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Politics

Vivekananda Reddy Murder Case: Making Sense of the CBI’s Evidence

The CBI’s case hinges on the testimony of two witnesses, and technical data suggesting that two of the accused were in touch with MP Avinash Reddy around the time the crime was committed. Is this adequate? Or are their gaps? Here’s what we know and what we don’t know.

The first part of this article, ‘Sifting Fact From Fiction in the High-Profile CBI Investigation That Charges an Andhra Pradesh MP With Murder’, can be accessed here.

Pulivendula (AP): Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy usually started the day very early, like most families with ties to the land. His daughter Suneetha Narreddy told the CBI that his usual time to wake up was between 4.00 and 5.00 am. And every day between 5.30 and 6.00 am, his personal assistant, M.V. Krishna Reddy, arrived, followed soon by the cook, Yeddula Laxmi.

So when Krishna Reddy arrived as usual at 5.30 am on March 15, 2019 and found the lights off, the east door closed, and watchman Ranganna still asleep in the veranda, it was unusual.

He called Viveka’s first wife, Sowbhagya, at 5.58 am, seeking permission to wake Viveka. She told him to let her husband sleep in because he might have arrived late the night before. But Laxmi the cook had also just arrived with her son Prakash. Laxmi’s husband had suffered a paralytic attack three months earlier and she was in a hurry to finish her work and leave. Also, both she and Krishna thought Viveka would scold them if he was woken up too late. So they took it upon themselves to wake him up.

Krishna knocked on the east door but there was no response. Laxmi went and banged on the bedroom window on the west to no avail. Ranganna, who had woken up by now, went to the north door, found that it opened to the touch, went in all the way from the hall to the bedroom and the bathroom, found Viveka’s lifeless, bloodied body, and ran out shouting, “Sir has fallen down, Sir has fallen down,” and the rest followed.

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In the four years since, the Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy case has moved from being the story of a gruesome murder to one that speaks to many other plot lines that constitute India’s political reality today.

The stunning violence and the obvious interplays of wealth, politics, power and family divisions might be the stuff of your average Telugu potboiler. But the way the case has evolved speaks more than anything else to an Indian version of Rashomon, the iconic 1950 Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa, in which inconsistent accounts by witnesses, investigators and other dramatis personae abound.

What complicates the picture further is that the murder victim is an ex-MP who was an uncle of the man the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has accused of masterminding the murder – the sitting MP for Kadapa, Y.S. Avinash Reddy – and that both of them are closely related to the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Jagan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). Frequent changes to the investigation process, with three different investigating officers from the CBI handling the case in two years, have not helped matters either. There have been allegations of deliberate mishandling, but also of intimidation and torture – both a standard part of the investigative playbook when it comes to high profile cases in India.

Rivalries, animosities and political vendetta – often exacted through violence – is something that the Rayalaseema region has been well known for. This is where Kadapa is located. When it happened, Viveka’s murder was seen immediately as a political crime by both the Telugu Desam Party ruling Andhra Pradesh at the time (which blamed Jagan and the YSRCP) and Jagan, who accused the TDP of involvement.

Given the background, politics, unsurprisingly, has played a big role in the investigation. When the erstwhile TDP government set up a special investigation team (SIT) comprising officers from the AP police, Jagan went to court seeking a CBI investigation. But when he became chief minister, he dropped the idea of involving the CBI and it was only based on the demand by Viveka’s daughter, Suneetha Nareddy, that the high court brought the central agency in – on March 11, 2020.

In its first charge sheet, filed in October 2021, the agency accused four men of committing the murder – Yerra Gangi Reddy (A1), Sunil Yadav (A2), Gajjala Uma Sankar (A3) and Shaik Dastagiri (A4). The CBI also told the court it wanted to pursue the ‘larger conspiracy’ behind the murder. One month later, Dastagiri turned approver, receiving a pardon in exchange for providing testimony against the others allegedly involved in the crime. His pardon has since been challenged in the Supreme Court.

