The caste equation has influenced every election in Machilipatnam and the upcoming Lok Sabha polls will be no different, say experts. This time, it is a Gowda (a backward caste) versus Kapu battle in this coastal constituency of Andhra Pradesh as sitting Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP Konakalla Narayana Rao's (Gowda) main challenger will be the YSR Congress's Vallabhaneni Balashowry (Kapu).
In the weeks leading up to the polls, the war of words has intensified between the two camps. It started with TDP leaders calling Balashowry a "migratory bird" as he had earlier contested the Lok Sabha polls from Tenali and Guntur and is a non-local candidate.
In return, Balashowry has charged incumbent MP Narayana Rao (he won the seat in 2009 and 2014) with failing to bring a single project in the region. On a number of occasions, Balashowry has mocked the TDP government in the state for not being able to commission the Machilipatnam Deep Sea Port project, which it had promised to complete by 2019.
Narayana Rao has been attacked by opposition leaders repeatedly since 2015 when he was blamed for the midnight decree passed for land acquisition for the Machilipatnam industrial corridor. Fifty per cent of Machilipatnam's population is made up of the backward castes which account for around seven lakh voters in this LS segment. There is about 2.5 lakh (17%) Scheduled Caste (SC) voters here, followed by 2.03 lakh (13.8%) Kapu voters and 1.07 lakh (7.3%) Kamma voters.
A day before campaigning came to an end here on Monday, presidents of the TDP and the YSR Congress -- N Chandrababu Naidu and YS Jaganmohan Reddy respectively -- addressed public meetings in Machilipatnam town. As many as 12 candidates are in the fray for the Machilipatnam Lok Sabha seat, including those from the Congress, BJP and new entrant Jana Sena.
The Machilipatnam Lok Sabha seat has been a Kamma bastion for long until the TDP wrested it from the Congress in 1983. Putting an end to the Kamma domination, the TDP has encouraged Kapu and BC community leaders from this seat.
Experts believe the SC votes will decide the outcome of the poll contest here. The Kapu votes are expected to be divided between the YSRC and Jana Sena aspirants. Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan's brother K Chiranjeevi had fought the 2009 Lok Sabha election with his Prajarajyam party and had found support among the Kapus.
Machilipatnam, comprising the seven Assembly segments of Machilipatnam, Pedana, Gudivada, Gannavaram, Penamaluru, Pamarru and Avanigadda, has a total of 14.72 lakh voters. Since 1950, the seat has been held by the Congress on seven occasions. The TDP won it five times, while the Left and an Independent candidate won it once each.
(With inputs from agencies.)