Bowing to pressure from the Kapu community, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu announced 5 per cent reservation for them in education and jobs on December 2. This took total reservation in AP to 55 per cent — higher than the Supreme Court mandated ceiling of 50 per cent, in which case it has to be approved by the Centre, and included in Schedule 9 of the Constitution after it is passed by Parliament. (Even so, this will be subject to judicial review — a nine-judge constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court ruled on January 11, 2007 that all laws, including those in the Ninth Schedule, which originally put them beyond the jurisdiction of the courts, would be subject to judicial review if they were included in the Schedule after April 23, 1973, and if they violated the basic structure of the Constitution.)
In April 2017, the Telangana government increased the quota for Muslims from 4 per cent to 12 per cent, and for Scheduled Tribes from 6% to 12%, taking total reservation in the state to 62 per cent. Telangana has not been able to implement the quota because the Centre has not agreed to go along. Governments of both states are in a quandary after Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced in Gujarat — where Hardik Patel has been demanding inclusion of Patels in the list of OBCs — that total reservation cannot exceed 50 per cent.
The Kapus are a numerically significant, and socially and politically powerful community in Andhra Pradesh. They were approximately 27 per cent of the population of undivided Andhra Pradesh, and after the bifurcation of the state, they make up close to 12% of the new state’s 13 districts. A majority of Andhra Kapus are attached to land — mainly as farm labour — and also work in rice mills and factories, and as skilled and semi-skilled labour across sectors. Their demand for OBC status is a few decades old, and the agrarian distress of the last several years due to persistent scanty rainfall has fuelled their movement for quotas.
The Kapus enjoyed Backward Class status from 1949-56, and then from 1961-66, after which they were left out. They have been demanding restoration of their BC status ever since.
Ahead of the 2014 elections, with Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy breathing down his neck, TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu promised to extend reservation to Kapus if the TDP was voted to power. Telugu filmstar K Pawan Kalyan, a Kapu with a sizable following among the youth, campaigned for the TDP-BJP alliance. Many political analysts put down the TDP’s slender 2% lead over the YSR Congress Party to the support from the Kapus. After coming to power, Naidu dragged his feet on his campaign promise for over a year, essentially for fear of a backlash from other communities whose share in the quota would be affected by the inclusion of the Kapus.
On January 31 last year, Kapu leader Mudragadda Padmanabham called a massive protest at Tuni in East Godavari district against the delay in extending OBC status to the community. Protesters set fire to the Vijayawada-Visakhapatnam Ratnachal Express, and ransacked Tuni railway station. In the face of simmering anger, in February 2016, Naidu set up the four-member Justice (retd) Manjunatha Committee to study the Kapu demand and make recommendations.
The Manjunatha Committee recommended 5% reservation for Kapus under a new category, “BC-F”. AP currently has 25% reservation for BCs in the A, B, C, and D categories; 4% for backward Muslims in the BC (E) category, and and 15% and 6% for SCs and STs respectively.
The TDP has two Kapu MPs — Thota Narasimham from Kakinada and M Srinivasa Rao from Anakapalli. It has 18 Kapu MLAs, and 2 MLAs of its partner, the BJP, are Kapus, too. There are five Kapu ministers, and Naidu has appointed Chalamalasetti Ramanujaya as chairman of the State Kapu Welfare and Development Corporation. Besides, Chandalavada Krishnamurthy is chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Board, and Kimidi Kalavenkat Rao is TDP AP state president — both Kapus.
Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Praja Sankalpa Yatra march across all 13 districts to prepare for the 2019 Assembly elections, forced the AP Cabinet to accept the Manjunatha Committee report and table the Bill on December 2, which was passed unanimously. The Chief Minister’s problem, however, is the risk of provoking existing BCs. “Backward Classes are the backbone of the TDP. They will not be affected by the reservation given to Kapus. BC quota will be protected and Kapu quota won’t be at the cost of existing BC quota,” Naidu clarified in the Assembly. The TDP needs the backing of Kapus if it decides to break with the BJP in 2019.