Can the Saffron Surge in Andhra? Part 1
BJP continues to be a marginal player in the Andhra Pradesh political landscape. From Jan Sangh days, concerted attempts to make inroads into socio-political psyche of AP, leveraging the modest organizational network of Sangh Parivar, has yielded little dividends.
RSS started its first Shakha in coastal Andhra city of Vijayawada during early 40’s. During pre-independence period, like in the rest of the country, Sangh grew reasonably well in coastal Andhra despite stiff resistance from communists. Sangh even managed to organize a massive camp in Vijayawada. Guruji Gowalkar was planning to attend that camp, but due to the calamitous event of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, his visit was cancelled. That camp was brutally attacked by communist resulting in scores of Swayamsevak being injured. A vicious cycle of attack and counter-attacks ensued.
Due to taint associated with Parivar, for its alleged role in fomenting an ideological milieu that eventually led to Gandhi assassination, Sangh & allied organization faced psychological and political ostracization across country. Undeterred by the campaign of calumny that was mounted by the establishment, Sangh continued its silence groundwork including in AP and gradually gained confidence section of Hindus with its silent ground level outreaches and social work activities.
Why then did Hindu nationalism failed to neither get a foothold politically or have big organizational presence in AP, despite tireless efforts for over sixty years? Given that Andhra political landscape has no explicit Dravidian political narrative like Tamil Nadu, why then the Sangh, that could create a larger socio-political impact in other southern states like Karnataka and Kerala, failed to make headway in Andhra Pradesh?
Socio-politico regions of Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh has three distinct socio-political regions – Coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema largely shaped by different political trajectories they followed in the last two centuries during British rule. Hyderabad Nizam ruled over Telangana and ceded coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema to British at different times. Going by Sri Krishna commission report, Telangana has 11% upper castes, 51% backward castes and 12% Muslims while Coastal Andhra has 32% Upper Castes , 39% BCs, 16% Dalits with significant converted Christian minority among them. Merger of British Andhra with Telangana with to form Andhra Pradesh created an imbalance due to the inherently different political dynamics in these regions.
Deeper analysis of the social demographics of each of the three regions, namely the Coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalseema is needed for a better perspective in understanding Andhra polity. In Telangana, Reddys and Velamas are the traditional feudal lords (for Telanganites “Doras”) with control over land and men. They were feudatories with indispensable role in the governance of the region historically. When it was integrated with Andhra, Telangana was a deeply exploited and feudalistic society under Nizam rule – region still possess some feudal characteristics in rural areas. With 11% population, upper castes in Telangana occupied not only disproportionate political space but also controlled resources of the region. The exploited psyche of Telangana and legacy of “Telangana Armed Struggle” (Telangana Saayudha Poratam) against Nizam provided fertile battleground for revolutions of all hues. Most notable is the Naxalite movement with footsoldiers recruited mostly from Telangana Dalits and other exploited sections with educated upper castes playing an important role as leaders and ideologues. Interestingly the present Maoist supreme commander “Ganapathi” is a Velama from Karimnagar district. Nowhere in India, Naxalite movement acquired operational expertise, support and intellectual clarity as in Telangana. It was an important part of telangana life for the last 3-4 decades. Now this naxalite movement merged into Maoism and strategically moved its epicenter from Telangana to the tribal hinterland “Dhandakaranya” targeting recently formed states Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and tribal regions of Orissa. Maoist’s presence in Telangana is at present minimal.
Coastal Andhra has different socio-economic characteristics from the other two regions. During 19th century barrages on River Krishna and River Godavari were constructed and this galvanized the economy in four delta districts 1)Krishna 2)Guntur 3)East Godavari 4) West Godavari and southern coastal district Nellore. Mostly Kammas,Rajus,Kapus control land in the delta districts with Kammas holding giant share. Over a period comparatively affluent delta districts, with significant presence of culturally equipped Brahmins, traditional Vysyas and access to modern education became centres of learning, business and culture in early twentieth century. British rule, modern education, anti-Brahminism, communist influence, role of cinema combined with the early influence of Christianity on Dalits blunted the explicit feudal characteristics of coastal Andhra society.
Rayalaseema comprising four districts Kurnool, Kadapa ,Ananthapur and Chitoor has retained feudal characteristics of Vijayanagara inspite of British control over it. British named warring feudal lords as “factionists”. Many movies were made in Telugu on factionism in Rayalaseema. Demographically and politically, Reddys dominate districts of Rayalaseema between themselves with kammas competing with them in chitoor and few other pockets of Rayalaseema. According to Sri Krishna report Rayalseema is the most backward of all the three regions despite of maximum number of CMs from the area. Rayalaseema is rich in mineral deposits and mining is a part of Rayalaseema economy.
Coastal Andhra, Anti-Brahminism and Sangh Parivar
During early 20th century,as elsewhere in the country Brahmins were leading in intellectual and cultural spheres, playing an important role in Congress led freedom movement as representatives from Andhra Pradesh. They also had major presence in bureaucracy and other governance related positions. Traditional feudal castes like Kammas, Rajus controlled land, rural resources and Vysyas controlled traditional businesses. With increased penetration of modern education among traditional feudal castes they were in competition with Brahmins in many modern vocations and this competition to grab British government bureaucratic resources took the form of anti-Brahminism in south. Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker led anti-Brahmanism in Tamilnadu. In Andhra Tripuraneni Ramaswamy Chowdhary, a barrister and literary figure was in forefront of questioning caste hierarchies, traditional puranic literature and promoting rationalism.
