Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Who stoked the Konaseema fire?

What happened in Konaseema district in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday (May 24) was unprecedented and totally unforeseen. Houses of a Minister of Transport Pinipe Viswaroop, a Dalit, and MLA P. Satish, a fisherman, have been set on fire by the mobs. The clock tower in Amalapuram town was swarmed by about five thousand angry protesters at 3 pm. They indulged in violence. They burnt two RTC buses, one private bus belonging to an engineering college and a couple of police vans. The over action by the police infuriated the people and the cops could not manage the powerful backlash. Violence broke out when the police attempted to prevent a procession taken out by Joint Action Committee (JAC) as part of ‘Chalo Amalapuram’ from meeting the district collector. Had the police allowed the protesters to submit their memorandum to the collector, things would, perhaps, been different. The police used strong arm methods and the people became unruly pelting stones injuring SP Subba Reddy and the DSP, beside many other cops. More than fifty protesters were injured in lathi charge resorted to by the police. The emotional upsurge was not envisaged by the police who thought they could manage any situation by force.

Violent protests in Andhra Pradesh against renaming Konaseema district  after Dr. BR Ambedkar
arson in Konaseema in Andhra Pradesh

Sudden outburst

The JAC has been formed to oppose the change of the district’s name from Konaseema to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Konaseema District. People of Konaseema are sentimental about the name of their district. The movement for a separate district of Konaseema has been going on for many years. It acquired momentum with the State Government’s decision to create Konaseema district  and to add Ambedkar’s name to it later. There were second rung leaders of all parties among those who privately opposed the change in the district’s name while the top leaders of all major parties agreed to the government’s proposal. Nara Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP and Pawan Kalyan of the Jana Sena Party have expressly given their consent when YSRCP government sought their approval.

Konaseema district has a peculiar demographic picture. Kapus, Settibalijas and Dalits are the three dominant communities which are equally large, vocal and militant. There used to be frequent clashes between the Kapus and Settibalijas till 1993 when some leaders such as Kudipudi Prabhakara Rao brokered peace between the two warring communities. The two communities have not been quarreling ever since barring some isolated incidents. However, the Dalits have been at loggerheads both with the Kapus and Settibalijas. Settibalijas are the BCs. Konaseema district has one Lok Sabha seat (Amalapuram) and three (out of a total of seven) assembly seats reserved for SCs. Anuradha, an SC, is representing Amalapuram constituency in Lok Sabha. The Minister from the district Viswaroop is considered very close to YSR’s family. Dalits are in command in the district and this is detested by Kapus and Balijas. The simmering anti-Dalit feelings entertained by these communities may be the real cause for the trouble. Naming the district after Ambedkar is opposed by these sections.

Davos Connection To Konaseema Violence?
RTC bus on fire

It was approved by all parties

When AP Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy visited Marumalla village near Amalapuram last week, Viswaroop had taken a delegation of Dalits to him. They submitted a memorandum requesting the Chief Minister to name Konaseema district after Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Jagan Mohan Reddy accepted the request but wanted the opposition parties to approve the proposal. The CM was aware of the reservations of certain communities regarding Ambedkar’s name. TDP and JSP leaders had welcomed the idea. A gazette notification was issued last week renaming the district as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Konsaseema District and it asked the people to let the government know within one month if anybody has any objection. The riots happened when Jagan Mohan Reddy was away in Davos, his first official visit abroad.

The GO was an excuse

The GO was not openly opposed by any noted political leader. But the WhatsApp messages were exchanged in thousands among common people who supported the move and those opposed it. The police had clamped Section 144 and Section 30 by way of preventive measures. But the force which the protesters unleashed in a matter of hours was not foreseen by the police who were unprepared. They used lathis and fired in the air for five times to control the mob. Till 8 pm the street battles between the police and the protesters were going on. The police could bring the situation under control by late in the night.  DIG Palraju (Eluru range) and four SPs have been camping at Amalapuram which remained peaceful on Wednesday. Extra forces have been rushed to the town. Forty six persons have been taken into custody till Wednesday afternoon, according to DIG Palraju.  He had spoken to community leaders. He appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony.  

Anantababu’s issue

In another incident, in which an MLC Anantababu of the YSRCP was involved, the situation was handled a bit carefully by arresting the legislator on the charge of murdering his former driver Subrahmanyam who is a Dalit. The MLC is an influential Kapu and there is a suggestion that the naming of the district was timed to divert public attention from  Nagababu’s issue which was proving detrimental to the ruling party. Opposition leader Chandrababu Naidu was vehemently demanding action against Anantababu. Even after the arrest, the TDP chief alleged that the government is trying to dilute the seriousness of the crime. Konaseema which is known for its greenery, coconut trees and high yielding crops, has all of a sudden exploded in the face of the police officials. Nothing of this sort had happened in the last four decades. Even at the time of Vangaveeti Mohan Ranga’s murder in Vijayawada in 1989, the riots were all over coastal Andhra and only Kapus in Konaseema were involved in sporadic violence. This time it was SCs versus all others. It was mostly the result of long standing community rivalries and discontent with the present government. The dominant profile of Dalit leaders also added fuel to the fire. Former Speaker of Lok Sabha GMC Balayogi hailed from the same place.

There are rumours saying that TDP and Jana Sena second level leaders are behind the incident. The Opposition says the JAC consists of YSRCP leaders and one of the instigator is a member of YSRCP. Pawan Kalyan’s elder brother Nagababu questioned YSRCP leadership as to why the party had given membership to such a rowdy element. Another theory propagated by the Opposition is that the idea of creating rivalry between the castes was given by Prashant Kishor and implemented by his team. Zaminryot, a popular weekly from Nellore, called the incident a trailer for PK’s strategy of caste conflict similar to the clashes happening in Uttar Pradesh.

Don’t be scapegoats

The YSRCP has been blaming it on TDP and Jana Sena. The two opposition parties, in turn, say it was a conspiracy hatched by YSRCP to divert attention from Anantababu’s episode in which a Dalit was killed. Political parties and leaders have their interests. They usually indulge in blame game. It is for the people to ponder whether they should become willing pawns in the hands of political parties and leaders, whichever or whoever, and disturb peaceful coexistence. People outside Konaseema, which is considered rice bowl of India, are jealous of the fortune of the people who live in lush green environment with lot of water and food grains. Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao promised the people of Telangana that he would convert the parched lands into Konaseema by bringing water from Kaliswaram project. My appeal to the people of beautiful Konaseema is not to allow political parties to make you scapegoats in their war of attrition.     

K. Ramachandra Murthy
K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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