Political radicals but social Tories
The entire anti-Congress formation, including the intelligentsia, had hailed NT Rama Rao as the saviour who uprooted the Congress from the largest southern state. To be bracketed in the "progressive" club then, one had to demonstrate his or her anti-Congress credentials. Quite logically then, NTR was made chairperson of the National Front. His son-in-law inherited that legacy and became chairperson of the United Front's high power Steering Committee. Right upto the time Chandrababu Naidu had not joined the NDA, he, like NTR, was one of the most respected leaders of the Left/Centrist/Secular block.
The reason? NTR and Naidu were considered to be politically "correct", as they thrived on being anti-Congress! The TDP's rise in the early 80s was described as a "rebellion" of the Telugu masses against the Rightist Congress (that adjective now belongs to the BJP). But the question is: Did the TDP's rise really symbolise the masses' rebellion against the Congress, or was it primarily a Kamma upsurge against the political hegemony of a Reddy & Brahman combine?
The Congress in Andhra has traditionally been dominated by the Reddies and Brahmans, with a strong Dalit following. The Reddies, an erstwhile Shudra caste, are like the cow-belt's Bhumihars, who claim a Khatriya status. But the urbanised Reddies have liberal pretensions. The Kammas, an equivalent of the Jats or Ahirs, have lacked culture, being deeply rooted in agriculture. They did, however, establish a decisive hold over rural assets, trade and commerce, media, liquor, transport and the film industry by the late 70s. By then, they were looking to upstage the Reddy-Brahman combine from the political power structure of Telugu society.
NTR used his filmi-charisma to mobilise "mass" support, but his main social backing remained the Kamma and OBC castes. Naidu, after the family-coup, began re-engineering his constituency. While adhering to his Kamma and OBC base, Naidu first took into account journalists of a Left/Centrist/Secular/Liberal orientation, who painfully constructed prime ministerial material into his persona. Then he began mobilising the liquor, transport and real estate mafias and the lumpen elements of Telugu society. He latched on to the IT hype, which had begun dominating the minds of the English-educated urban middle class. The media projected him as an angel of modernity. When cracks began to appear in his "electoral re-engineering," he adopted a two pronged strategy: to win over the Brahmans and thus leaned on BJP soldiers, and to split the Dalit masses. Growing distrust between two Dalit sub-castes, the Malas and Madhigas, over the sharing of government jobs, came in handy, and the CEO used his position to fuel hatred between the two Dalit communities. They stand divided today.
During my recent tour, I was shocked to see the pathetic state of the Telangana region, and wondered what the cyber CM was doing? I was shocked when my Telugu companion joked: "You know, through computers, he has centralised power. He is not only CM, but also the collector of all districts?" I fumbled a bit but then thought it even better, for he could now issue orders directly. "You are mistaken, Prasadji," my friend replied. "All he seems to be doing is monitoring each PWD deal awarded to contractors, each liquor and gun licence issued, each property transaction conducted and he sadistically, counts the number of naxalites gunned down each day."
The TDP experiment is an eye opener for Dalits. The party, from its very genesis, represented the interests of the Kammas, a community often responsible for atrocities and massacres of Dalits. Then, why did VP Singh project NTR as a great hero and why did the CPI(M)'s Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who looks more like a property dealer than a politician, promote Naidu as the "conscience keeper" of the United Front? Dalits of the new millennium must read Ambedkar afresh. In evidence placed before Lord Southborough on January 27, 1919, considered to be Ambedkar's first political writing, he called Congress men "political radicals but social Tories." At that point of Indian history, to be a part of the Congress, was to be a political radical.
Things changed dramatically between 1947 and 89 - to be anti-Congress then was to be progressive. And so the drama goes on - to be a progressive today, one has to prove his anti-BJP credentials. If Naidu leaves the NDA, the Left/Congress will accord him a red carpet welcome to him. Clearly, no intellectual, no political party in India, is viewed for its social doctrine. While we can easily call the NDA as a conglomerate of "Rightist" forces: the Government's stand at the Durban Conference has completely exposed the NDA. But is the Opposition any different? Has any political party, barring the BSP, criticised the government for its stand at the conference, and supported Dalit groups? New Dalits must read the Varna mind with alert eyes - for it is a fashion to describe oneself as a "political radical" without ever questioning the Chaturvarna order!