Reports

YSR's Political Home, Den Of Violence, Centre Of Factionalism: What Andhra's Kadapa Was Thinking Hours Before Voting

Sharan Setty

May 13, 2024, 06:15 PM | Updated May 14, 2024, 01:12 PM IST


From left: Avinash Reddy (YSRCP), Y S Sharmila (Congress), C Bhupesh Reddy (TDP), K A Paul (PSP).
From left: Avinash Reddy (YSRCP), Y S Sharmila (Congress), C Bhupesh Reddy (TDP), K A Paul (PSP).
  • Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh is seeing no holds barred contest between the YSRCP, the Congress, and the TDP.
  • Anyone who has seen Telugu action flicks can picture political henchmen putting their necks out from an SUV, brandishing a machete while chasing the fleeing protagonist.

    In Andhra Pradesh's Rayalaseema — land to India's Grand Canyon (Gandikota) — the image of blood and dust continues to loom fear in people's minds.

    The landscape is arid and laden with kampa chettu (Prosopis juliflora). Street vendors selling ice apples and tender coconut water provide a sigh of relief to thirsty tourists in desperate need of rehydration. There are many tourist spots, including temples, rivers and popular camping sites, but they are either not easily accessible or scare tourists away with their harsh climatic conditions.

    It would be somewhat of an exaggeration today, but the fact is that there are family feuds between political rivals that have left people and parties embittered.

    In erstwhile Cudappah, political violence had subsumed thousands of innocent lives, as anyone who spoke up against a person in power would get a knock on their door. While attempting to speak with people in YSR Kadapa, the scenes were similarly eery.

    Despite a drastic reduction in violence, a cloud of fear continued to shadow the politics here, as Andhra Pradesh votes today (13 May 2024) to elect their parliamentarians and assemblymen. This is the same region where the Vijayanagara Empire once ruled over, and is considered as a gateway (Kadapa means doorsill in Telugu) to Tirumala for devotees who are on their way to Tirupati.

    A hoarding that says "ready for Jagan" on the Kadapa-Bengaluru highway.
    A hoarding that says "ready for Jagan" on the Kadapa-Bengaluru highway.
    Rickshaw drivers near RGIS hospital.
    Rickshaw drivers near RGIS hospital.
    In Kadapa city.
    In Kadapa city.
    Women visiting the hospital for treatment.
    Women visiting the hospital for treatment.
    Congress workers preparing for Rahul Gandhi's arrival in Kadapa.
    Congress workers preparing for Rahul Gandhi's arrival in Kadapa.
    A campaign vehicle in support of YSRCP making the rounds.
    A campaign vehicle in support of YSRCP making the rounds.
    The dried-up Penna river where illegal sand mining activities take place during summers.
    The dried-up Penna river where illegal sand mining activities take place during summers.
    Women from the Yenadi tribe.
    Women from the Yenadi tribe.
    Gandikota, India's grand canyon, is an emerging tourist site.
    Gandikota, India's grand canyon, is an emerging tourist site.
    A temple nearby.
    A temple nearby.
    A primary school in Gandikota. Children have to go to Jammalamadugu for further education.
    A primary school in Gandikota. Children have to go to Jammalamadugu for further education.
    A newly laid road that welcomes visitors to Gandikota.
    A newly laid road that welcomes visitors to Gandikota.
    Kandakumari Pavanamma, a woman belonging to the Achari caste (OBC), will vote for Jagan in the state and TDP in the centre.
    Kandakumari Pavanamma, a woman belonging to the Achari caste (OBC), will vote for Jagan in the state and TDP in the centre.
    Vijayalakshmi, a resident of Indira Colony in Kadapa is also voting the YSRCP.
    Vijayalakshmi, a resident of Indira Colony in Kadapa is also voting the YSRCP.
    Supriya, the transgender person, lives in an apartment provided by the government in Satellite City.
    Supriya, the transgender person, lives in an apartment provided by the government in Satellite City.
    A street view of residences in Gandikota, where people grow lemons to make a living. Tourism is now giving them more opportunities.
    A street view of residences in Gandikota, where people grow lemons to make a living. Tourism is now giving them more opportunities.

