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With Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam, in Andhra Pradesh once again, the political discourse shifting towards emerging on Caste loyalties vis-à-vis parties. In general, the discourse on caste and its influence on politics is not new. We can date back these discourses to the famous research article written by Selig.S.Harrison on Caste and Andhra Communists, in the early 50s where in he states that the caste played a foundational role in political motion and it deserves to study as a special case to study the impact of caste on representative institutions. Extending the ambit of this debate M.N.Srinivas, in his article “Caste in Modern India” deals with the major castes of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamilanadu, Karnataka by applying the same principle in the light of first general elections to judge the emerging and changing political affiliations. As the colonial rule unravelled and de-linked social caste from religious caste, as it was felt by Nicholas Dirks in his Castes of Minds, caste became “ a single term of capable of expressing, organising, and above all systamatising India’s diverse form of social identity, community and organisation.” In democracy parliament and assemblies are the highest forms of representative institutions. In the traditional society such as ours Caste forms in to a major element in social organisation. Thus the interplay of Caste and parliamentary democracy always a topic of renewed interest for all. In this essay I wish to use the Dominant Caste concept developed by M.N.Srinivas while critically examining whether the criteria set by him in the early 50’s still matters for a caste to be a dominant one to speculate over the possible emerging scenarios of Chiranjeevi’s influence and role in politics of the state. Coming to the present context, after a long time Andhra Pradesh is witnessing this kind of daily political discourse . Last time the political analysts and sociologists engaged in this kind of discourse was on the eve of NT Rama Rao, who happened to be from Kamma caste, launched his party with sole cause of protecting the Telugu Pride in the early 80s of last century. After a quarter century again, with another cine star Chiranjeevi launching his Praja Rajyam, the analysts reverted back to this debate. Though Caste has been an important instrument in articulating political mobilisation in the state, there are not enough studies which dealt with about the changing political allegiance and the reasons behind that change, particularly after institutionalising the democratic process. Realisation of numerical strength and articulation of interests in political spheres needs social engineering. The phrase “ Social Engineering” became popular in the wake of BSP’s upsurge first on to the UP and gradually to the national political landscape. NT Rama Rao with his god like charisma succeeded in creating and consolidating rainbow caste coalition by weaning away BCs and Dalits from congress fold. And also Telugu Desam organised social engineering by mobilising BCs, certain sections of SCs, Minorities to run together under the leadership of dominant caste in questioning the hegemony of another dominant caste. This aspect and consequences of Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh some how escaped from the analysts and sociologists view. The difference between social engineering of TDP and that of BSP is basically those who are steering the wheel might be the probable reason. In the case of BSP it is Dalits where as in the case of TDP it was and is Kamma. To analyse the Chiranjeevi phenomenon we need to dwell in to caste composition with a little details. As we all knew, there were no census based on caste after 1930. So we have to depend on census of 1921 under Nizam’s domain, which contained a column on caste to ascertain the respective percentages of each castes in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Here
I shall source the figures from one study K.Srinivasulu undertook for Overseas Institute of Development, London, titled, Caste, Class and Social Articulation in Andhra Pradesh: Mapping Differential Regional Trajectories. Though this study concentrates on Dalit political mobilization considerably dealt about the role and influence of difference castes over the political landscape of the state. The percentages are as follows. “The Brahmins, comprising 3% of the population, and ritually placed at the top of the caste pyramid, have historically dominated social, cultural and economic life. The Reddys and Kammas, comprising 6.5% and 4.8% of the State’s population respectively, are the two politically dominant communities. The Other Backward Castes (OBCs), comprising 46.1%, constitute a very large proportion of the State’s population.” Major Caste wise Population in Andhra Pradesh Backward % Forward % Scheduled % Others % castes castes castes Golla/ 6.3 Kapu 15.2 Mala 9.7 Muslims, 7.0 yadava Chirstians Telaga 5.2 Reddy 6.5 Madiga 7.3 Chakali 4.2 Kamma 4.8 Mutarasi 3.3 Velama 3.0 Balija 3.0 Komati 2.7 Padmsale 2.9 Kshatriya 1.2 Kammari 2.1 Devangana 2.1 Goundla 2.0 Waddera 1.9 Mangali 1.3 Kuruma 1.3 Idiga 1.0 Kummari 0.9 Munnuru 0.8 Kapu Boya 0.7 Besta 0.7 Uppara 0.4 Gavara 0.4 Jangama 0.4 Others 5.4 Total 46.1 36.4 17 7.0 Major caste groups are geographically distributed in different areas. Each region has its own “Dominant caste” (in M.N.Srinivas’s understanding) which capitalized the opportunities whether they are education, land, power. So far in the state the rainbow caste coalitions are centering around the dominant castes, Reddy under the leadership of Congress where as Kammas under the leadership of TDP. These groupings emerged out of 30 years of political churning and are in tact, though there are minor adjustments with the ground level voting shifts. Emergence of Telugu Desam and its consequence ended Congress’ monopoly by creating political dualism. People also vexed with this dualism, dual hegemony over polity and appropriating resources over the last three decades. According to me the dominance of Reddys and Kammas not only in political arena, but also in academic, administrative, economic and in land relations helped them to play leading roles in respective coalitions. Here comes a necessity of more structured debate
