AP District Renaming: Pawan Kalyan, Kapus & Why BR Ambedkar’s Name Stoked Arson

Tollywood actor and Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan could reap the benefit of Konaseema's Kapu ire.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Tollywood actor and politician Pawan Kalyan sent out a statement on Tuesday, 24 May, asking people of Konaseema to maintain peace. A harrowing night marred by incidents of arson and rioting, all centered on Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to rename the Konaseema district after Dr BR Ambedkar, followed the statement.

Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan wrote, “Babasaheb Ambedkar was a strong proponent of democracy... Don’t drag the name of BR Ambedkar into controversies.” However, the violent protests against renaming the district as ‘Dr BR Ambedkar Konaseema’ would not have disappointed Kalyan completely.


For starters, the protests had a lot to do with members of the dominant Kapu caste registering their sentiment against the nominal recognition given to Dalits, who form 24.84 percent of the population in Konaseema.

Tollywood actor and Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan could reap the benefit of Konaseema's Kapu ire.

Jana Sena Party chief and actor Pawan Kalyan could benefit from the Kapu sentiment in Konaseema.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Pawan Kalyan, the Kapu leader who has been trying to find a place for himself in Andhra Pradesh’s political spectrum, could indirectly benefit from the raging Kapu sentiment that found voice in the slogan ‘Kotha Peru Vaddu, Patha Peru Muddu’ (No to new name, Old name is gold).
Tollywood actor and Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan could reap the benefit of Konaseema's Kapu ire.

Minister Pinipe Vishwanath's home set on fire.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Moreover, the protests positioned the Kapus against the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government which has been trying to woo this caste group for electoral gains even while cautiously trying not to lose the favour of its Dalit vote base.

The decision to rechristen the district was admittedly taken on the basis of a demand from Dalit organisations. The state government gave a 30-day window for all stakeholders to respond to the name change.


Filling the Congress Vacuum

In Andhra Pradesh, the ruling YSRCP and Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy have been wooing the Kapus, who along with their sub-castes, form over 15 percent of the state’s population. When the AP cabinet was overhauled in April 2022, Jagan Reddy inducted four Kapu leaders – Ambati Rambabu, Dadisetti Raja, Gudivada Amarnath, and Kottu Satyanarayana – as ministers.

Tollywood actor and Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan could reap the benefit of Konaseema's Kapu ire.

Ambati Rambabu, a Kapu leader of YSRCP is in Jagan Mohan Reddy's cabinet.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The decision, however, was preceded by show of strength by Kapus. In December 2021 and January 2022, prominent Kapu leaders of Andhra Pradesh held two meetings to lobby for political prominence.

Who stood in support of this caste consolidation? The Opposition in AP – the Telugu Desam Party led by former Chief Minister and Kamma (dominant caste) leader N Chandrababu Naidu, Jana Sena Party of Kapu leader Pawan Kalyan, and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Kapu Aikya Vedika or joint front focused on assertion of the caste group’s role in 2024 Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Why was such a discussion held?

Kapus have traditionally been Indian National Congress voters. However, the Congress now stands decimated in Andhra Pradesh thanks to two bad political decisions which ensured the party’s rout.

One was to ignore the growing clout of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the son of former AP Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress strongman who was popularly called YSR. The Congress kept a distance from Jagan Reddy and even tried to shut down his political career prematurely, by sidelining him within the party after his father's untimely demise in a freak helicopter accident in 2009. The other disastrous decision was to agree to the demand for Telangana statehood.

Tollywood actor and Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan could reap the benefit of Konaseema's Kapu ire.

Amaravati: YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) chief Jagan Mohan Reddy blows a conch as he celebrates with party workers after the YSRCP emerged victorious in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections in Amaravati, on May 23, 2019.

(Photo: IANS)

Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, leaving the Congress leadership in the residual AP in shambles. The Andhra sentiment raged against the party seeing to its rout in 2014 Assembly elections.

The political vacuum left by the Congress, however, did affect the Kapus, who have been drifting rudderless from one political camp to the other. In 2019, when Jagan Mohan Reddy swept the Assembly polls it was believed that the Kapu vote swung in favour of the leader. However, Jagan did have several communities to please in a state where political affiliation is divided along caste lines.


