For those who came in late…
Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the brother of two-time chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), was murdered four years ago in his house in Pulivendula on the intervening night of March 14 and 15, 2019.
At the time, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was in power, Viveka’s nephew and YSR’s son, Jagan Mohan Reddy (Jagan), was in the opposition and elections were just a month away. Jagan immediately blamed the TDP for his uncle’s murder. Naidu responded by accusing the family. (Political rivalry has a history of turning violent in Rayalaseema.) Jagan and family approached the court pleading for a CBI investigation, but Naidu had banished the CBI from Andhra Pradesh so the court sat on the plea.
A year later, with TDP and BJP leaders crying foul, the court changed its mind and transferred the case to the CBI on March 11, 2020. The agency took 120 days to file its FIR and another 474 days to file the first chargesheet in October 2021, in which it named four accused for the actual murder or actus reus – (A1) Yerra Gangi Reddy, (A2) Sunil Yadav, (A3) Gajjala Uma Sankar and (A4) Dastagiri. But the CBI told the court it wanted to pursue the ‘larger conspiracy’ behind the murder.
In its final chargesheet made public on July 20, 2023, four more accused have been officially added on charges ranging from murder, criminal intimidation, conspiracy and destroying evidence – Kadapa MP, chief minister Jagan’s cousin and the victim’s nephew Y.S. Avinash Reddy himself, his father Y.S. Bhaskar Reddy, their aide D. Siva Sankar and another party activist called Gajjala Uday. They are accused A8, A7, A5 and A6 respectively.
This is the first in a series exploring the CBI’s investigation into the high-profile murder case.
Kadapa/Hyderabad: It’s not clear if the high-profile investigation into the murder of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy’s uncle Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy has ended, or if more revelations will follow. But 1,558 days after the murder and 1,226 days after the Andhra Pradesh high court transferred the case to it, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s second supplementary ‘Final Report’ was made public on July 20.
In its latest report, the CBI has presented what it calls the “Motive behind the conspiracy”, a section elaborated in 14 numbered paragraphs across eight pages. It is a history essay about a political family. It starts with the following statement: “That Late Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy S/o Sh. Y. S. RajaSekhara Reddy (sic), aged about 68 years, was pursuing an active political carrier (sic)” [emphasis mine], lingers on the YSR Congress party and family dynamics and ends with the claim that Vivekananda Reddy was killed because he wanted YSRC leader Jagan Mohan Reddy to give the Kadapa parliamentary ticket to Jagan’s sister Y.S. Sharmila instead of Avinash.
In a complex and fluid case such as this, it’s best to look at the CBI case as it is presented.
The political ‘carrier’
For some inscrutable reason, the CBI chargesheet begins with Jagan’s grandfather Raja Reddy, with a 2,000-word description of various elections, with a spin uniquely its own. Since its conspiracy case is built around a political thesis, it needs to be examined in detail.
Claim 1 (Para 16.23):
“It is revealed that despite defeat in the MLC election 2017, Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy was very active for the Lok Sabha Elections 2019… he wanted that MP ticket from Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency should either be given to himself or Smt. Y. S. Sharmila (sister of Shri Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy) or Smt. Y.S. Vijayamma (mother of Shri Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy) instead of Y. S. Avinash Reddy (A-8), incumbent Lok Sabha MP…. Moreover, Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy believed that Y.S. Avinash Reddy (A-8) was a weak candidate for MP Kadapa and therefore he wanted that Y. S. Avinash Reddy (A-8) should be given MLA ticket from Jammalamadugu.”
Regarding the claim of ‘active’ politician
Vivekananda Reddy had won his last election in 2004, 15 years before his murder. He was a YS family elder and Kadapa district manager for the party, but he was more than a decade past his “active politician” days.
Vivekananda Reddy’s daughter, Narreddy Suneetha, told the CBI at least twice, that her father had retired from active politics:
“…after his election against Mrs. YS Vijayamma (w/o late YS Raja Shekhar Reddy) in the year 2011, he had retired from active politics…”
“I state that lots of people may have talked me (sic) about his potential candidature but I always stated that my father had retired.”