over the characteristics and manufacturing of Dominant Caste. This debate is particularly important in the context of rise of subaltern castes to power. M.N.Srinivas explains what constitutes a dominant caste in his essay “ The Dominant Caste in Rampura”. According to him, “A caste may be said to be ‘dominant’ when it preponderates numerically over the other castes, and when it also wields preponderant economic and political power. A large and powerful caste group can more easily be dominant if its position in the local caste hierarchy is not too low.” Here the author of the concept laid down four criterions of a dominant caste. First one is it should be numerically large one. Second one it should wield economic strength in the given area. Third one it should also wield political power. Last one it should not be too low in caste hierarchy. Accepting this definition, I doubt whether numerical preponderance, is a precondition for a caste to be Dominant one. For me what primarily constitutes dominant caste is, the ability to exert influence by the that particular caste in keeping the system intact. The forward castes that ruled the state so far are not so numerically preponderant ones. But the influence they exerts is so much that it keeps the existing caste hierarchy in each village in tact. With this sense I termed two prominent castes of Andhra Pradesh, Kamma and Reddy as dominant castes, though they are not numerically preponderant castes in the state as it is evident from the above table. The quite opposite experience of Dalit upsurge in UP where their numerical preponderance does not always does not contribute to their dominance as we have seen BSP in the context of UP. Though BSP occupied center state in social engineering, despite its numerical domination, dalit’s representative party could not dominate the state politically until it diversified its base by bringing some upper castes in the textual sense, which are socially dominant in to its fold. Thus the rationale behind doubting the postulation of numerical preponderance as a precondition for a Dominant Caste. The other criteria spelt out by M.N.Srinivas is that economic and political preponderance of a caste in the given area. The sequencing of the terminology here is interesting. He uses political preponderance only next to economic preponderance. With out having capacity to exert economic influence over the village, which helps a caste to construct a working alliance at village level, having political preponderance is a difficult task. Economic advantage means the particular castes ability to move across the sections of economy by commanding over the resources. Land was and is the mainstay of economic power in our society where the castes with rural orientation are holding the key. Now with the capitalist relations of economy are widespread, not only the ability to own and control the land constitutes economic hegemony. But also its presence in trade, industry also matters as it imparts the ability to spend counts. The last criteria, the caste in question’s position in hierarchy. The textual hierarchy attributes caste a position in society which reflects in its social status. To be precise, the social status comes from the fact that in the textual hierarchy caste structure where that particular caste stands. By mentioning hierarchy in local caste system, Srinivas agrees that the caste hierarchy differs from place to place and even village to village in general. I don’ think this needs an additional explanation. If a caste in subject occupies top positions in the hierarchy, according to Srinivas, that makes easy for that caste to become dominant one. May be this explains the rise of BSP from Dominant Caste perspective, as I mentioned earlier in this article. While articulating the caste mobilization capacity in politics is influenced by the dominant caste syndrome, we need to ascertain whether that particular caste constitutes a dominant caste or not. Not only that. It should be in a position to sustain these social
relations if it wants to sustain as a dominant caste. Thus assertion as dominant caste and ability to sustain the social relations structure based on the dominant caste syndrome are reinforcing each other. Here comes the question whether Kapu which happens to be the caste of Chiranjeevi will be able to act as a dominant caste or not. To put it otherwise whether Chiranjeevi would be able to steer the political scene in the state and the influence of his new entity entirely depends up on the fact that whether his caste will as as a dominant caste or not. We will outline the three possible scenarios about the possible impact of Chiranjeevi’s party in the forth coming elections in the state. First one is it can hamper the winning chances of good number of candidates belongs to rival parties, there by leading to a hung assembly. Second possible scenario may be winning on his own provided forming a rainbow caste coalition on sustainable basis as precondition. The last scenario may be winning majority of seats in the community dominant constituencies and impacting the winning chances in other parts. For the first scenario to become reality the present machinations will be considered sufficient such as projecting him and his party as benefactor of his community. This leads to direct political articulation of caste mobilization. For the second and third scenarios to come to true depends up on the ability of his community rather than his own ability to lead the caste coalition which can happen in only case when the Kapu community happens a dominant community and caste. This kind of rainbow caste coalition will also infuse confidence among the dissatisfied sections in other parties which will become handy to tilt the results decisively. Now we will deliberate up on these three possible scenarios. When caste articulation transcends the boundary line of individual social life aided by the issues of under representation, discrimination, identity, then it will propels this articulation