resentment against the Congress but there was no leader whose following could cut across all the regions. It was at this point that NT.Ramarao, a hugely popular cinema idol in all genres of cinema, specially venerated for his mythological roles of Krishna,Rama,Ravana and Duryodhana entered the scene. NTR floated his party Telugu Desham invoking Telugu pride and a call to fight against dictatorial centre headed by Indira. He introduced many novel ideas of campaign; he was the first Indian politician to use rath yatras for mass contact. His chaitanya ratham was a Chevrolet van modified to suit political campaign. In nine months his chaitanya ratham took him to every nook & corner of Andhra Pradesh covering a total of 30,000 km! Such was his charisma and effort that within a period of nine months in electoral politics NTR uprooted the Indira Gandhi led INC with a thumping two thirds majority, an achievement unparalleled in Indian electoral history.
But behind NTR’s spectacular achievement and emotive appeal there was a meticulous strategy. Apart from using his popularity across all sections he gave importance to educated professionals and OBC’s that were neglected in previous regimes. He was supported by Ramoji Rao’s popular daily Eenadu with extensive coverage of NTR’s tours. Ramoji Rao, a successful first generation entrepreneur, upstaged traditional media elite with his popular presentation of news and innovative media strategies, he opposed Indira politically during emergency and with his Communist roots had strong anti-congress opinions.
Both NTR and Ramoji belong to Kamma community which with its financial & political clout supported NTR to the hilt. After a long time they saw a leader in NTR who can change the political scenario in the state to their favour. Afterall NTR was the first Chief Minister from the Kamma community post independence.
The NTR regime apart from his popular welfare schemes implemented many radical and progressive measures, he abolished Patel-Patwari system which was based on inheritance that dominated Telangana, gave property rights to women, streamlined education system and introduced merit based entrance exams at college level, started new universities, improved infrastructure in Hyderabad and other cities & developed temple town Tirupathi. He did indeed do a splendid job in maintaining law and order in riot ridden communally sensitive Hyderabad. Overall his regime was the period of highest economic growth in the history of Andhra till date driven by rural productivity and urban infrastructural changes
The Congress which was stumped by NTR’s popularity followed a strategy of divide and rule. Right from the beginning it branded TDP as “Kamma Desham Party” to highlight NTR’s caste and drive a wedge between castes. It openly practiced caste politics inciting non-Kamma castes. However it couldn’t succeed in the beginning but was successful towards the end of NTR’s second innings helped by some unfortunate incidents.
In the coastal city of Vijayawada considered the heart of coastal Andhra two local rival rowdy gangs were fighting for dominance. One gang leader Devineni Nehru, a Kamma got elected to assembly on TDP ticket, the other gang leader V.Mohana Ranga, a Kapu,got elected on the Congress ticket. In 1988 V. Mohana Ranga’s gang murdered Devineni Murali, an aggressive rowdy sheeter and brother of rival Devineni Nehru. Expecting retaliation from rival gang with direct or indirect support of NTR regime,V.Mohanana Ranga with the help of Congress state leaders and it’s machinery aggressively started caste mobilization across the state in the name of “Kapunadu”, he projected himself as leader of Kapus in the state and was hugely successful in mobilizing Kapus with covert congress support.
In December 1988 he was murdered while fasting for more security to his person. Unprecedented riots followed his murder particularly in Vijayawada and pockets of coastal Andhra. V.Mohana Ranga instantly became martyr for Kapus, Vijayawada was reduced to ashes with heavy loss of life and property. Kammas suffered the brunt of rioting mobs that mostly included Congress goons. Rajiv Gandhi, quite characteristic of a Congress leader, refused additional forces to NTR for a week. The city itself was under degrees of curfew for six months
The Congress had previously tried its favorite tricks such as using the Governor’s office but popular support stood by NTR. An infamous attempt was made in 1985 to dislodge his government using rebel ministers from within his own Cabinet but NTR not only ‘proved his majority’ in the legislative assembly but also went ahead to dissolve the assembly and seek a fresh mandate. The mandate sought was given without much ado!
Andhra Pradesh continued to vote NTR even post Indira assasination so much as that the TDP attained the unique distinction of a state party given the status of national opposition in Parliament! As the chairman of National Front NTR played a pivotal role in bringing non-Congress parties like the BJP and the Communist parties together so as to dislodge INC from its seat of power in New Delhi.
However, in the subsequent elections in 1989 Congress expectedly used the riots card and caused caste polarization in coastal Andhra to the hilt and finally succeeded in dislodging NTR after seven years. Even today the distrust between Kammas and Kapus is a factor in Andhra politics. The polarization was extended to other fields like Telugu movies with Chiranjeevi and NTR’s son Balakrishna becoming top stars.
Guess who the engineering polarization has benefited election after election? The Congress.
To be continued in Part II – After NTR.
Krishnarjun is a friend of CRI. He tweets as krishnarjun108
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