    Family Feuds, Factionalism Looms Fear

    On 13 May, Monday, Andhra Pradesh will vote for a new government in the state and separately for the parliamentary polls. Kadapa has seven assembly constituencies — Kadapa, Mydukur, Proddatur, Jammalamadugu, Pulivendula, Badvel (SC) and Kamalapuram ACs.

    The sitting MP, Y S Avinash Reddy, is backed by MLAs in the constituency with his cousin Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy being one of them.

    In the previous polls, Jagan Mohan Reddy's Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) stormed to power in the state by winning 151 of the 175 seats in the state. In Andhra, people are divided over politics, as they consider their candidates and representatives a part of their extended family.

    In Kadapa, there is a triangular contest this time between the YSRCP, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Congress as Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy's cousin fights a resurgent Y S Sharmila who is contesting on the Congress ticket and is determined to bring Y S Avinash Reddy to justice for allegedly committing a murder.

    The TDP candidate Chandipiralla Bhupesh Subbarami Reddy, is a newcomer, while an unlikely fourth candidate tries to win Christian votes by entertaining people with his evangelism. He flew a private jet, got blacklisted for missing financial transparency and blessed Donald Trump before his elections. Check him out.

    Once upon a time, the Congress was considered to be invincible in Kadapa, as it was home to Y S Rajashekar Reddy. However, after his untimely demise in a helicopter crash in 2009, Congress became nearly invisible in the region. As his son Jagan formed the YSRCP to reclaim his father's legacy, Sharmila became the president of the Andhra Pradesh Congress trying to claim her share of YSR's legacy.

    YSR was elected as an MP from Kadapa four consecutive times — 1989, 1991, 1996, and 1998. While Avinash Reddy managed to win the seat in 2014 and 2019 (with a record margin in 2014), he faces an acid test as he remains an accused in a murder case involving a YSR family member Y S Vivekananda Reddy.

    Vivekananda Reddy was elected MLA from the Pulivendula assembly constituency between 1984 and 1994 and subsequently became an MP from Kadapa from 1999 to 2009. Ten years later, in 2019, he was brutally stabbed to death in Kadapa. This messy affair involved a lot of name-calling, allegations against each other, suicides, accusations of forged reports and investigations.

    'Harassed Constantly'

    When Swarajya attempted to speak, most people were hesitant to express their views, complaining about factionalism in the vicinity that they lived in. As polling takes place in Andhra Pradesh, there are examples of high-handedness on display at polling booths where candidates are trashing up people for the silliest reasons — speaking up against jumping the queue in this instance.

    Madayya* drives an auto in Kadapa's Puttampalli. He and his group of friends have been driving the auto rickshaws for over three decades now to make a living. At scorching 45 degrees, Kadapa boils as the heat keeps most people away from the streets. People normally step out before 11am and after 4pm to escape the burning sun.

    Madayya uses a thick piece of paper to fan some air on his face, as he wipes away the sweat using a red towel wrapped around his neck. There was nothing in the vicinity a few years ago, until the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government established the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) nearby.

    Students and patients who need to reach the hospital or even commute within the premises use the services offered by the rickshaws in the area.

    Asked about his political views, Madayya was quick to state that he and his friends are constantly harassed by the police. It was never a thing before, but with the new government in place, he alleges that the police have been emboldened and tasked with meeting 'daily targets' to collect fines for any irregularities they spot.

    "But we always follow rules. We do not overspeed, there's no issue with parking here. Yet, we receive challans from the police frequently. We need to pay haftas to get anything done. Corruption is blasting through the roof. We have five votes in my house. All of them will be polled for TDP," Madayya says.

    Madayya's friends allege that they are no longer beneficiaries of the welfare schemes provided by the state government because they could not pay their electricity bills on time.

    "Current (electricity) bill is so high. We never used to pay that much before. For questioning this, they have cut our electricity and we no longer receive the benefits we were entitled to," they say.