beyond the limited sphere of individual in to the larger sphere of socity and turns in to political articulation. As I mentioned above the first scenario is possible even if Chiranjeevi, and his Kapu community succeeds to rousing caste articulation awareness centering around the above mentioned issues, which is an easy way to mobilize he may help to establish himself as leader of that community. That won’t sufficient to project him as a leader of under privileged or under represented backward castes. That needs to accommodate the issues of other castes and communities also in to his agenda. As the above table indicates there are nearly half of the population falls under category of Backward castes which includes Munnuru Kapu and Balija, two important sub castes of Kapu. As the caste wise population is also distributed in different geographical scales as Kapu is mainly concentrated in coastal districts, Munnuru Kapu concentrated in Telangana region, Balija concentrated in Rayalaseema region. If we put together all these three in to single head that comes around 22 % of total population. If he succeeds in inculcating the sense of caste mobilization around discrimination, under representation and other such issues he may prove himself as a sole representative of that caste and can win considerable seats from the areas of community domination and also split proportionate voting in other parts of the state. So far except certain well off sections of this community in coastal region, general masses are with congress in general. According to some observers of the state general masses that belongs to Kapu, Balija, Munnuru Kapu communities are already started drifting their political loyalties towards Chiranjeevi. That we can see in various individual Kapu leaders are resigning to their existing parties and joining him. In this case the main looser will be Congress which is camping with majority of general masses from that community. If so, though he may not win for his own, he can prove as a spoiler. Recognizing this aspect of Chiranjeevi’s presence on political scene, YS Rajasekara Reddy’s government tactically moved pawns to show that his government can protect the interest of Kapu community and there is no
need for them to shift their political loyalty. Thus we can read from the administrative steps initiated a day before Tirupati Public meeting where Chiranjeevi launched his party, government announced that the students of Kapu community are also eligible to get equal amount of scholarship on par with other students from BC communities. At the same another issue he digged out is about the notification which seeks to enlist Kapu’s in BCs list, which was released and kept unimplemented over a decade ago. With these two steps Congress government initiated to divert the attention of Kapu community from Chiranjeevi. If Chiranjeevi pics up the issue of enumerating Kapu as BC that may boil the political scene in the near future which may become too hot to handle even for Congress government. For the next two scenarios coming in to reality, I am of the impression that the particular caste which wants to be the pillar of rainbow caste coalition needs to meet the other criteria also. It meets one criteria for dominant caste, i.e. numerical criteria. Being numerically largest populated caste among the forwards of backward castes, it can serve as dominant caste to lead the rainbow cast coalition which includes rallying of remaining backward communities, a section from SCs and minorities. In comparison to the other backward castes, Kapus are relatively on higher side in the case of prosperity, wealth, education but on the lower side in comparison to the dominant castes in forward communities. Though the exact data of caste wise ownership of assets in the state is not available we can say out of general perceptions that the Kapu community is having lesser share than that of its proportion to the population. Thus they may be lacking the economic criteria of a dominant caste which is coupled by political under representation. If Chiranejeevi’s party succeeds in bringing about this kind of coalition he is definitely a winning choice in the state. Once this situation emerges the two dominant castes of the state won’t take much time to flirt with Chiranjeevi’s party to protect their economic interests. But to project this kind of rainbow caste alliance needs it needs time to construction, and resources to poure in. This proving sustenance is only can be achieved once it infuses confidence among the disgruntled voters of the coalition in particular and other populace in general. And to face the electorate this caste coalition has to prove its sustainability. Keeping in mind the very short time gap between now and April, 2009, when the country goes to elections, I don’t thing Chiranajeevi and his outfit can form a rainbow coalition and prove its sustenance with in this sharp and short gap. Even we consider the nature of work undertaken on the eve of party launching, like a construction of ready made building, this lack of time will prove costly for his entity. In a state where people are dis-satisfied by both major ruling parties, they are looking for a new at the same time viable alternative which can focus on the length and breadth of their problems. For the last criterion, the data shown in the above table it self gives an imprint about the hierarchic position of Kapu community in different geographical scales. As mentioned above Kapu with its two sub castes constitutes a single caste. The sub castes are occupying a downward position in the local hierarchy where as the principle caste occupies an upwardly position. But the fact that on the state level principle caste does not constitute an upper caste status in general, unless the caste community in a particular village dominates numerically as well as in terms of asset owning. Thus we can conclude that Kapu caste including its sub castes does not satisfy the criterion of a Dominant Caste. This itself informs that the caste in question is not in a position to lead a rainbow coalition of castes. Thus it could not influence the electoral prospects on its own in a decisive way.