The CBI forgot to list the date, but Viveka last held public office eight years before his death, in April 2011, when he resigned as agriculture minister from the Congress cabinet of chief minister Kiran Reddy to fight against Vijayamma, his sister-in-law and Jagan’s mother in the 2011 Pulivendula assembly by-election. After his humiliating defeat to her, the Congress gave him the cold shoulder and did not renominate him to the legislative council. The fact that he had assaulted an MLA in the assembly may also have had something to do with it.
Regarding claims about Kadapa Lok Sabha ticket and Avinash being a ‘weak’ candidate
That year, election dates were announced on March 10, 2019, and the final list of candidates on March 17, 2019. It was delayed by two days because of Viveka’s death.
But long before elections were announced, Avinash was not just the incumbent MP; he was the chosen candidate for the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency. The claim that he was a weak candidate flies in the face of his electoral record.
The numbers speak for themselves. Avinash Reddy first won the 2014 Kadapa parliamentary election with a margin of 1,90,323 votes, resigned from parliament in 2016 in support of the demand for the special status category to Andhra Pradesh and would go on to win in 2019 again, with a larger margin of 3,80,976 votes. He had humiliated no less than the veteran politician C. Adi Narayan Reddy, party-hopper and factionalist, then fighting on a TDP ticket. Adi Narayan was originally a Congressman who had sided with Jagan, then shifted to the TDP and is now with the BJP.
The YSR Congress (YSRC) needed Avinash more than he needed them.
Equally importantly, several people including Narreddy Rajasekhar (Viveka’s son-in-law) have told the CBI that not only had Avinash been chosen as the candidate but also that Viveka was actually campaigning for Avinash the day before his murder. He added:
“I state that although officially Sh. Avinash Reddy was not declared as MP candidate but he was unofficially accepted as MP Candidate”
“Yerra Gangi informed me that they were at Jammalamadugu town the previous night for canvassing for Sh. Avinash Reddy YSRCP, MP candidate (also a sitting MP)”
Vivekananda Reddy’s sister Y.S. Vimala is also emphatic that Avinash was always the candidate for the Kadapa MP seat. She told The Wire, “I have no idea why this is being brought up like this. There was never any question that Avinash would be the candidate. Viveka was campaigning for him before he died. I’m really distressed that they’re framing an innocent boy.”
Regarding CBI’s claim about tickets for Sharmila or Vijayamma
Two years after Vivekananda Reddy’s death, Sharmila split away from her brother Jagan to form her own party in Telangana, the YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP). Vijayamma, Jagan’s mother, joined her in Hyderabad.
There is a split in the family – but it’s between the brother and sister. There is no way now to know if Vivekananda Reddy spoke to Sharmila about the Kadapa seat, and Jagan has always been tightlipped about family fights. But rumour has it that Sharmila wanted a Rajya Sabha seat and was denied it.
Either way, there is no information in the public domain about Vivekananda Reddy playing a role in what happened between Jagan and his sister.
Second, even if Viveka had a difference of opinion with Jagan on the Kadapa ticket, this would have been of no consequence since anyone who follows Andhra politics knows Vivekananda Reddy had little political influence left with Jagan after 2011. It’s also common knowledge why that happened.
The 2011 split
After the death in 2009 of Jagan’s father, Viveka’s brother and unified Andhra Pradesh’s two-time chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, there was a power struggle in the state. In a move that surprised everyone, Congress president Sonia Gandhi refused to nominate Jagan to YSR’s vacant Pulivendula assembly seat.
Her decision would herald the precipitous decline of the Congress in the state. In 2010, when Sonia Gandhi refused permission for Jagan’s ‘Odarpu Yatra‘ (Consolation Journey) for those who had reportedly died by suicide following YSR’s death, Jagan went anyway. A year later, he left to form his own party, the YSRC. At that crucial moment, Viveka chose to side with the Congress.
