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Peek into History: Political developments in the 1970s in Andhra Pradesh - Part 1

(This article is fifth in the series on the evolution and development of Telugu States)
 
Two challenges faced by the Congress Party were: a) the rise of factional struggles in the party and government; and b) the growing disillusionment among different sections of the popular classes with the Congress Party, notably in large sections of the rural poor.
 
In the early 1970s, as a result of, and as a response to, the above developments, a shift took place in Congress Party politics and strategy. This can be characterised as a combination of two attempts. The first was to move away from the dominant caste identity of the Congress Party leadership (in general and especially of the advanced regions), to a strategy that accommodated the peasant caste élite of the backward regions and of lower caste élite within the party and government in the States. 
 
The second was to move to a radical programme, consisting of agrarian reforms. The apparent justification for this first move was that the dominant landed interests in different States were proving to be a hindrance to pro-poor policies such as land reforms and the anti-poverty programmes launched as part of the garibi hatao (poverty elimination) drive initiated by Indira Gandhi. 
 
How Congress’ Garibi Hatao began losing sheen
 
When carried into the political arena, the logic of this economic populism resulted in resistance from the dominant communities. However, Indira Gandhi’s populism was in fact directed against the landed upper castes so as to weaken their hold over the Congress Party, because of their inclination towards Congress Party syndicate politics and their resistance to Indira Gandhi’s radical slogans. 
 
It is relevant to note that, in the face of the dominant caste-communities’ and the traditional Congress Party leadership’s resistance, Indira Gandhi found it difficult even to market her garibi hatao slogan. 
 
Hence, during this period, bypassing party channels, she resorted to direct communication with the people through bureaucratic channels and the government-controlled media. It is an entirely different matter that this apparent radicalism proved to be symbolic rather than substantive.
 
In the specific context of AP, what seems to have prepared the Congress Party high command for the marginalisation of the dominant Reddy leadership from the Andhra region in the 1970s (all the Chief Ministers between 1956 and 1973 came from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema), was the political image of being a Reddy-dominated party. 
 
What further facilitated the process of leadership change in the State’s Congress Party and with less effective political backlash from the dominant community, was the built-in discontent over the suppression of regional aspirations in Telangana, which had accumulated over time. 
 
As suggested earlier, although the movement for a separate State of Telangana invited the spontaneous participation and support of educated middle class youths and the employed in the initial phases, the attention of other social strata was also soon captured. 
 
In the later phase of the struggle, the Telangana Reddy faction within the Congress Party joined the struggle and captured the TPS. Although this movement was successfully sabotaged and its leadership co-opted by the Congress party, it became instrumental in initiating a series of significant changes that formed the immediate backdrop for the shift in Congress Party strategy, wherein two important aspects could be identified:
 
i) the decline of powerful leaders such as K. Brahmananda Reddy and the marginalisation of factions and lobbies of dominant communities from economically advanced regions, leading to the realignment of traditional lobbies within the Congress Party;
 
ii) the initiation of institutional changes within the Congress Party, whereby a certain shift in the relationship between caste-region-faction and organisational representation was witnessed.
 
The replacement of powerful leaders by those without much of a support base, individual charisma nor following within the party, began to head the State Congress Party and government. It is precisely these individuals that the high command picked up and approved. 
 
Once initiated, this mechanism set in motion its own dynamics. As a result, the Congress Party high command had to intervene repeatedly in favour of the State leadership for every small trouble it faced and every small change in the State needed to be approved by the Congress high command. Thus, the factional groups were constantly looking for the support of the high command instead of fighting battles within the political theatre of the State. 
 
These two aspects mutually reinforced each other and contributed to the weakening of the Congress Party’s organisation, leadership and support base in the State.
 
Marginalisation of dominant communities
 
The shift in the factions’ political fortunes, based on caste-region association, marked institutional changes within the Congress Party and thus marginalised the factions and lobbies of dominant communities from the economically advanced regions. It also provided political leverage to those from the less developed regions, within it to the dominant communities, and to some extent also to the ‘weaker sections’, thus signalling restructuring of the Congress Party.
 
This process was signalled by the Congress Party high command’s replacement of K. Brahmanda Reddy by P.V. Narasimha Rao, following the separatist movement. K Brahmanda Reddy was a powerful Chief Minister, whilst P.V. Narasimha Rao was a Telangana Congressman with neither a significant mass base nor a faction of his own. 
 
The most visible feature of this phenomenon was the repeated intervention of the Congress Party high command: instead of fighting their battles within the political theatre of the State, factional groups looked up for the blessings of national leadership. 
 
In the absence of an alternative political platform in the State, disgruntled factional leaders representing dominant caste-classes of the advanced regions remained within the Congress Party. The 1972 elections clearly demonstrate the political marginalisation of the dominant Reddy community within the party. 
 

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