In its first supplementary charge sheet (January 31, 2022), the CBI added D. Siva Shankar Reddy – a functionary of the YSRCP, also known to be close to Avinash Reddy and his father – as accused A5.

In its second and final supplementary charge sheet submitted on July 20, 2023, the CBI formally arraigned three more persons on charges ranging from murder and criminal intimidation to conspiracy to destroying evidence. These were Y.S. Avinash Reddy (A8), his father Y.S. Bhaskar Reddy (A7) and another party activist, Gajjala Uday (A6).

Avinash Reddy had been briefly “arrested” by the CBI on June 8, 2023 but released immediately as the Telangana high court had granted him anticipatory bail on May 31. Soon after, Suneetha Narreddy, the daughter of the deceased and cousin of both Avinash Reddy and Jagan Reddy, filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging Avinash’s anticipatory bail.

As far as the formal case chronology goes, this is where the matter stands at present.

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In Part 1 of this report, published on July 22, The Wire examined the CBI’s charge of a larger political conspiracy behind Viveka’s murder and the lacunae in the motive which it says drove the crime. To recap, the CBI believes Avinash Reddy is the prime conspirator and that his motive in having Viveka killed is that the latter was opposing his selection as the YSRCP candidate for the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat.

In settling on the allocation of the ticket as the prime motive, the CBI was presumably revisiting the chequered history of family politics over the Kadapa seat (see here). According to the charge sheet, Y.S. Sharmila, sister and political rival of chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, told the CBI that Vivekananda had said to her that they needed to convince Jagan not to give the Kadapa ticket for the 2019 Lok Sabha election to Avinash “at any cost”. However, two members of Viveka’s family – his sister Vimala and his son-in-law – have noted that the uncle had actually been campaigning for Avinash. “There was never any question that Avinash would be the candidate,” Y.S. Vimala told The Wire. “Viveka was campaigning for him before he died.”

The question of motive, of course, becomes important only if the evidence against the accused is robust. And that is the subject to which we must now turn. Starting with the man who discovered the body.

The importance of being Ranganna

At the time, no one paid Ranganna much attention because he looked old and frail and the term ‘watchman’ mostly signified that he slept in the veranda outside whenever he fought with his wife and needed a place to sleep. On the night of March 15, 2019 he was also picked up by the local police for interrogation like everyone else on the staff.

According to the first investigating officer (IO), Ranganna was asleep when Viveka came home with his driver, Prasad, at 11.30 on March 14. But he woke up when he heard the sound of the car and opened the gate for them.

In the following weeks, when there was no clear explanation of what he was doing while Viveka was being murdered inside, Ranganna went on the suspect list. Along with a few others, he was sent to Ahmedabad for what has now become a dangerous, but fashionable investigative tool – narco analysis. It came back blank. He said nothing, knew nothing, and yet several unanswered questions remained.

Then, on Day 861, i.e. more than two years and four months after Viveka’s murder, the CBI presented Ranganna before a judicial magistrate as an eye-witness of sorts. This time, he told the magistrate that 15 minutes after driver Prasad left, Yerra Gangi (A1) had arrived from the front gate at about 11.45 pm.

This was a crucial turning point in the investigation.

Together, Ranganna and Dastagiri’s statements form the bedrock of the CBI’s charge sheet. 

The CBI’s timeline

On the afternoon of March 14, 2019 Vivekananda Reddy went to Jammalamadugu to campaign with his political aide, Yerra Gangi Reddy (A1). Neerugutta Prasad was driving. On the way, they picked up a man called Ravi at Mallela village. On the way back, they would also drop him off. There is no conflict or confusion up to this point.

