The tension that prevailed in Gudivada town of NTR district and the number of events that were held on 26 December to mark the death anniversary of slain Congress MLA from Vijayawada East Assembly segment, Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga, shows the immense popularity he still enjoys among the people, especially the numerically strong Kapus, in coastal Andhra Pradesh.
All political parties in the region vie to appropriate Ranga’s legacy even 34 years after his assassination.
Ranga, known for his fiery speeches, aggression, and confrontational style of politics, was murdered in Vijayawada in the early hours of 26 December, 1988, while on a hunger strike demanding pattas for the landless poor in the city.
He was barely 41 years old when a group of assailants, disguised as bhajan-singing devotees, arrived in a bus, hurled smoke bombs at the site of the hunger strike, and hacked Ranga to death.
He was seen as a champion of the underprivileged, as well as the Kapus, who are numerically strong but have never had the opportunity to take the reins of power in Andhra Pradesh.
Vangaveeti Ranga and his legacy
The assassination had led to riots in parts of Vijayawada and Guntur towns. His supporters went on a rampage, damaging property belonging to supporters of the then-ruling TDP as also the Kammas, who are identified with the party.
The efforts to quell the rioting led to the deaths of at least 42 people in police firing. A strict curfew had to be enforced for over 40 days to restore normalcy.
The then home minister and the state DGP had to resign for their failure to prevent the murder, and also the riots that followed.
Vangaveeti Ranga is still seen as an iconic figure and commands huge respect among the Kapus in Krishna, Guntur, and the two Godavari districts.
It was after his elder brother, Vangaveeti Radhakrishna, was murdered in 1974 that Ranga came out of his shadows and took the reins of a group that had been vying for dominance with another group in Vijayawada town.
“What started as rivalry among splinter groups for dominance in the transport business spilled over to caste rivalry, and then it took a political turn,” Adusumilli Jaya Prakash, former TDP MLA from Vijayawada East, told South First.
“After Radhakrishna’s murder, Ranga emerged as a leader of one faction and then it turned into a full-fledged rivalry between Kammas and Kapus, with the emergence of another group led by the Devineni family.
“Interestingly, neither Kammas nor Kapus were dominant castes in the town as other communities were more in number,” Jaya Prakash recalled.
After a successful beginning in the municipal polls in Vijayawada town in 1981, Ranga contested the Vijayawada East Assembly seat in the 1985 elections on a Congress ticket and won. His rival in the power struggle, Devineni Nehru, a Kamma, was patronised by the TDP.
Due to the rivalry between the Vangaveeti and Devineni groups that represented Kapu and Kamma factions, respectively, several murders had taken place from 1975 until the death of Ranga in 1988.
Ranga also went to jail several times. On 10 July, 1988, Ranga finally emerged as the leader of the Kapus at a meeting christened Kapunadu in which it was estimated almost five lakh people participated.
Interestingly, the Kapunadu meeting was called by the community leaders in support of Ranga who was at that time in jail battling several police cases.
After he was released from jail and the success of Kapunadu, Ranga embarked on Jana Chaitanya Yatra in a bus and toured the entire state to expose what he called the autocratic rule of then chief minister NT Rama Rao.
Later, he sat on a hunger strike under a tent, demanding land pattas.
“The then TDP government had Vangaveeti Ranga murdered as he was emerging as a political force. All those who were involved in the murder of Ranga are now in the TDP,” alleged former minister and Gudivada MLA Kodali Nani who, along with Ranga’s son Radhakrishna, unveiled yet another statue of the late leader in Gudivada on Monday, an addition to the many that dot the region.
Notably, Devineni Avinash, son of Devineni Nehru, against whom Ranga fought for dominance, is now in the YSRCP. Nehru was also accused in the Ranga murder case. In fact, on an appeal by then chief minister NT Rama Rao, Nehru surrendered before the police days after Ranga’s murder.
Vangaveeti my most violent film: RGV
Maverick Tollywood director Ram Gopal Varma aka RGV made a film, Vangaveeti, on the life of Vangaveeti Ranga. RGV, who belongs to Vijayawada, was well aware of the power struggles, caste rivalries, and also the politics of the region in the 1970 and 1980s.
He had vividly shown the rise of the Vangaveeti brothers and also how they were assassinated. The movie also depicted the rivalry between the Vangaveeti and Devineni groups.
He also admitted that one of the killings in his debut movie Shiva, a blockbuster film, was inspired by the 1979 murder of Devineni Nehru’s elder brother Devineni Gandhi on the campus of Vijayawada’s Andhra Loyala College, allegedly by Ranga’s men.
Ranga’s son Radha has a chequered career
Despite the strong legacy of Ranga, his son Vangaveeti Radhakrishna has had a chequered and rather unsuccessful career in politics.
Radha had become an MLA on a Congress ticket in the 2004 polls from Vijayawada Central at just 26 years of age. Later, he joined the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) launched by Tollywood actor Chiranjeevi and contested on its ticket in 2009 from the same constituency, and lost.
After PRP was merged into the Congress, he joined YSRCP and shifted to the Vijayawada East constituency to contest in the 2014 polls, but lost again.
Ever since he lost the Vijayawada East seat in the 2014 polls, the YSRCP central leadership asked Radha to focus on the Vijayawada Central segment.
However, with the entry of MLA Malladi Vishnu into the YSRCP, the equations have changed.
YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy appears to believe that Vishnu, a Brahmin, will be the best bet to contest from the Vijayawada Central seat, which has sizeable number of Brahmin voters over other communities.
Jagan seems to be of the opinion that there are more Kapu votes in the Vijayawada East segment which will be an advantage to Radha and asked him to focus on that segment.
However, Radha shifted to TDP before the 2019 polls. It was speculated that he would get a chance to contest from one of the Lok Sabha seats with a sizeable Kapu presence. However, he was denied a ticket by the TDP.
Radha was used only to campaign for the TDP in Kapu strongholds.