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Kapu agitation in Andhra Pradesh is for political dominance and economic mobility

The pertinent question in this election season is whether Pawan Kalyan can satisfy the Kapu elite’s desire for political dominance as well as address the concerns of youth who flock to his rallies.

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot , A Kalaiyarasan |
Updated: April 20, 2019 8:44:52 am
Kapu agitation, Pavan Kalyan, Kapu protest, Kapus quota, Kapus reservation, kapus community, kapus protest in Andhra, violence in andhra pradesh, violence by Kapus, The pertinent question in this election season is whether Pawan Kalyan can satisfy the Kapu elite’s desire for political dominance as well as address the concerns of youth who flock to his rallies.

Reservations are often used by castes to achieve something more than redressing deprivation. The Kapu agitation in Andhra Pradesh is one such example. Unlike the agitations of Jats in Haryana, Marathas in Maharastra and Patels in Gujarat, which are marked by “fear of below”, that is, the relative mobility of SCs and OBCs, the Kapu anxiety is driven by both “fear from below” vis-à-vis the mobility of SCs and other OBCs and “fear of above” — the uninterrupted hegemony of Kammas and Reddys.

While the demand for quotas is shared by all Kapus, the reasons differ on class lines. On the one hand, the Kapu elites long for political dominance in proportion to their numerical strength. The Kapu agitation intensified after the creation of Telangana as their share in the Andhra population went up from 16 per cent to 25 per cent. On the other hand, poor Kapus see reservations as a vehicle of mobility in education and jobs. But how pronounced is socio-economic differentiation between these two extremes? The last two rounds (2004-05 and 2011-12) of The India Human Development Survey helps to assess the Kapu claims of deprivation.

Unsurprisingly, the Kammas are at the top with the average annual per capita income (2011-12) at Rs 38,232, followed by the other upper castes at Rs 26,645 and Rs 25,169 for Reddys. Kapus average only Rs 23,021. The figures for the OBCs and SCs are Rs 21,172 and Rs 18,345 respectively. Seven years (2004-05) earlier, Kammas were ranked lower than the other upper castes (Rs 11,761 against Rs 15,027). Kammas incomes have multiplied 3.3 times in the seven years as against 2.4 times for the Kapus and 2.2 for Reddys, and 1.8 times in the case of other upper castes.
Kammas are also the most educated in Andhra Pradesh and is the only community that has not demanded reservation. They control most of the private educational institutions in the state. The percentage of graduates among Kammas is 12.2 as against 9.9 for Kapus, 7.5 among Reddys, 4.9 per cent in the case of OBCs and 4.4 per cent in Dalits. Seven years earlier, it was 3.8 per cent for Kapus, lower than that of Reddys (5.4 per cent). Credit is due to Kapu caste associations for the community’s progress in education in the last decade.

However, only about 10 per cent of Kapus are in the salaried class as against 12 per cent among other OBCs and 13 per cent among SCs. Kapus’ anxieties towards lower castes lay in this lower representation in salaried jobs. While Kapus are an agrarian community, only 32 per cent of them are cultivators as against 57 per cent among Kammas and 56 per cent for Reddys. Notably, a good number of Kapus are labourers — about 37 per cent as against 12 per cent Kammas and 23 per cent Reddys. This is the point of anxiety of Kapus, particularly those who are placed at the bottom 60 per cent of the group whose average income is much lower than that of average income of Dalits and OBCs. Kapus is the only dominant community in direct conflict with Dalits, especially in the Godavari and Guntur districts. It is in this region that the massacre of five Dalits in Laxmipeta village took place. This violence arose from conflict over ownership claims on surplus land allotted to Madduvalasa irrigation project. The Kapus attacked the Malas on June 12, 2012 leaving five Dalits dead. This kind of clashes needs to be seen in the context of class differentiation within Kapus. The poorest 20 per cent not only earn 14 times less than the richest 20 per cent of the Dalits (Rs 4,320 against Rs 62,172), they also earn less than the poorest 20 per cent Dalits. In fact, the bottom three quintiles earn less than that of Dalits.

This is largely due because the Kapus’ economic mobility is a recent phenomenon; it also came through the purchase of land sold by the Kammas in coastal Andhra. Reddys and Kammas, the other two agricultural castes managed to lift themselves economically, moved ahead in education and jobs earlier than the Kapus, and then, migrated to the cities. Using the Green Revolution, the Kammas consolidated their socio-economic dominance while Reddys inherited political power through their dominance in the Congress. The state continues to be controlled by Kammas and Reddys, whose population is much smaller than that of Kapus.

Since the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, political power has been cornered by Kammas and Reddys. In the past 64 years, 32 years saw chief ministers from the Reddy community while 22 were from Kamma community. The Kammas won office following the formation of the Telugu Desam in 1983. The rise of Kapu elites has been facilitated mostly by the economic reforms initiated in 1991.

In the past decade, Kapus banked on Chiranjeevi, a film-star-turned-politician from the community, to gain political power. His party won 18 seats and 16 per cent vote in the 2009 assembly elections. However, he merged the party with the Congress three years later. In 2014, Kapus backed Chiranjeevi’s brother, Pawan Kalyan, who launched the Jana Sena Party. Kalyan supported the TDP-BJP alliance and it is said YSR-Congress lost the election because of Jana Sena. Chandrababu Naidu reached out to Kapus by making N Chinnarajappa, a Kapu, the deputy CM. In 2014 assembly election, the YSR Congress offered 30 seats to people from the Kapu community while TDP offered 29 seats and the Congress 27. As it stands, Kapus are not fully aligned with any party.

Though the TDP has made overtures to Kapus, Kamma power continues to generate anxiety among Kapus. The struggles around land acquisition in the new capital (Amaravati) region fostered resentment among Kapus who felt discriminated because when land was purchased to build the capital under the land pooling initiative, Kamma farmers were given compensation four times the actual land value whereas the land owned by Kapus were left out. In effect, Kapus could neither cultivate nor sell their land at remunerative rates. Today, the TDP, in its first list for 2019 assembly election, has fielded Kapus in just 17 of the 126 seats.

The TDP has tried to address the concerns of the community by reserving 5 per cent within the new 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker sections. However, this has not satisfied Kapus since the Manjunath committee, tasked to decide on Kapu reservation, has not been constituted yet. It is unlikely now since many communities, including Reddys, have petitioned for OBC status. Besides, the communities enjoying OBC reservation resent any new inclusion.

The pertinent question in this election season is whether Pawan Kalyan can satisfy the Kapu elite’s desire for political dominance as well as address the concerns of youth who flock to his rallies.

This article first appeared in print under the headline: ‘The restive Kapu’

Jaffrelot is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, and professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London. Kalaiyarasan is assistant professor, MIDS, Chennai

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