In return, the then Congress CM Kiran Kumar Reddy made Viveka an MLC and agriculture minister. Jagan quit the Lok Sabha and by-elections were called for both his Kadapa parliamentary seat and his late father’s Pulivendula assembly seat.
Viveka’s son-in-law Narreddy Rajasekhar Reddy had political aspirations. He had returned from the US in 2008, when YSR was chief minister, and was eager to contest one of the two vacant seats. The entire Narreddy family went to Delhi to meet Sonia Gandhi but Rajasekhar was denied the opportunity.
In 2011, riding high on the belief that he, and not Jagan, was carrying forward YSR’s legacy, Viveka quit the state cabinet and fought the Pulivendula election on a Congress ticket. Daughter Suneetha, Rajasekhar and brother-in-law Narreddy Siva Prakash campaigned hard for Viveka. He lost miserably. When the Congress gave him the cold shoulder in the next round of MLC nominations, he was out in the cold for a while, had Jagan’s aide D. Siva Sankar’s Reddy’s house raided in 2012 to no avail, and eventually went back to the family.
Still, Jagan had a soft spot for the man who had stood by his father. He was made Kadapa district in-charge with the rest of the family reporting to him. But Vivekananda Reddy would never again be the central pillar of the party that he had been in Rajasekhar Reddy’s time.
So, when Narreddy Suneetha told the CBI that her father “was looking to leave politics for about two and half decades so that YS Jagan Mohan Reddy can take over”, it was less than the complete story.
At the time of his death in 2019, Vivekananda Reddy had won his last popular vote 15 years ago, in 2004. He had made a bid for claiming YSR’s legacy in 2011 and lost. His daughter admits he had retired. His son-in-law admits Avinash was the chosen candidate for Kadapa. Vivekananda Reddy’s own sister Vimala says there was never any doubt. The numbers say Avinash wasn’t an also-ran.
Who is the CBI batting for here, when the victim’s own family and party say he had retired from active politics and was campaigning for the accused?
The 2017 MLC elections
Para 16.21 It isn’t quite clear what the criminal charge is here, but the political charge is that D. Siva Sankar (A5) wanted to contest the 2017 MLC elections. He was ‘close’ to Y.S. Bhaskar and Y.S. Avinash (A7 and A8). When Jagan gave the MLC ticket to Viveka in 2017, accused A5, A7 and A8, of not only ensured his loss but also “got annoyed and developed a grudge against Shri Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy.”
The chargesheet says that when Viveka found out that they had ‘sabotaged’ his election, “he scolded D. Siva Shankar Reddy (A-5), Y. S. Bhaskar Reddy (A-7) Y. S. Avinash Reddy (A-8)… Y. S. Vivekananda Reddy also scolded T. Gangi Reddy (A-1).”
It is possible to imagine Vivekananda Reddy getting upset at losing the 2017 MLC elections. In the Rayalaseema region, power makes everything possible. However, in statements that the CBI presented to the court, there is not even one statement from the 800 voters spread across 10 assembly constituencies who were allegedly bribed. Neither did the CBI speak to the man who won the seat, defeating Viveka – the TDP’s Marreddy Ravindranath Reddy, also known colourfully as B.Tech Ravi.
It’s not clear what the evidence for the political charge is.
And it’s certainly not clear how it connects to a motive for murder – seasoned politicians ranging from the 30s to the 70s killed someone because they got scolded? At the onset of a general election in 2019, they went berserk over an MLC election that was already two years old?
Then there is the dissonance about the claims: one that D. Siva Sankar Reddy, Bhaskar and Avinash easily sabotaged the victim’s chances in an MLC election, yet found him a formidable enough opponent to have him killed two years later. Meanwhile, Avinash won the 2014 and 2019 elections with margins of 1.9 and 3.8 lakh votes – which apparently is an irrelevant fact for the investigators.
