BJP needs to be very careful with Andhra politicians. I see the same tendencies of the same powerful caste groups of Reddy/Kamma occupying the space
Commenting on the spectacular BJP win in 2019, Jaitley Ji commented, ‘Aspirational India does not accept Royalties, Dynasties, and caste-based parties’. That held true for most of the country except the Southern states of Andhra, Tamilnadu, and Kerala. Each has its own dynamics but as someone born from Andhra, I can say caste politics plays at abominable levels in Andhra politics. The three main parties that contested in 2019 elections represent three farming groups – three different castes, namely, Reddy, Kamma, and Kapu.
The reins of power in the State were almost always held between the Reddy and Kamma communities where politically active people in these caste groups have enriched themselves for the most part. Only recently the third farming group Kapu has been striving to get a piece of the pie enjoyed by the other two groups, with little success. While there are some bright spots, the two powerful political caste-based groups, Reddy and Kamma determined the destiny of the combined state leading it to a disaster. The result is today the combined Andhra is a divided state because Telangana region felt they are not getting the fair share of state development funds and parted ways, leaving Andhra cash strapped with a sense they got a raw deal in the division of the state.
Then there are several accusations that central BJP leadership are being manipulated by smooth-talking state Reddy leaders to part ways with Kamma Chief Minister Naidu.
More than three decades ago, growing up during my teenage years in Andhra, my first encounter with casteism was when I was told that in order to enter the movie industry in Andhra you will not have a chance unless you are a Kamma. I remember those days of Andhra Pradesh Reddy Chief Ministers such as Sanjeeva Reddy, Brahmananda Reddy and then Chenna Reddy. During a visit of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to the capital city of the Hyderabad, one of the Reddy Chief Ministers of the time had introduced all his ministers to Nehru who were standing in line at the airport. After the last minister was introduced Nehru asked the Reddy Chief Minister how come the last minister introduced was not a Reddy? I recall how Chenna Reddy deliberately started Hindu/ Muslim riots before elections and the rampant goondaism in the State and how people felt unsafe.
Kamma vs Reddy
Then came N T Rama Rao (NTR), a popular movie icon from Kamma community who rode to popularity after years of the state receiving step-motherly treatment from the centre. He seemed to have initially ruled with sincerity but soon he also became corrupt as well as engaged in caste Kamma politics. He got ill and then his son-in-law Chandra Babu Naidu usurped power from his father in law. Naidu did have a vision for the State for its development and built the Information Technology (IT) industry in Hyderabad. He and his caste friend Murali Mohan are believed to have robbed millions from the farmers of Electronic City of Hyderabad where they bought the lands of farmers first at low prices and then declared Electronic city and cashed out on the multi-fold rise in the cost. Most of his beneficiaries are of Kamma caste including Eenadu founder Ramoji Rao and others. When his party was part of the Vajpayee BJP coalition Government at the centre, Naidu was able to get more funds allocated to the state and made immense improvements to Hyderabad while neglecting the rural areas. This is the time the rumblings started for a separate Telangana because people there felt for long that their region was not getting a fair share of the state resources.
The worse was yet to come. Naidu lost to Yeduguri Sandinti (Samuel?) Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), a fanatic evangelical Christian Chief Minister who along with the support of Sonia Gandhi increased the percentage of Christians from less than 3% to about 22% with foreign missionaries openly converting hundreds of thousands of people with the complete support of State machinery and funds. Even the most remote villages in combined Andhra have a church whether there is a practising Christian in that village or not. Worse, YSR robbed Hindu temples and the family amassed billions of rupees in land grabs – allegedly a good chunk must be through selling the Hindu temple lands that were under Government control. YSR had an untimely death, which some believe is God’s punishment for targeting Tirupathi temple in trying to give away 5 out of 7 Tirumala hills to Christian missionaries. Then there is the division of the state, followed by Chandra Babu Naidu joining hands with Modi/ BJP and coming to power in 2014.
Then Babu, an insecure man who was engaging in caste politics, unable to handle the raw deal to the state, parted with BJP and joined hands with the Congress, the very party that is the reason for the existence of his own party. He bad mouthed Narendra Modi and paid crores of rupees to his Kamma friends in the media to not allow a single fact of Modi’s contributions to the state, lied his way by putting his own stamp to central schemes, only to lose power badly to YSR’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy. Telangana on the other side is ruled by KCR who seemed to be doing well initially, felt he is getting smarter by the day by engaging in Muslim appeasement and was even planning to form a coalition Government in case Modi’s NDA does not get enough numbers in 2019. KCR had the audacity to banish a Hindu saint from Hyderabad for countering the abuse of Sri Ram on one of the locally compromised media channels while he and his people openly abused Hindus during election rallies.
This is the sad state of the Telugu people. Most of these political leaders perpetrated divisions based on caste, religion and in the process enriched themselves and their supporters in their caste groups. All live in very large palatial homes worth thousands of crores while the State is suffering. A video of some of the Jagan Reddy palatial homes in cities across Andhra and in Bangalore displayed the opulence and wealth accumulated which even a billionaire entrepreneur in California cannot boast about. Many of these political families, particularly from Reddy families (and maybe even Kamma) members of the same family are allied with different parties so that no matter which party gains power in the state, they get a piece of the pie! They are amply supported by their caste people who benefit and support the caste divisions. Where are they getting this money from? This is money that belongs to all people of Andhra.