    Women Voters Stand Divided

    A group of women who hail from Jammalamadugu were waiting for their turn to see the doctor at the general hospital. When we struck up a conversation, one of them complained of being harassed by the local goons backed by political leaders in the area.

    Vasantha*, a local, says that her family has to pay bribes to government officials to keep their business going and ensure the safety of all the members of her family. She is from Proddattur, known for its gold and diamond trade in India. According to her, after Mumbai, Prodattur is the second biggest market for gold and diamonds in the country.

    She says that the local MLA is notorious for land-grabbing activities and that the government unleashes officials who 'raid' office spaces if bribes are not paid on time. Her family is voting for the TDP this time.

    "We are done with the prabhutvam (ruling dispensation) this time," she says.

    There are nearly 17 lakh voters in the constituency (roughly), and women voters (nearly nine lakh) seem divided over their choice of candidate.

    Vijayalakshmi, who lives in Indira Colony in Pulivendula is voting for YSCRP this time again. Although they do not vote en masse, most people in the colony are Jagan loyalists as they enjoy the benefits from several government schemes. YSR had envisioned this colony, and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had come down to the neighbourhood to inaugurate RIMS and a few other local projects there, locals recall.

    "We have gotten money to build a house, pensions are coming through and our children enjoy the benefits of Jagananna Vidya Deevana," she says.

    Supriya*, a transgender person living in Satellite City's apartment complex built by the government says that her vote is for the 'fan' symbol too. She is receiving some benefits from the government and says that Jagan is good for the state. Their local MLA is Jagan since the MLA constituency is Pulivendula.

    Meanwhile, Y S Sharmila seems to be taking the fight to the streets, and making appeals to women from the Muslim community to vote for her. She has been canvassing against her relative Avinash Reddy by indirectly pronouncing him guilty of being a murderer. Using her 'father's recorded voice', she has been announcing that she rightfully inherits her father's legacy and not Jagan.

    What Are The Issues In Kadapa?

    Younus, our driver, said that the local Muslim families have at least one person in their family who works in the Gulf.

    "It's like Kerala, except no one knows a lot about what's happening in Kadapa, anna," he says. In places like Rajampet in the neighbouring Annamayya district, at least 2-3 people in every family go outside of the country for work.

    "There are barely any jobs here in Kadapa. A few industries exist, but it can only create so many jobs," he adds.

    Bujji, a fisherwoman in Rajampet, says that she will vote for Jagan this time. She used to fish in the nearby river, but a dam burst in that region affected her livelihood, she says. "Since then, we have been working as house helps in the city," she adds. She belongs to the Yenadhi community — a Scheduled Tribe group who live in the region.

    With Chandrababu Naidu's TDP aligning with the BJP, many Muslim voters may drift towards the YSRCP, locals suggest.

    "While Naidu says they'll give reservation for Muslims, Modi says he'll remove it. How are we supposed to believe either of them?" Younus asks. He is also upset about the political failure to name a capital city in AP. While Naidu announced Amaravati as the new capital, Jagan immediately scrapped the plan upon assuming power. His government suggested having three capitals in the state, similar to South Africa.

    Before the polls this time, Jagan announced his intention to declare Visakhapatnam as the legislative capital, with Kurnool and Amaravati as judicial and administrative capitals, respectively.

    In terms of the main issues ahead of the polls in the state, these three take precedence over everything else:

    a. Family issues and reclaiming the legacy of Y S Rajashekar Reddy.

    b. Water scarcity, irrigation projects being delayed and incentives not reaching the farmers as stipulated.

    c. Unemployment, law and order deterioration and infrastructure.

    Will Andhra Pradesh vote for change in sizeable number or will it be a hung assembly this time? Whatever the outcome is, it is going to be very interesting as AP remains one of the toughest state to predict, both at an assembly and general election level.

    * Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people who spoke to Swarajya.

    This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on themes and topics that are often overlooked or looked down. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999/-. Click here for more details.


    Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.


    Magazine


    A road trip through the poorest regions of India — its heartland