Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu is caught in an uncomfortable situation, with a Kapu community leader holding his government by the neck with the demand for Backward Class (BC) status and reservation to the community by going on a hunger strike for the third time in six months.
For Naidu, there is nothing much to do but negotiate with Mudragada Padmanabham, 64, because at stake is a community that forms 27 per cent of AP’s population — a support base Naidu’s TDP can ill afford to lose.
While the first hunger strike ended quickly, with large-scale violence and arson on January 31, and the second on February 4 was called off within days, the third “indefinite fast”, which began on June 9, is still going on. Although the government this time arrested and shifted Mudragada to a hospital, officials have so far refrained from force-feeding him to break his fast for the fear of enraging the Kapus.
Even as the CID began investigating the cases of January 31 arson, Mudragada launched another hunger strike on February 4. His demand this time included, besides demand for BC status and reservation for Kapus, withdrawal of all cases against people allegedly involved in the violence and arson.
Mudragada, a four-time MLA and one-time MP who has been in all parties of the state, called off the fast on February 9 following the government’s assurance that Rs 500 crore will be allotted to the State Kapu Welfare and Development Corporation in 2015-16 fiscal, and Rs 1,000 crore every year from 2016-17. The government also promised to complete the study on socio-economic status of Kapus by the K L Manjunath Commission within six months and implement its recommendations.
In April, the CID identified more than 20 people who allegedly set fire to Ratnachal Express and Tuni Rural Police Station, besides vandalising and ransacking other offices in January. Cases were registered, and seven people were arrested. But claiming that the seven arrested were innocent, the Kapu leader demanded immediate withdrawal of the cases.
The government did not budge, and Mudragada decided to undertake another fast.
The response to the hunger strikes of February 4 and June 9 has, however, not been as encouraging, with most Kapu leaders staying away. “Mudragada treads alone. He does not come out of the house, and does not consult with other Kapu leaders,’’ a leader from AP, Kapu Nadu, said.
The state, though, is choosing to handle him softly. “The government does not want to rub the Kapu community the wrong way. It is a powerful community — four ministers are Kapus, as is popular actor Pawan Kalyan and filmstar-turned-politician Chiranjeevi. Any action that affects the community will draw response from them. So the only way out is to negotiate,” an official said.
Kapu political leaders such as Chiranjeevi, Pallam Raju, Dasari Narayana Rao have met Mudragada but have not explicitly expressed support.
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