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Telangana Polls: Is Congress Playing It Safe With Reddy Dominance in Tickets?

With the Reddys bagging 17 tickets, the next spot has been taken by the OBCs who have been given 12 tickets so far.

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The Congress' first list of candidates for the Telangana Assembly elections has been made public – and the land-owning, influential Reddy community that dominates business and politics in both the Telugu-speaking states, has been given a sizable share of the tickets.

The Indian National Congress' decision to name 17 members of the Reddy community as candidates to fight the election indicates that the grand old party has chosen to play it safe as it eyes a second win in south India after the Karnataka victory in May this year.

Sidestepping its intent of granting a higher percentage of the tickets to candidates from backward classes, the Congress move to field a higher number of Reddys across key constituencies reflects not just the community's grip over the party, but also Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee chief Revanth Reddy's authority over the other senior party leaders.

With the Reddys bagging 17 tickets, the next spot has been taken by the OBCs who have been given 12 tickets. The reserved seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have them corner 17 seats with the remaining being given to the Velamas (7), Brahmins (2), and Muslims (3).

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Opposition From BC Leaders

Going by this trend, the second list is also expected to be largely populated by Reddys, though the party has seen stiff opposition from other castes – particularly the Kammas, who have not received any tickets as of yet, the Congress leader said.

The final list is expected to be announced after the first leg of the bus yatra campaign that will be led by Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, and TPCC president Revanth Reddy.

"The idea of keeping the announcement to the end of the yatra is to safeguard the Gandhis from the ire of discontented candidates whose names have been omitted from the list," said the spokesperson who is privy to the selection list.

The ticket distribution saw some furious, but expected responses from senior leaders such as Ponnala Lakshmaiah, a Congress veteran who has now quit the party to join the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi.

Ponnala alleged that the BCs were treated with disdain and demanded that the Congress fulfil its promise of giving the maximum number of tickets to backward classes.

Three days ago, when the list was first made public, BC leaders stormed into the Gandhi Bhavan, threatening to burn it down. In their angry address to the party leaders, some senior leaders, including Jajula Srinivas Goud, said:

"The Congress has asked us to contest in the Muslim-dominated areas. What is the point of asking us to fight an election in constituencies where there is no BC population and from where the Congress has never won before?"
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Telugu States and Reddy Dominance

Caste has been an important factor in the political history of undivided Andhra Pradesh – and remains critical for political mobilisation.

In his paper, Gautam Pingle at the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at the Administrative Staff College of India stated that the Reddy-Kamma rivalry has defined politics in Andhra Pradesh in both the Congress party as well as the Telugu Desam Party.

The two communities used a pliant Telangana vote bank in their battles. BR Ambedkar noted in 1955 that both these communities held all the land, all the offices, and all the businesses. In the then united Andhra Pradesh, a Reddy-Kamma alliance – with the Reddys playing the more dominant role – became the leitmotif in the political landscape of the state, Pingle says.

This control is based on numerical strength, their dominance in the village panchayats, and economic power.

Presently, the Reddys account for 8% of the population in Andhra Pradesh, with the Kammas adding up to 6.5-7% of the population. After the bifurcation, the Reddy population in Telangana stood at 6% with Kammas reducing themselves to less than 4% of the new state.

"This is no land for the Kammas. With all the infrastructure, real estate, pharmaceutical businesses, and politics being dominated by the Reddys, there is very little else other than the movie industry that the Kammas hold fort over," said Koteswara Rao, a keen observer of politics.

It is, perhaps, in recognition of this fact that the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, too, gave the Reddys 40 tickets when the party announced its list late August. K Chandrashekar Rao himself is a Velama but was quick to bring all the Reddys into his huddle after the new state was formed in 2014.

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The Reddy-Congress Nexus

Of the 11 cabinets that were formed between 1956 (the year Andhra Pradesh was formed) and 1980, the Reddy contingent supplied an average 28% of the total MLAs compared to the other castes – Kammas (8%), Brahmins (7%), Kapus, and OBC (26%) to the state cabinet.

Gradually, there was a steady decline in Brahmin representation and vote percentage in the party, with the Reddys occupying the vacuum. But Kammas have never been comfortable accepting the Reddys' dominance.

In fact, it is this resentment of the Kammas that may have led to the advent of the Telugu Desam Party in 1982 by former actor-turned chief minister NT Rama Rao. He made it a manner of prestige of the Kammas to have their political party and extend this dominance in other fields as well.

However, the Congress' association with the Reddys dates back to 1969 when the former chief minister M Chenna Reddy played an active part in Hyderabad's politics. From being a part of the separate state agitation to being Nehru's choice of being the youngest whip of the Congress party, the Reddy surname is something that the Gandhis have long remembered.

From Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, Chenna Reddy, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, N Janardhan Reddy, Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy to YS Rajasekhara Reddy, and finally Kiran Kumar Reddy before the state was bifurcated, the Congress has trusted Reddy's with the top position.

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During the United Progressive Alliance's second term between 2009 and 2014, YS Rajasekhara Reddy sent 36 MPs from united Andhra Pradesh to the Centre – a gesture that was much appreciated by the Congress top brass.

In fact, many say that the choice of Revanth Reddy being the TPCC president did not come as a surprise when this spot fell vacant.

Susarla Nagesh, a senior journalist who has covered more than 10 parliamentary and assembly elections, made an interesting observation that among the BRS defectors, Kumbham Anil Kumar Reddy was among the first to join the Congress "because he was sure of securing a ticket."

All the other solidly pink, dyed-in-the-wool BRS leaders as well, who joined the Congress a little less than three months ago, have been given tickets to contest.

With discontent brewing among the OBCs against the BRS for its poor implementation of welfare schemes, the Congress seems to have smelt a whiff of victory. Although the party won just 19 seats in 2018 and 21 seats in 2014, the year the Telangana state was formed, recent surveys including the CVoter poll has pegged a higher percentage of votes to the Congress. The BRS, then TRS, got 88 seats in 2018 and 63 in 2014 and is expected to win less than 50 seats this year as per CVoter.

(Deepika Amirapu is a multi-media journalist who has reported for print, broadcast, and online news corporations since 2008. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Telangana   Andhra Pradesh   Revanth Reddy 

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