Interestingly, Tripuraneni Ramaswamy Chowdhary, from Kamma caste had Brahminical education and was a nationalist involved with Hindu Mahasabha initially before becoming a Rationalist. He was an influential personality in the region and associated with Justice Party, which was formed to counter the Brahmin dominated Congress in south. However, anti-Brahminism in coastal Andhra particularly delta districts was limited to ideological and political opposition and never took a violent community hatred turn like in Tamilnadu.
Justice Party ruled Madras presidency for most part of pre-independence period and was a platform for non-Brahmin elitist classes among upper castes in Madras Presidency including coastal Andhra. This division within upper castes in coastal Andhra prevented the formation of necessary social alliance required for Hindu nationalism to get critical mass of followers among influential before it could emerge in the consciousness of masses. Added to the anti-Brahminism of Justice Party, was the influence of communism on coastal Andhra, specifically on influential sections, that further alienated thinking sections from native traditions.
Unlike Tamilnadu anti-Brahminism in coastal Andhra has not transformed into language oriented radical sub-nationalism or a belief in Dravidian-Aryan division on the ground, though communists, missionaries used these imaginary theories to promote their agenda. Like Tamilnadu, Coastal Andhra couldn’t fully precipitate a coherent basis for its self-identity, as a consequence there is visible identity crisis and self-negation in Andhra on issues like importance of mother-tongue, culture, and history.
After independence, Sangh had to operate in an intellectual environment heavily influenced by communist sympathetic landed gentry with loyalty towards Congress, Nehru. Traditionally Brahmins, Vysyas provided the initial thrust to Sangh across the country. In Andhra Pradesh, from a position of organizational dominance within Congress party, Brahmnins and Vysya became increasingly politically irrelevant,a processthat started immediately after independence. The political marginalization of Brahmins and Thakurs in northern india had to wait till Mandal politics of 80’s, whereas by 50’s erstwhile Justice party supporting segments were in firm control of both congress and communist parties in Andhra Pradesh. Yet, to this day most Brahmins and Vysya remain loyal voters to Congress in Andhra in spite of party’s humiliation of P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Sangh parivar and Hindu national politics couldn’t influence the sections that politically mattered most in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. In late 70’s there was momentum towards Janata party when it emerged as opposition in Andhra assembly after emergency. Venkayya Naidu, a young man with brilliant oratory skills, groomed by Sangh and student politics, was elected from Nellore district on Janata party ticket. He was re-elected in 1982 from the same constituency on BJP ticket in an election that made NTR AP CM. He was a promising leader and rising star of BJP in AP before he lost elections in 1985 to assembly and in 1989 to parliament in alliance with TDP. NTR’s TDP effectively occupied anti-congress space in the state sidelining both BJP and Left in the state. Hopes of Sangh Parivar for political space with an effective political face were dashed with Venkayya Naidu’s defeat. Venkayya Naidu was reluctant to contest any elections after one more defeat from Hyderabad against MIM in 1996 election, when BJP contested alone without any alliance.
After NTR’ s death , BJP again found resonance with AP voters after Chandra Babu Naidu’s misadventure in forming United Front government with Congress support. BJP won 20% vote share and four MP seats, two each from coastal Andhra and Telangana on its own in 1998 elections. There was a sudden BJP wave in two delta districts West Godavari and East Godavari. In these two districts it seemed Kapus and Rajus were moving towards BJP to support Vajpayee as PM. Telugu media also played significant role in this process. Eenadu with monopoly on Telugu print media at that time ran a positive cover story on Vajpayee and effectively introduced him to middle Andhra. CBN, sensing ground slipping, supported NDA govt and with his machiavellian tactics effectively killed budding BJP by holding its national leadership hostage to his political agenda. After 2004 defeat BJP in AP returned back to square one with worst performance and won only 2 assembly segments.
Sangh started its direct activity in Telangana after Nizam’s capitulation and merger of Hyderabad into Indian union. It soon grew to strength and expanded in Telangana. It played phenomenal role in keeping Hindus united in riot prone Hyderabad city. For Sangh, situation in Telangana was similar to Kerala. At the height of Naxalite movement it had to fight both left extremism and religious fundamentalism. Many Sangh, ABVP activists lost their lives fighting left-wing extremism in Telangana.
Compared to other two regions Sangh Parivar penetration is deepest in Telangana. It has influence in many segments of Hindu society in Telangana. Osmania University, the nerve centre of Telangana students is dominated by ABVP and radical left unions. However after BJP succumbed to CBN’ s pressure on Telangana, Bjp lost considerable support base to TRS electorally, but still Sangh and ABVP are a force to reckon in Telangana.
Sangh Parivar draws support from most segments that matter in Telangana importantly Reddys, Velamas, and BC’s like Padmahalis, Goudas, Yadavs. Ideological antipathy to Hindu nationalim is less in Telangana compared to coastal Andhra. Except for areas in which Venkayya Naidu wielded some influence, seats that BJP won on its own were from Telangana region, barring 1998 election when it won two MP seats from coastal Andhra. In Rayalaseema, Sangh activity is better compared to coastal Andhra but not on par with Telangana.
Part 2 – Future possibilities for Hindu nationalism & BJP in AP