To round off the political “carrier”, the CBI wants the court to read all of the above with the family tree it provides in Para 16.12 at the beginning of the chapter, called “Motive Behind the Conspiracy,” and Para 16.15 which says:
“It is revealed that Shri Y. S. Bhaskar Reddy (A-7) and his family had always been ambitious that their family should also be active in politics on account of the fact that though Shri Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy had always kept them in confidence but never let them actively participate in politics. Due to such circumstances, Shri Y. S. Bhaskar Reddy (A-7) and his family members could not fulfil their ambition of becoming MLC, MLA or MP etc. Whereas, descendants of YS family, Shri Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and Y. S. Vivekananda Reddy were dominating in the politics. Further, Shri Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy promoted his son Shri Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who became MP (Lok Sabha) in May, 2009 from Congress Party.“
Briefly, the family tree is as follows: Y.S. Venkat Reddy, had two wives – Laxmi and Manga or Mangi, respectively. Y.S. Bhaskar Reddy (therefore, son Avinash) is the descendant of Laxmi. YSR (therefore, Jagan) and Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy (and Narreddy Suneetha) are descendants of Manga.
So, Bhaskar and Viveka had the same grandfather but different grandmothers. That would make Avinash and Jagan step-great-grandsons. Cousins is simpler. The implication is that as ‘step-descendants’, there is a rivalry.
Unlike in the north, in south India, cousins marrying each other is fairly common, and women marrying uncles too is not unknown. For instance, Narreddy Suneetha is married to her mother’s younger brother. So Viveka’s brother-in-law is his son-in-law as well.
In 1996, Jagan married into Bhaskar’s family – he married Bhaskar’s sister’s daughter. So the ‘step-descendants’ were now also connected by marriage.
Also, after YSR’s death in 2009, while Viveka and his son-in-law jockeyed for power, it was Jagan’s wife and Bhaskar’s side of the family that quietly backed him for ten years, through multiple CBI cases, jail time and setbacks.
The other cousins
At the time of his death, Vivekananda Reddy was a 67-year-old retired politician, living alone in Pulivendula with a bevy of staff, some permanent, some itinerant.
Despite his heart surgery six months earlier, his wife lived with the daughter in Hyderabad, visiting him once a month or two. His daughter saw him a couple of times a year. Only his son-in-law Narreddy Rajasekhar, with whom he ran a bunch of companies including Delta Steels at Pulivendula, came often. According to Suneetha:
“I further state that myself Dr. Suneetha Narreddy was not very comfortable with my father since 2011 when the news of my father having affair with Shaikh Shamim emerged. I used to visit my father’s house in Pulivendula only for short periods (one to three days).”
“I visited my father’s place at Pulivendula on Christmas in the year 2018. My husband used to visit Pulivendula often.”
In 2006, Viveka met Shameem, a young biotech post-graduate looking for a job at Hyderabad’s Dr Reddy’s Laboratories. He helped her get the job which she didn’t take. They met again in 2009 at a fast against the bifurcation of the state, fell ill due to fasting and were admitted to the same hospital. A year later, they got married in secret. At the time of his death, he had a four-year-old son with her called Shahenshah.
Shameem told the CBI that when the first wife’s family found out about their marriage, threats were issued, and men sent by Viveka’s brother-in-law Narreddy Siva Prakash Reddy (NSPR) landed up at her house. Viveka initially promised to give her up, then changed his mind. There was allegedly some physical altercation between him and one of the brothers-in-law and then the situation reached a stalemate
The family had been estranged since 2011, when they found out that Vivekananda Reddy had changed his name to Akbar Shaikh and married a Muslim woman. He had also introduced Shameem as his wife to various members of the extended family – including his first wife Sowbhagya’s brother-in-law (her sister’s husband).
Shameem herself is transparent about what Vivekananda Reddy did or did not do for her. She says he took care of her rent, monthly expenses, the marriage of her two sisters, added an extra floor to her house in Balapanuru and bought 8 cents of land in her father’s name. But her chief complaint was that Vivekananda Reddy did not visit his son often enough and cared too much about money. After his heart surgery in 2018, his chief worry also seems to have been what he would leave behind for his son and second wife after his death.
