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Peek into History: Emergence of Caste Politics in Andhra Pradesh (Part 2)

(This article is second in the series on the evolution and development of Telugu States)
 
The agrarian struggles in coastal Andhra and Telangana contributed to the emergence of a peasant stratagem belonging predominantly to the Kamma and Reddy castes, respectively. The Kamma peasantry, dominant in the deltaic districts of Krishna and Guntur (sites of the anti-zamindari struggles), and the Kapu and Reddy peasantry of Nalgonda and Warangal (centres of the Telangana peasant struggle), came to dominate the communist movement. 
 
Having gravitated to the undivided Communist Party and swollen its ranks, the families belonging to these communities remained with it and retained their left-wing identities, even as the electoral fortunes of the left dwindled after the formation of Andhra Pradesh. 
 
Relationship between Land, Caste, Politics
 
However, this changed quite rapidly in the 1980s after the TDP came to power. In this section, we focus on the relationship between land, caste and politics, seen in the context of the historical processes discussed in the earlier section in their region-specific manifestations.
 
On the contrary, the Reddys of the prosperous coastal districts and Rayalaseema fought for leadership positions in the Congress Party against the Brahmins, who continued to dominate the party and government even after Independence. 
 
The formation of AP in 1956 marked the political rise of the Reddys in the Congress Party leadership, which was until then dominated by the educated élite predominantly of the Brahmin community. The polarisation of the dominant peasant caste élite along party lines therefore constitutes an important dimension of political articulation in the State.
 
The Congress and Communist Parties constituted Andhra Pradesh’s adversarial politics. Thanks to the militant peasant struggles and their participation and leadership of the popular social and cultural movements both in Telangana and Andhra, the Communist Party gained substantial popularity and respectability. 
 
What further enhanced the left’s political significance was the communist agitation for the formation of ‘Vishalandhra’, a united Telugu State comprising Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema. This was part of an overall national policy of support for the creation of states on a linguistic basis. The communists, along with the socialists and members of the Congress Party, were at the forefront of the agitation for Vishalandhra. 
 
It is noteworthy to observe that the Fazal Ali Commission, appointed to examine the question of linguistic states, recommended that the two Telugu-speaking regions of Telangana in Hyderabad and Andhra State should be kept separate, due to their historical backgrounds and different levels of development. Nehru also favoured the proposal of a separate Telangana State because of the potential problems such integration entailed.
 
It is a vindication of their popularity that the Communist Party won 16.4% of the popular vote and 41 seats in Andhra in the 1952 elections of the composite Madras legislature, and 30.8% and 37 Assembly seats in the 1952 Hyderabad State elections. 
 
The Congress Party, on the other hand, established its lead over the Communist Party, by winning 30.7% of the popular vote and 40 seats in Andhra region and 38.8% and 44 seats in Telangana region of Hyderabad State.
 
In the 1955 Andhra State elections, the Communist Party won a mere 15 seats, although they improved their electoral support by garnering 31.3% of the vote. In the Telangana region elections of 1957, held after the formation of AP, they won only 23 of the 65 seats they contested, with their popular vote declining by 4.5% (G.R. Reddy, 1989, p.280). 
 
From the mid-1950s, and with the formation of Andhra Pradesh in particular, the Communist Party started witnessing a decline in their support base, as the results of elections held subsequently showed. Thus, Communist Party strength in both regions, contrary to earlier promises and expectations, was reduced quite substantially.
 
Decline of Communists & Rise of Congress
 
The reasons for the decline of the Communist and the rise of the Congress Party are quite complex. In view of our principal concern with the changing nature of adversarial politics, it would be instructive to emphasise the changing nature of class alignment and popular social forces in the region.
 
The Congress Party’s political strategy in the early years of its rule was two-pronged. Firstly, it sought to co-opt the radical slogans of the left, which was a major ideological force in the State and a perceived potential threat to the Congress Party as the early elections in both the regions amply demonstrated, by evolving a strategy and programme that apparently incorporated but quite significantly diluted them in practice. 
 
Secondly, by creating new institutional structures and expanding and strengthening certain social classes, it sought to win over the support base of the left- wing opposition, by opening up alternative opportunities and thus transforming itself into a ‘catch all’ party.
 
Thus, the reformist agenda of the Congress Party consisted of the abolition of the zamindari and jagirdari systems. It may be recollected that these systems of revenue collection, in which the intermediaries between the State and the peasant played a key role, came in due process to acquire an unparalleled position themselves, assuming all powers in the countryside.
 
Although their assigned job was to collect revenue for the State, they tended to acquire and exercise law, order and judicial powers, thereby becoming States ‘within the State’). Besides, as in other parts of the country, insecure tenancies were also prevalent in these regions.
 

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