Dalits, Kapus, and Kammas

While the Kapus could have voted for the YSRCP in 2019, as the party’s wave suggests, the CM who is popularly known as Jagan came with the strong vote base of both Reddys and Dalits, especially Dalit Christians.

The CM, who by caste is Reddy and by religion Christian, has been trying to project himself as the leader of all historically marginalised communities. Till April 2022, Jagan had a cabinet where 58 percent ministers were of Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi backgrounds. In April 2022, he revamped the cabinet to increase the share of Backward Class and Scheduled Caste ministers.

Tollywood actor and Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan could reap the benefit of Konaseema's Kapu ire.

Actor Chiranjeevi with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in Vijayawada on January 13,2022. Chiranjeevi, who had briefly entered politics, is also a prominent Kapu figure.

(Photo: SnapsIndia IANS)

Currently, the AP cabinet has 68 percent ministers from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Backward Class backgrounds.

This did not go down well with two major caste groups – Kammas and Kapus. While the Kammas lost their proximity to power when Chandrababu Naidu lost Assembly elections in 2019, the Kapus have been looking for a new leadership to emerge.

Pawan Kalyan, who has been dallying with various political groups for the past few years has emerged as a caste leader of sorts for the Kapus.

Kalyan who had once positioned himself as an alternative to both, YSRCP and TDP, has cozied up to the latter. He is also in alliance with the BJP. Recently, Kalyan even said that he would broker an alliance between the BJP and TDP.

TDP, which was an NDA partner in 2014, had left the BJP front and moved on to the Congress’ side just before 2019 elections. The BJP wave across the country and Jagan wave in AP weakened the party.

A senior Kapu leader of YSRCP blamed Pawan Kalyan for the Konaseema protests. “Dr BR Ambedkar is a national icon. He belongs to all people in the country and not just one community. The violent protests were politically motivated,” he told The Quint.

Another leader close to the YSRCP said, “Neither the TDP nor the Jana Sena Party can come out openly against renaming of the district after BR Ambedkar. This would create problems for them because the Dalits would oppose these parties. But they did covertly support the agitation organised by three organisations that were formed overnight.”

Andhra Pradesh’s Home Minister Taneti Vanitha, however, named both TDP and Jana Sena for the riot. As TDP is known to have the prowess to mobilise Kammas and not Kapus, the blame clearly fell on Pawan Kalyan. “In Konaseema, the (dominant) castes are Kapus and Rajus. Pawan Kalyan has sway here,” a senior leader of YSRCP pointed out.


A Protest to Target Dalits

According to the protesters, renaming the district was never welcome. "We would protest any name change," the leadership reportedly said at a meeting in Amalapuram. However, naming the district after Ambedkar was considered a step to politically recognise Dalits in the Scheduled Caste.

In the arson that marred Amalapuram, the district capital of Konaseema, the houses of two YSRCP leaders – Minister Pinipe Vishwarup and MLA P Sathish – were targeted. Pinipe Vishwarup is a Dalit and MLA Satish is a Backward Class leader.

The protests were also aimed at Pinipe Vishwarup because Amalapuram is a Scheduled Caste Assembly constituency.

Tollywood actor and Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan could reap the benefit of Konaseema's Kapu ire.

MLA P Satish's home set on fire.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Implicitly, the anger towards renaming the district was symbolically directed at oppressed sections. That is, the opposition to renaming the district after Dr BR Ambedkar also translated as an opposition to Dalits, and their rise to political prominence in the state.

A senior Kapu leader of YSRCP said, "The effort was to create the impression that YSRCP supports Dalits over Kapus. The Kapu community will reject this." Pawan Kalyan was quick to rebut the YSRCP's claims that he triggered the controversy.

"I am in no way connected with the controversy. I have the greatest respect for Babasaheb Ambedkar," he said at a press meet held on Wednesday, 25 May. He was, however, careful not to blame any caste groups for the violence that wrecked havoc. Could this be Pawan Kalyan's political moment? Even if it does not yield immediate results in Kalyan's favour, it seems apparent that the Kapus are looking for a leader to clearly represent their interests in the state. Will Jagan rise to occasion or will his choices make way for Pawan Kalyan?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from news and politics

Topics:  TDP   Telugu Desam Party   Pawan Kalyan 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More