For the most part they are modern day high-class robbers, India’s thugs, feudalistic landlords, who think that they are doing a favour by ruling over lesser mortals, a legacy of Congress party that engulfed the country leaving half of India’s 1.2 billion population still under poverty, every second child malnourished, a country home to one third of the world’s poor. While China is moving ahead in leaps and bounds and has completely removed poverty of 1+ billion people in the matter of three decades, India is weighed down by these thugs leaving a half billion living the curse of poverty in despicable shacks called homes without even the most basic toilet facilities. The same families use a fraction of the enormous looted property to win the following elections and then continue the loot. They are now even using professional political strategists to win elections.
Though I have not kept in touch with the State, I was told that even today every child growing up in Andhra has a deep sense of the caste they belong to. When I was interacting with many younger people in social media, I was amazed at the support based on caste lines. A young Reddy wants to downplay the disaster done by YSR from conversions and plunder to the state, brushes aside any concerns of potential rampant conversions from Jagan. I have seen many a young Reddy even calling Jagan as ‘Jagan Anna‘, ‘brother Jagan’, even though he is no relation of him (other than being a Reddy). Talk to them – they want to throw under the carpet anything done by the Reddy leaders, no matter which party they belong to as if that does not matter. Then there is a Kamma Hindu activist who thinks that Modi is a disaster who needs to be defeated because he did not do justice to the state even if that means Congress comes to power and the country goes to dogs. His main gripe also stems from Modi being unfair to his Kamma Chief Minister and his ‘Kamma brothers’ who brought properties in the new capital Amaravathi may not get the returns they expected. Then there are several accusations that central BJP leadership is being manipulated by smooth-talking Reddy leaders from the state to part ways with Kamma Chief Minister Naidu.
We have a responsibility to come out of our shell and help create a modern India as a service to our mother country which Modi Ji is attempting to create, not perpetuate same backward tendencies.
Too many associations?
This fanatic caste feeling is not just in India, but also abroad. Telugu people have the most North American Telugu associations based on caste and even region since Andhra Pradesh was divided. They are TANA, NATS, ATA, BATA, TATA… the list goes on. This mental depredation lacks the vision that their own children growing up in the United States care little for caste and it is believed that 50% of them do not even marry with those from Indian origin or even within their religion. Each of these groups spends millions of dollars on mega-events every year or two and bring in political leaders from Andhra/ Telangana hoping to get a few crumbs of influence from India while most Indian politicians arguably treat them as ‘useful idiots‘. The tragedy is that India gave them so much through free education, family and discipline that allowed them to prosper here and these people want to grab more from the poor country using these corrupt caste-based Indian politicians – like robbing from your own mother who gave so much to you. These are done with little thought to bringing people together here in the US especially where racism is still part of the American society.
Today a Hindu American cannot claim to get the same justice as a White or Jewish American and Asian students are discriminated into admissions in schools. American students are fed most derogatory things about Hinduism creating an aversion or lack of self-esteem among Hindu American students for their own religion and culture. The community faces many challenges with few people registered to vote and are not being taken seriously by politicians compared to other communities such as Muslim Americans. While the first generation is well off and imparted some of there traits of hard work to the next generation and therefore somewhat insulated, we cannot guarantee the same for further generations. In supporting caste-based discrimination in India, these people must reflect on how it is no different from what they faced and now their children face similar discrimination based on race in this country.
BJP – Proceed with caution!
BJP needs to be very careful with Andhra politicians. I see the same tendencies of the same powerful caste groups of Reddy/ Kamma occupying the space and Modi/ Amit Shah Ji need to ensure there is larger participation of the state, the goals of aspirational India, as Jaitley pointed. There is no need to choose Kamma Purandeshwari as CM candidate. She brings nothing to the table and people do not care. BJP also needs to be cautious of a BJP Reddy politician promoting only Reddys or a BJP Kamma politician bringing another Kamma into the party, rather than the best person for the job. Talk to activists on the ground and they say most of the state BJP leaders are compromised and they have relationships in business and other dealings based on caste lines with the state ruling party leaders. One activist told me, the relationship between the local ruling party and local BJP leaders in both Andhra and Telangana is that of master and mistress.
I was also told when the BJP contested Lok Sabha elections for the first time, it got 2 Lok Sabha seats – one was from the combined Andhra (the loser was Sri P V Narasimha Rao!) and another from Gujarat. However, while Gujarat picked up and now rules the country, Andhra Pradesh never picked up because of the shady relationships of the central and local BJP leaders from the state have with the ruling party leaders of the State. If BJP aspires to penetrate Andhra/Telangana, many suggest it will be successful only if it brings in total new state leadership and be extremely sensitive to the designs of the members of established powerful caste groups driven by greed and power than to serve. (Note: Many say the need for this complete replacement of local BJP leadership also applies to other Southern states such as Tamil Nadu).
I know this article evokes strong sentiments, but it is important Telugu people come out in the open and be honest about it. There are always exceptions and there are people from all communities doing great service to Dharma and country without any agenda of self or feeling of caste. Caste or ‘Jati‘ was never based on birth, but a natural classification based on human tendencies, not to be used for division or discrimination, but for efficient organization of a society. Living abroad all of us can be a role model to those in India.
America faced the challenges of deeply rooted racism by being open and honest about it and when we open up and talk freely we have a chance to break these barriers. In fact, the American military is considered the least racist many decades earlier than the rest of the country because of this open and honest communication. We have a responsibility to come out of our shell and help create a modern India as a service to our mother country which Modi Ji is attempting to create, not perpetuate the same backward tendencies. We are not realizing that this deep-rooted casteism is not only destroying the state but also playing a catalyst to conversions and leading to Breaking India forces.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.