Hyderabad: Midway through his five-year term, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy completely revamped his council of ministers, with 25 new cabinet ministers being sworn-in this Monday. The government called this an attempt at “social justice and representation”.
Andhra now has 26 ministers of cabinet rank, including the CM — the upper limit for the state. Of the 25 new ministers, 14 were new inductees and 11 were part of Jagan’s old team, which was dissolved in anticipation of the reshuffle.
The government’s adviser Sajjala Rama Krishna Reddy praised the CM Monday for giving priority to “weaker sections”. Jagan’s predecessor as CM, Chandrababu Naidu, had only 42 per cent representation from the marginalised sections of society, Reddy claimed.
However, the reshuffle is more than an exercise in social justice, with assembly elections set for 2024. For one thing, about 68 per cent of the members of Jagan’s new cabinet are from Backward Class, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and minority communities. For another, over 60 per cent of Andhra’s districts — the state was reorganised into 26 districts from 13 last week — are represented in the new cabinet.
Notably, Chandrababu Naidu’s Kamma caste is missing from the new cabinet.
Minister Seediri Appala Raju acknowledged to a regional channel that this was an “election cabinet”.
“The next two years are election years and focus will only be on ensuring Jagan Reddy winning next term too,” Raju told the channel.
ThePrint looks at the caste equations in the new cabinet, which could have a significant bearing on the 2024 assembly elections.
Also Read: Jagan govt withdraws laws aiming to set up 3 Andhra capitals, promises ‘better’ version
Keeping vote bank intact
The representation of the Backward Classes in the new cabinet is significant — 11 of the 25 new ministers are from these classes, including one Muslim. Of the other ministers, five are categorised as Scheduled Castes, one is from the Scheduled Tribes, and eight from the Open Category (general category).
There is also a marginal increase in women ministers — four, up from three in the previous cabinet.
The Backward Classes have traditionally been a vote bank of Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), political experts say. This reshuffle is being seen as an attempt to draw this crucial vote toward Jagan’s YSR Congress Party.
“From (late actor-turned CM and TDP founder) N.T. Rama Rao’s time, (BCs) have been supporters of TDP and then Chandrababu Naidu. They’re a TDP vote bank but in the last elections a few of them shifted to YSRCP and Jagan wants to increase that shift,” said political analyst Nageshwar Rao said.
Rao estimates Backward Classes account for 45 per cent of Andhra’s population. “All these communities rallied behind (Jagan) in the last elections,” he added.
Jagan’s previous cabinet had 55 per cent representation from marginalised communities, following up on his electoral promise of reserving 50 per cent seats for legislators from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, and minorities.
Also Read: Summer of Opposition padayatras in Telangana as BJP, Congress, AAP, YSR’s daughter hit streets
Apart from the Kamma community, Brahmins and Vysyas (Vaishyas) also did not find a place in the new cabinet. Experts said Jagan found other ways to mollify these communities.
For instance, Kamma leader Kodali Nani was minister for civil supplies and consumer affairs in the previous cabinet, but was dropped. Instead, he will be appointed chairman of the State Development Board.
Brahmin leader Malladi Vishnu, an MLA from Vijayawada Central, will be appointed chairman of the Planning Board, and Vizianagaram MLA Kolagatla Veerabhadra Swamy, who belongs to the Vysya community, has been elevated to the position of Deputy Speaker.
Rao pointed out that there was some sort of “adjustment” for almost every community.
Jagan also took some risks, according to the experts. For example, the politically powerful Reddy community, which rallies behind Jagan, has just four members in cabinet even though they constitute a significant chunk of the state’s legislators — 50 out of 175. The YSRCP alone has 150 members.
Political analyst Telakapalli Ravi said the chief minister could be taking a calculated risk in not giving representation to communities that he considers damaging.
“Though Kodali Nani belongs to a powerful caste, he was not given a ministry and nobody from his caste got a berth. This cannot be an accident. A lot of thought must have gone into it,” Ravi said. “The idea here is that even if such a step is taken then there will not be any damage.”
Not everyone is happy with the new cabinet. In several parts of Andhra, supporters of the ministers who were dropped held protests, torching vehicles in some cases, and even pouring kerosene over themselves to attempt self-immolation.
Upset with being dropped from the cabinet, former home minister Mekathoti Sucharitha announced his resignation from the ruling party, while Chodavaram MLA Karnam Dharmasri broke into tears over not making the final cut.
Rao however said such protestations will not amount to much as long as Jagan public’s support holds out.
“It remains to be seen how far this discontent will go,” Rao said. “As long as Jagan enjoys support from people, the discontent will not impact him much, nor will it get bigger.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
Also Read: Inside Telangana Congress, ‘loyalists’ turn up heat on state unit chief picked by Rahul Gandhi