After that, the key events according to the CBI charge sheet and depositions are:

  • At 9.00 pm on March 14, Dastagiri (A4) and Sunil Yadav (A2) meet at a vacant plot next to Viveka’s house, waiting for his return. They start drinking.
  • Between 10 and 10.30 pm, Ravi is dropped off at his house in Mallela.
  • At approximately 11.25 pm, Yerra Gangi is dropped off near his house in Pulivendula.
  • Five minutes later, between 11.25 and 11.30 pm, Viveka reaches home with driver Prasad.
  • Prasad leaves after 10 minutes (i.e. at approximately 11.40 pm).
  • At 11.45 pm, Yerra Gangi returns to Viveka’s house on the scooter of Uma Sankar (A3). His “friendly entry” is witnessed by Ranganna. Uma joins the other drinkers in the empty plot.
  • At 12.30 am on March 15, Viveka comes out for a smoke and tells Ranganna to go to sleep because Gangi will be spending the night with him.
  • At 1.30 am, Sunil Yadav, Uma and Dastagiri – who had been drinking and waiting all along nearby – knock on a second entrance door, away from where Ranganna was sleeping. Yerra Gangi lets them in.
  • Between 1.30 and approximately 3.15 am, Viveka is done to death.
  • Some 20 minutes before 3.15 am, Ranganna wakes up to the noise of falling utensils from inside the house.
  • Just before 3.15 am, Sunil Yadav, Uma and Dastagiri jump over the compound wall and leave.
  • Right after that, Ranganna approaches and challenges Yerra Gangi, who threatens him into silence.
  • At 3.15 am, Gajjala Uma Sankar is seen on grainy CCTV footage running in front of a Bridgestone Tyre showroom 100 metres away.

In this narrative, Ranganna and Dastagiri corroborate each other at two very important bookends – Yerra Gangi Reddy’s arrival and departure.

The ‘last seen’ theory

Establishing when a person was last seen alive and with whom, is the first and most important step in a murder investigation. It sets Hour Zero for the investigative timeline. And marks the person with whom the investigation should begin.

Ranganna’s first deposition to the local police says –

While leaving, Driver Prasad told me ‘I locked the north side door and I’m leaving now’. He had never did this before. This is the first time he said this to me. Usually sir would only lock the door. Then, around 12.00 am, Vivekananda Reddy came out and smoked a cigarette. Then he said I’m going inside, you also go to sleep. After that I went to sleep in the verandah.”

The implications of the 2019 version of Ranganna’s statements were that Prasad and Viveka had arrived at 11.30, Prasad left in 10 minutes, Viveka had come out for a smoke around midnight, and gone back in. So the victim was last seen alive by Ranganna at 12.00 am. That was Hour Zero. Ranganna ought to have been the Point of Origin for the investigation.

By 2021, however, Dastagiri’s confession and Ranganna’s subsequent testimony had made that irrelevant. Yerra Gangi had arrived later and was the point of origin.

But there was still a problem. Ranganna told the CBI in July 2021 that he had discovered Viveka’s body in the night and only pretended to rediscover it in the morning.

Discovering the body – twice

In a long and detailed statement, Ranganna told the Jammalamadugu magistrate in July 2021 that he was woken up from his sleep by noises inside the house. He went to the north side, peeped through the window and saw four men inside moving between the bedroom and the hall searching for something.

He hid under a tree till he heard the north door unbolt and saw Dastagiri, Sunil Yadav and a third man leave. Then he saw Yerra Gangi Reddy come out of the north door and challenged him. Gangi said nothing at first, then threatened to kill Ranganna if he said anything and left.

Then, said Ranganna, he decided to go inside the house.

Those old houses, if we push [the door], it opens. Again, the door was closed without pulling. I got up and looked here and there. But no one was there. Then I thought of going inside the house door-way to know what happened exactly. (I) opened the door. I went inside the bedroom. In the bedroom, near about one cubit of blood was on the floor. Blood was seen on the one side of a smooth bed. No one is there. Hence, (I thought that, is Sir inside the bathroom? I went towards the bathroom to see. Sir is lying down on his own back (fallen) near to the tap in the bathroom. The whole man was covered in blood. Clothes and body were full of blood.”

That was just after 3.00 am.

