Can the Saffron Surge in Andhra? Part 2
Future possibilities for BJP in AP
In an undivided Andhra Pradesh, especially with subdued Telangana sentiment, prospects of BJP gaining ground appears very bleak. It may gain as an alliance partner, but to come to power on its own strength looks like an impossible task. Congress could potentially gain from imbalance engendered by uneven social demographics of the three regions. TDP under Chandrababu Naidu is poised to maintain its anti-Congress space in AP. Chiranjeevi‘s attempt to carve his own space on the basis of social justice plank by rallying his caste failed miserably and he has conceded defeat by merging his party into Congress.
Except Chandrababu Naidu and MIM, all political players in AP want Telangana though they might adopt a posture different for public consumption. Chiranjeevi, Jagan Reddy and ‘united Andhra Pradesh’ crusader Lagadapati Rajgopal are as eager for Telangana as Chandrasekhara Rao or Kishan Reddy. TDP will be marginalized in separate Telangana while in rest of AP, Chandrababu Naidu may be forced to project NTR family, importantly his actor-son Balakrishna, to motivate cadre and his core constituency. Support of Kammasof Coastal Andhra to Chandrababu Naidu may not be guaranteed if Telangana is out of bounds for TDP and they may demand for leadership role for Balakrishna to counter his professional rival Chiranjeevi from Congress. Chiranjeevi and Jagan could potentially emerge as decisive leaders if Telangana is out of their political equation.
How could separate Telangana affect BJP?
If Congress agrees for separate Telangana on the condition of TRS merger with it, BJP has enormous potential to occupy anti-Congress space within 5-10 years. Even if it doesn’t merge into Congress, TRS could lose its appeal once Telangana becomes reality. Alternatively, if BJP led government at centre takes initiative to form Telangana with BJP-TRS sweep in next parliament elections, it might have to reconcile to a junior partner role in Telangana state initially, but can always grow with judicious combination of upper caste and BC leadership.
TRS is largely a one-man show. Though Chandrasekhara Rao, his son and nephew (both MLA’s) are talented speakers, their Velama caste background with limited numerical presence combined with competition from Reddys, could restrict their pan Telangana appeal. Numerically strong backward communities like Yadavs and Gouds could occupy significant political space and BJP’s success in Telangana would depend on ability to channelize them. It should be relatively an easy task since Sangh and BJP have some organizational presence among them and also Telangana responds with greater energy to national issues.
Coastal Andhra with Rayalaseema will be a more difficult terrain to crack. Except Venkayya Naidu, there is no other visible leader for BJP in coastal Andhra. Also demographics of coastal Andhra is a challenge to newer possibilities of political mobilisation. As in most parts of the country, caste polarization is an essential reality in Andhra politics.
There are three different social alliances that could potentially matter in coastal Andhra. One led by Kammas dominant in four delta districts, second led by Reddys dominant in Rayalaseema region, and the third led Kapu caste group spread across coastal Andhra. Kamma group and Reddy group are highly resourceful and tasted power in the past. Between them Kammas and Reddys control most media, big businesses, real estate, cinema, education almost everything that has potential for profit in coastal Andhra, Hyderabad. Kapu group is not that much resourceful though they are comparatively affluent in four delta districts of coastal Andhra.
Coming to specifics of various social groups and their political preferences, Kamma forms the bulwark of traditional TDP constituency along with section of Rajus and significant backward castes Kammas, who constitute around 4.5% share in undivided AP will have increased presence of 7-8% in a divided Andhra, since they have no significant presence in Telangana area.
Reddys constitute the traditional Congress constituency along with scheduled castes and non-Kamma supplemented by upper caste including Brahmins and Vaisayas. Rayalaseema Reddys will have almost same percentage of population as Kammas. Kapu group is a non homogeneous group that is trying hard to unite Delta district forward caste Kapus with north Andhra backward caste Kapus and Rayalaseema Balijas. Though Kapu group claims 25% share in population, in reality the figure could be around 15% in coastal Andhra. Before Chiranjeevi – Kapu group supported Congress in delta region and TDP in rayalaseema region. With entry of Chiranjeevi into Congress and split in Reddy community between Jagan and Congress, Kapu group under Chiranjeevi and PCC president is trying hard to compete with Reddys and consolidate their position within Congress, but it looks like Reddys at the helm of present Andhra government are not yielding. How far Kapu group succeeds in its attempt to gain control over Congress has to be seen.
Separate coastal Andhra could witness fierce competition between these social alliances to capture power. If in future Jagan is forced to merge with Congress then competition will be between Congress and TDP. At present, Congress is statistically looking stronger with Reddy and Kapu groups. If Jagan sustains his party then balance could tilt towards TDP. TDP needs alliance with a national party in parliament elections to appeal fence sitting voters and it also needs to snatch a portion of Brahmin-Vysya, non-Kamma upper castes to feel more confident. However, Brahmins-Vysyas in general are not comfortable with regional TDP compared to national Congress represented by Nehru-Gandhis.
Coming to BJP , it should handle Telangana issue carefully and logically. Most coastal Andhrites won’t object to separate Telangana if Hyderabad issue is resolved to the benefit of both regions. Any unilateral surrender to TRS by BJP will cost BJP any prospective growth in costal Andhra. Even if some Coastal Andhrites protest initially, after separation they may realize the advantages that accrue with separation. In coastal Andhra the scope for exclusive BC politics is limited at this time with huge 32% upper caste population controlling most resources, if BJP is serious about winning it should prioritize between these groups initially. Had Chiranjeevi opted for BJP alliance or joined BJP in 2009 that would have been a great start with Kapu group besides working as confidence booster for both parties.
If TDP fails to come to power next time in separate Andhra, then its constituency would be ready to shift loyalties. BJP has to prepare for such an eventuality; Jai Prakash Narayan of Loksatta is also targeting the TDP constituency in coastal Andhra along with other educated urban groups. If Congress with Jagan couldn’t accommodate Kapu and Reddy groups, then a part of Reddy group will also shift their loyalties. A reasonable consolidation of Kamma and Reddy groups joined by anti-Congress nationalists from Kapu group behind BJP could do wonders to its tally in coastal Andhra with their formidable reach and resources. This is not to say others should be neglected or discouraged, every political party needs some critical mass support, initial strategy to gain foothold and acceptance before it acquires mass base.
On political activity part, in separate Andhra BJP could select few assembly constituencies across coastal Andhra where it has some leadership material. Apart from raising local issues it could try organizing service activities periodically with money raised either locally or willing sponsors from across the state. This is an effective strategy compared to distributing money during elections and would help in expanding party at grass roots. This political service activity is latest trend in coastal Andhra among some aspiring leaders to gain acceptance and goodwill in society. If BJP could win at least 10 assembly seats, either in alliance or on its own in coastal Andhra in 2014, it could well receive the necessary push to win both Andhra and Telangana, if national mood strongly favors BJP in 2019. Andhra Pradesh is a crucial state for Congress national tally, BJP has to politically challenge Congress in AP if it intends to come to power on its own at centre.