Capitals & Caste War In Andhra Pradesh
A view of the river Krishna that separates Vijayawada & the proposed new capital cityCourtesy: Sandhya Ravishankar

Capitals & Caste War In Andhra Pradesh

Will new chief minister Jagan return excess land to Amaravati farmers as promised?

On many occasions during his campaign against the then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu in Amaravati capital region, YSR Congress chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy (Jagan) assured the ‘victims’ of the former’s capital city dream, that he would return the excess land collected from farmers, once he assumed office.

The day has come. On May 30, Jagan will assume office as chief minister and people of the state are waiting for his statement on the future of the capital Amaravati, which earned the moniker Kammaravati.

Why Kammaravati? It has everything to do with caste and its role in politics in Andhra Pradesh.

Given the nature of politics of the state, Jagan has no option but to demolish the politics behind the capital because, throughout history, the capital city was the arena where bitter caste wars have been fought.

Here is a brief history of the capital politics of Andhra Pradesh.

Caste & Capital Cities

The political history of Andhra, now Andhra Pradesh, is the history of caste rivalry between two influential landowning communities, Reddy and Kamma. Reddy and Kamma are both Forward Castes in the state. While Reddys constitute approximately 6% of the population, Kammas form 4.8% of the people in the state.

And the capital city, either its location or control over the existing capital, has always been at the centre of this caste war.

Both these castes control two divergent cultural and economic regions. Thus the caste war has always taken the shape of animosity between the backward Rayalaseema region, where Reddys are dominant, and the prosperous coastal Andhra region which is Kamma territory.

As said by Professor Bendapudi Subbarao, an archaeologist of international repute, regions produce their own personalities which reflect in human culture.

The mutual cultural resentment is so fierce and deep-rooted between Reddys and Kammas, they carried it wherever they went, including abroad.

Oxford scholar Dalel Benbabaali said in 2018 at a lecture at Princeton University - “New Jersey has the highest concentration of Kammas in America, along with California. In the US, they mostly are entrepreneurs or work in the IT industry, and they are dominant among the Telugu diaspora. They control the Telugu Association of North America (TANA). The Reddys resented this dominance and created their own organization, called America Telugu Association (ATA). This shows the rivalry between the two dominant castes of Andhra Pradesh exists even in the US.”

Both communities have always fought for control over the capital city of Andhra as they knew that control of the capital is important for continued dominance over the people and assets of the state.

The First Capital War

The first war over capital control erupted in 1951 when Telugus of composite Madras state were fighting for a separate Andhra state.

Kammas wanted the capital of the new state to be located in Vijayawada in Krishna district; the Reddys opposed this and demanded that capital be located in backward Rayalaseema.

Reddys, who have a greater cultural affinity with Madras than the Kammas, won the support of Tamil MLAs which led to the Madras Assembly passing a resolution in favour of Kurnool as the capital of separate Andhra state.

Peeved at the Reddys’ domination, noted Kamma leader NG Ranga quit the Congress and floated his own party. Kammas see this as the first triumph for the Reddys.

The Second Capital War

The second assault took place when Andhra Pradesh state was formed in 1956 merging Andhra and Hyderabad (Telugu region) states with Hyderabad as the capital.

The creation of a larger Telugu state of Andhra Pradesh, Kammas suspected, was a conspiracy by the Reddys as it would bring another Reddy territory to Andhra Pradesh and this would further strengthen the caste.

If one sees the list of the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, the Kammas’ apprehension was not without substance.

The state had not produced a Kamma chief minister until 1983, when Telugu Desam Party (TDP) toppled the Congress regime with actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao as chief minister. The TDP decimated the Reddy-dominant Congress.

Since the capital could not be shifted to Vijayawada, Kammas decided to turn Telangana’s Hyderabad into their bastion.

For the first time Kammas started enjoying state patronage which resulted in a massive influx of money from coastal Andhra and the US from the Kamma community into Hyderabad city and neighbouring districts.

This expansion of the Kammas’ cultural and economic control (from corporate companies to curry points at street level) is said to be the flash point for the Telangana movement in the 2000s.

Though YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s arrival on the scene in 2004 paved the path for the resurgence of the Reddys in erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh, his sudden death, followed by the creation of Telangana state, put paid to the ‘Reddification project’.

The Third Capital War

As the first chief minister of new Andhra Pradesh state post Telangana, Chandrababu Naidu found a golden opportunity to take revenge on the Reddys by deciding to build the new capital city in Kamma lands in Krishna and Guntur districts, which form the core of the Kamma dominance.

Naidu though originally from Rayalaseema region, dreamed of a capital built around Kamma caste interests, which in his view would keep the Reddys away.

The principal beneficiaries of the Amaravati real estate boom would be Kammas and they would defend it in case there was a political incursion by Reddys in the future.

Where the capital would be located was decided with utter disregard for the Rayalaseema people who demanded that the capital should rightfully be located in Kurnool as per the Sri Bagh agreement signed at the time of agitation for Andhra state in 1937.

Naidu’s apprehension was that locating a new capital in Reddy-dominant Rayalaseema would mean delivering the entire state to the Reddys on a platter. So he got a resolution passed in Assembly to locate the capital in Guntur district, unleashing unprecedented destruction on the highly fertile lands on the banks of the river Krishna.

Naidu’s land-pooling which was meant to be a voluntary exercise by farmers, turned out to become coercive over time, as many farmers refused to part with their bread and butter.

Many farmers still demand the return of their land while Naidu transformed this into a massive real estate venture of Kammas and crony capitalists.

This is the background against which Jagan announced that if he were to come to power, he would return all the land to the farmers confining the capital city to the designated core capital region of 5000 to 7000 acres.

Will Jagan stick to his promise and return the highly fertile lands to farmers and restore the green glory of the region?

The Fertile Krishna Banks

Farmers used to cultivate 120 varieties of fruits and vegetables on these lands. But despite the takeover of land by the government, little can be seen in terms of the actual capital coming up.

On the other side, in Rayalaseema, are painfully barren agricultural lands.

Naidu’s capital concept is obsolete, said EAS Sarma, former secretary, Government of India.

“We have to demolish this concept of massive capital in the era of digital technology. The capital should be diffused to the level of mandal administration,” he said and added that fertile lands should be restored to the poor farmers.

Sarma is an environmentalist, waging legal battle against the construction of the capital that is bound to destroy precious ecology irreversibly.

“For a decent capital, the centre for policy making, a small area is enough. Capital doesn’t mean concrete buildings, corporate offices, engineering colleges etc. Jagan is presented with a golden opportunity to evolve an Andhra model for capital construction. The new chief minister should better concentrate on good governance rather than building an unwieldy capital at the cost of highly fertile agricultural lands. The new CM should immediately take steps to return all the lands forcefully collected from farmers for Amaravati construction,” Sarma said.

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