According to Shameem, he had promised to get their son admitted to Delhi Public School, Hyderabad, buy her a house, make a fixed deposit and buy some agricultural land in the son’s name to ensure his education.
Then, according to her, shortly before his death, Viveka’s name was removed from the list of cheque-issuing authorities from all companies in which he was a director. And he began to panic.
Caretaker Panditi Rajasekhar (mentioned as Pendinti in the chargesheet), who lived with Viveka 24 hours, saw up close his panic about finances towards the last weeks of his life, which landed him in the company of men like Dastagiri and Sunil Yadav, named by the CBI as his actual killers.
“Vivekananda Sir started getting frustrated about money and started consuming excessive alcohol. One day I saw Yerra Gangi Reddy counselled Sir that money will not come by getting desperate and shouting. The boys will bring money shortly Vivekananda Sir used to scold abuse bad words to Yerra Gangi Reddy but still Yerra Gangi Reddy kept coming to meet Vivekananda Sir…
Vivekananda Sir’s behaviour became abnormal. He used to smoke and drink excessively. He used to sit down on stairs….
But slowly, Vivekananda Reddy Sir’s condition started getting deteriorated… I got very scared seeing Vivekananda Sir’s condition. One day I called from my mobile phone no. 98XXXXXX29 to N. Raja Shekhar Reddy Sir on his mobile phone no. 99XXXXXX24 and informed him that some panchayat is taking place and Vivekananda Sir is waiting for huge money desperately. He is consuming excessive alcohol and cigerates [sic] and also lies down on stairs. Sometimes, I carried Vivekananda Sir inside his house.”
Panditi Raja wasn’t the only one who was aware that Viveka owed money to several persons in Pulivendula. CBI testimonies alone show that between eight creditors he had debts amounting to Rs 5 crore, Rs 4.05 crore of which was a capital plus interest on a business loan taken for Narreddy Rajasekhar’s failing factory.
Yet, Narreddy Suneetha told the CBI that her father’s properties were worth about Rs 50 crore. When asked why Viveka’s cheque signing power was terminated she said:
“I state that we were trying to get credit card. But due to bad credit history of my father, our companies were not able to take credits. So we made certain changes to the bank accounts, we took his name out of the cheque signing authorities etc. I recollect and state that some changes in accounts were made to obtain credit. It is also that I am director in the companies owned by my father and my husband.”
The fact is that she replaced her father as director in all these companies after his death. And while Vivekananda Reddy barely had money for his daily expenditure while alive, within months of his death, most of the outstanding loans were paid up by Nareddy Siva Prakash and Narreddy Rajasekhar’s company is back to doing well, according to Suneetha (Statement 3, page 3, para 5).
And, in January this year, about 93 acres of land were transferred in the names of Suneetha and Sowbhagya.
Suneetha told the CBI that Shameem never approached the family for a payout.
Meanwhile, caste and religious lines are being drawn around the case.
At one level, the YS family has been facing the combined attack of the TDP and the BJP for being “Christian Reddys”. Conspiracy theories abound on money coming from outside, “state-sponsored conversion” to Christianity, and the appointment of Y.V. Subbareddy as chairman of the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams had its own ripple effect. On the other hand, the Narreddys, being US citizens, neatly side-step that problem.
By now it is clear that the picture is not quite how the CBI and the ‘Final Report’ claims. The places where the CBI looks for family rivalry and thwarted ambition as a motive for murder do not seem to hold up. On the other hand, there are other scenarios of schisms in the family that may need to be explored, not to mention the fact that the entire family angle could be a diversion because the CBI has not explored the possibility of outside involvement at all.
The CBI’s entire case is built on the testimony of two men – former driver Dastagiri, who was an accused before he turned approver, and alleged watchman Ranganna. But are they telling the truth?
This will be explored in Part II.
Sarita Rani reports on the intersection of crime, politics, and law and has been a reporter for 20 years.