What did Ranganna do after discovering the body? He came out, smoked a bidi and went back to sleep:

I came out of the house towards the garden through the door immediately. Door was closed. Scared, I came towards the main door, (I) went to urinate outside the house gate. I have seen it here and there. No one was seen. I smoked Bidi (Cigarette) and while thinking, came back to the house main door and sat at the steps with fear…After that Muslim Allah has started…. I got scared and slept with the blanket.”

The ‘Muslims Allah’ is the azaan for fajr ki namaz (or call for morning prayer). The CBI spoke to two azaan announcers from nearby mosques (LW 119 and 120). They said the fajr ki namaz in March was at 5 am. Thus, the Azaan would have begun at most 15 minutes before that.

So between 3.30 am and 4.45 am, after having discovered the body of his employer, despite having a phone with the numbers of all Viveka’s staff already keyed in, including that of Driver Prasad who lived no more than 10 minutes away by bike, watchman Ranganna said he called no one.

In fact, he slept or pretended to sleep right up until Krishna Reddy, the PA, the victim’s cook Laxmi and son Prakash arrived at 5.30 am and 6.00 respectively.

Worse, he told the Jammalamadugu magistrate that he pretended to rediscover the body the next day and also pretended to faint for extra effect. Describing the events of the next day he says:

At the same time Lakshamma is knocking Sir’s house bedroom window handle… I came back to the main door…Krishna Reddy said that you go to the door side and see Ranganna. I went there and went inside, went inside the bedroom and saw again that blood is there on the floor, By then blood has clotted. I have seen Sir earlier in the bathroom. … I said that Sir is no more, Sir is no more, Sir has passed away, having said this, I came to the garden and fell down. Prakash, Lakshamma, Krishna Reddy went inside the house in front of me. They have even lifted me or not paid attention towards me.(emphasis added)

According to Ranganna and the CBI, he discovered the body in the night but didn’t tell anyone. He then pretended to rediscover it the next morning and enacted a drama to make it look like he was surprised. And then he sat on this information for 861 days.

Other than the testimony of the self-confessed killer, Dastagiri, Ranganna’s testimony – which came more than two years after he said he knew nothing – is the only evidence that (i) puts Yerra Gangi Reddy (A1) and Umashankar (A3) at the crime scene that day and (ii) corroborates Dastagiri’s version of events.

Ranganna had never identified Umashankar earlier. However, he told the CBI on September 17, 2021:

“I identified the 03 persons as Shaik Dastagiri, Yadati Sunil Yadav and Yerra Gangi Reddy and fourth person as tall and lean. The tall and lean person was wearing pant and black colored half sleeves shirt.” (emphasis added)

The man with a black shirt was allegedly identified by gait, from the black and white footage of a CCTV camera of a tyre showroom. He is seen running and the shop with the camera is set back from the road. The courts will decide if that constitutes an identity.

Google Takeout Data and the man who was everywhere

The phones of both Yerra Gangi and Umashankar remained stationary at the cell towers that connect to their usual home address all night. This is no guarantee that they were at home, of course, but the CBI has made extensive use of Google Takeout (GTO) data to get a fix on the alleged movement of Sunil Yadav (A2).

Specifically, the CBI says Yadav had been in Avinash Reddy’s house in Pulivendula multiple times on March 14 and 15. The 2nd supplementary chargesheet has the following chart on page 44 and 45:

At the time of the murder, Sunil Yadav lived in a little blue independent house, a straight road 160 metres down from the back side of Vivekananda Reddy’s house. Why is that important? Because the accuracy of a cell tower location in an urban area varies between 500 and 1500 metres. In the first charge sheet the CBI had used Google Takeout data and placed Yadav inside the house of YS Vivekananda Reddy at 02:42:04 Hrs, near the house of the deceased (10 mtrs)  at 2:35:44 hrs,  and near the house of the deceased (15 mtrs) at 02:34:01 hours in the intervening night of 14/15.

