Andhra Kapu quota stir takes violent turn, train set on fire

The demonstrators also blocked portion of national highway 16, bringing vehicular traffic between Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada to a halt in afternoon.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Hyderabad | Updated: February 1, 2016 10:06 am
Kapu protest, Andhra protest, Andhra pradesh, Backward Class status, BC status, andhra protests, india news Protesters set fire to the Ratnachal Express at Tuni in East Godavari district, Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Seeking quota benefits under Backward Class (BC) category, the Kapu community members resorted to violence on Sunday, setting a train, police station and police vehicles on fire, and blocking road and rail traffic for several hours at Tuni, in East Godavari district.

As their agitation threatened to spread across the 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh, the powerful community gave a call for an indefinite “rasta roko”, unless the TDP government releases a Government Order by Monday evening.

Led by former minister Mudragadda Padmanabham, thousands of Kapus from all the districts participated in a “Chalo Tuni” protest march today. Addressing the gathering, Padmanabam said: “This is not just a meeting of Kapus. It will turn into a major agitation soon if Kapus are not given BC status and reservation benefits with immediate effect. We demand that the TDP government should immediately release a Government Order.’’

Today’s protest was supported by the YSR Congress Party, with its leaders, Botsa Satyanarayana and Ambati Rambabu, joining the protest at Tuni. The protesters blocked road and rail traffic for several hours. Some people were injured in clashes with security personnel.

In the evening, the protesters targeted trains in Tuni and Vijayawada, and set the Ratnachal Express on fire.

A top police official said Padmanabham lost control over the crowd, and the public meeting soon turned unruly. When Padmanabham announced that they would block roads and trains, the protesters squatted on the Chennai-Kolkata National Highway and the railway tracks on the crucial Vijayawada-Rajahmundry-Visakhapatnam section of Vijayawada Division.

“They attacked the Ratnachal Express, which was the first train to arrive there, close to the Tuni railway station. Passengers jumped out as the protesters started throwing stones… They set fire to four coaches, which soon spread and gutted the entire train. Then they attacked an office at the Tuni railway station, and later targeted the Tuni Rural police station,’’ said an official.

Condemning the incident, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu said: “East Godavari is such a peaceful district. I have never seen this kind of violence in the last 40 years. YSRCP leaders organised and instigated the mobs which set fire to a train and clashed with police. In the history of the state, police officials were never attacked by anyone. But today, six AP Police officials and six Railway Police officials were beaten up by the protesters. One Circle Inspector and one constable are in serious condition. The train was pelted with stones and set on fire. You have a right to protest and hold meetings, but why instigate violence.”

Naidu said a Kapu Commission had been set up to look into the reservation issue. “I am assuring Kapus that we are working on giving them reservations. We have promised it and we will do it. There is no need for this kind of violence. I appeal to all communities to maintain peace,’’ he said.

In the 2014 general elections post-bifurcation, Kapus, who constitute 23.4 per cent of the coastal Andhra population, supported the TDP after Naidu promised to include the community in BC category. After delaying for several months, the TDP government last month appointed a judicial commission to look into the issue.

Kapu leaders said they were classified as BC until 1960, when their status was changed and quota benefits revoked. “Since then, governments have only used us as a vote bank after promising to restore reservation. Enough is enough. Now we will see that this injustice ends and reservation to Kapus is immediately given. Till then, let us sit on highways and railway tracks and ensure that the TDP government fulfills its promise of restoring reservation for Kapus. The TDP came to power because Kapus supported it in the last election. Now, it is time for us to get our due,’’ said Padmanabham.