Andhra, Telangana in Open ‘Cases’ War as Naidu Bribery Row Escalates

Hyderabad: It’s now open war between the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

With Andhra Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu facing the prospect of being arrested by the Telangana police for abetting bribery and conspiring to purchase the vote of an MLA, the TDP-led government and its supporters have upped the ante by filing criminal cases against Telangana CM K. Chandrashekhara Rao in various police stations across AP.

Naidu has also lashed out at KCR, warning his counterpart at a rally in Guntur on Tuesday, “Be careful, I have several weapons which I will release at an appropriate time.”

The reference to “weapons” is an allusion to the audio recording leaked by the Telangana police over the weekend in which Naidu purportedly promises money to a nominated legislator, Elvis Stevenson, in exchange for his support in a crucial vote. The taped conversation allegedly between Naidu and Stevenson was first aired by T-News, a television channel owned by KCR, and later by other channels. Naidu’s claim that the recording is doctored has drawn a sharp response from KCR’s son and Telangana IT minister K.T. Rama Rao, who tweeted,

“If CBN has the guts, I dare him to accept my challenge: I am willing to take a lie-detector test live on TV. Are you ready for one?”

As the conflict escalates, it is already apparent that much more is at stake than the individual liability of Naidu in a criminal case, or even the personal animus between himself and KCR that has its origins in the division of the erstwhile unitary Telugu-speaking state into Telangana and a truncated residuary Andhra Pradesh. If unchecked, the spiraling confrontation might even cast a divisive shadow over the people of the two successor states. Already, shades of the bitterness which accompanied that partition have re-emerged, especially the nagging sense of loss many in AP feel over the ‘crown jewel’ of Hyderabad, which will eventually be the capital of Telangana.

“Who gave the power to KCR to dictate terms to me?” said Naidu at the Guntur event. “I have equal powers in Hyderabad, which is the joint capital [of the two states] for 10 years. I will not be cowed down by the threats from the KCR government.”

The bribery scandal has overshadowed the weeklong political festivities Naidu had planned to mark the completion of one year of his government. The Andhra CM was to not only have showcased his government’s performance over the past year but was also expected to make a raft of promises at the celebrations in the new capital near Vijayawada. As luck would have it, the election code for the AP Legislative Council – the state’s upper house — kicked in and the Election Commission forbade him from making any promises.

Although The Wire is not in a position to verify the authenticity of the tapes, they have dealt a body blow to Naidu’s image.

What can be gleaned from the tapes, if they are genuine, is the TDP supremo’s assurance to the nominated MLA to honor commitments made to him by his party men.

TDP MLA A. Revanth Reddy was earlier caught virtually red-handed handing over wads of cash to Stevenson amounting to Rs. 50 lakhs in exchange for his vote for the TDP candidate in the Legislative Council polls. In a trap laid by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Reddy was caught on video tape allegedly saying that the `boss’ would take care of the payment of Rs. 2.5 crore.

While sting operations have been frowned upon by the Supreme Court as a source of evidence, the ACB describes their operation as legal entrapment, commonly used to ensnare corrupt officials and non-officials. In the present instance, it was based on Stevenson’s complaint. The tapping of Reddy’s phone was part of the investigation and was authorized by a senior official of the Inspector General of Police rank, as per the requirements of the Telegraph Act which governs the legality of telephone intercepts.

The question TDP leaders have asked is whether the police, IG or no IG, can tap the telephone of a high constitutional functionary like the Chief Minister, that too of a neighbouring state, without the Governor’s consent. TDP activists have since gone on to file cases against KCR and the ACB under the Telegraph Act claiming the police illegally intercepted Naidu’s phone.

On their part, the Telangana police deny tapping the Andhra CM’s phone and insist Naidu’s voice was recorded from the lawful tap placed on Stevenson’s phone, which was under surveillance on the basis of his own complaint.

Under the loophole-ridden AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, the Governor of the erstwhile undivided state was empowered to exercise control over law and order over Hyderabad, the joint capital for a period of 10 years. The TDP’s complaint is that Section 8 of the Act (governing law & order) must be defined more clearly as the Governor did not step in when KCR lured MLAs into his party’s fold. The party says the law made it imperative for the Telangana Government to have kept Governor ESL Narasimhan in the loop or even to have sought his consent for the entire operation.

Governor’s role

Narasimhan’s role in the whole controversy remains a bit nebulous and nothing is known of whether he has indeed tried to play peacemaker between the warring Chief Ministers.

One version is that the Governor has asked KCR to pipe down lest the war spirals out of control with policemen from the two States booking cases against one another. The ugly physical encounter between cops from AP and Telangana over control of the sluice gates of the Nagarjunasagar dam last February is still fresh in memory. A repetition will force Central intervention and tarnish the image of both Chief Ministers.

A more disturbing question is the mockery that political parties and leaders are making of the anti-defection law by inducing MLAs by all kinds of means. When complaints are lodged by the affected party, the Assembly Speaker takes months to decide on the question of disqualifying the MLA concerned. A typical example of such cynicism is the continuance of T. Srinivas Yadav, officially a Telugu Desam MLA, in KCR’s Cabinet for several months now.

Note: This is an updated version of the story earlier posted with the headline, ‘Bribery Charges, Threat of Arrest Mar Naidu’s Anniversary Celebrations’