A Telangana high court judge had pointed out discrepancies in the data in April. So the third charge sheet now says that the CFSL Delhi got confused between UTC and IST (Indian Standard Time):

“However during further investigation the Google Takeout got forensically examined by CFSL, New Delhi wherein it was found that the said timings mentioned in the initial Charge sheet were as per the UTC timing, which is 05:30 hrs. behind the Indian Standard Time (IST). Therefore, an addition of 05:30 hrs. is required to be made to arrive at the Indian Standard Time (1ST).”

The chargesheet says this puts Sunil Yadav in Vivekananda Reddy’s house at 08:12:04 am the next morning after the body was discovered and there were scores of people in the house. No one mentions Sunil Yadav being there at that time.

There is a further problem with the corrected GTO data. According to the CBI chargesheet, Sunil Yadav was in two places at the same time. Between 1.30 am and 3.00 am, he was in Vivekananda Reddy’s house committing the murder, going by the testimonies of Dastagiri and Ranganna. But at 1.58 am, the Google Takeout data says he was also inside Y.S. Avinash Reddy’s house.

This is not a typo, because the CBI repeats the time in Paras 16.50 and gives an explanation for his presence there in Para 16.64:

“Findings of Forensic Analysis Report regarding the presence of Yadati Sunil Yadav (A-2) inside the house of Y.S. Bhaskar Reddy (A-7) / Y.S.Avinash Reddy (A-8) at 01:58:36 AM on 15.03.2019 substantiates the statement of Shaik Dasthagiri (A-4, turned approver), that larger conspiracy for commission of murder of Shri Y. S. Vivekananda Reddy was hatched at the behest of D. Siva Shankar Reddy (A-5), Y. S. Bhaskar Reddy (A-7) and Y. S. Avinash Reddy (A-8).”

But if Sunil Yadav was in Avinash Reddy’s house, how was he committing Viveka’s murder a kilometre away? Or vice versa?

Then there is the letter.

The bloody letter

One of the most confounding things about the case was the purported dying declaration allegedly written by Vivekananda Reddy. Minutes after Ranganna led them to the body, the cook’s son, Yeddula Prakash, found the letter near the sofa in Vivekananda Reddy’s room.

Only its lower edges were covered in blood and it was written on the back of a photocopy of his daughter Suneetha Nareddy’s wedding certificate.

The letter read:

“My driver, I called him for duty early, so he beat me like death. I found it difficult to write this letter. Do not leave driver Prasad. Do not leave driver. Yours Vivekananda Reddy

Krishna Reddy read out the letter to Viveka’s son-in-law, N. Rajasekhar Reddy on the telephone at 06:29 am.

Rajasekhar told Krishna Reddy to hold on to the letter and not tell anyone. The CBI says that this was because he

suspected that there was some foul play and it was not a case of natural death, therefore, in order to prevent mishandling of the note and to save driver Prasad from public outrage, he told Shri M. V. Krishna Reddy to keep the note in safe custody till the arrival of family members at Pulivendula. Moreover, Shri N. Raj Shekhar Reddy and his wife did not have any suspicion on Driver Prasad and considered him to be a loyal person.”

The police officer who first arrived at the crime scene, Pulivendula SHO CI Sankaraiah, was thus not told about the letter, which was eventually handed over to Kadapa SP Rahul Dev Sharma some time in the afternoon or late evening.

The letter confounded the first IO, DSP Nagaraj, who wondered why it was written at all and why it was found in the bedroom when Viveka’s body was in the bathroom. These questions were still unanswered when the CBI took over the case.

Dastagiri’s confession should have fixed that problem. He told the CBI and the magistrate in 2021 that the assailants had made Viveka write the letter with a view to framing the driver Prasad and that it was written in the bedroom before they took him into the bathroom.

Then myself and Sunil Yadav caught hold of the shirt of Vivekananda Reddy and dragged him near to the cupboards and made him to sit on his knees and asked to write one letter with his pen, but he refused to it. Then we four beat him up too much. Then Yerra Gangi Reddy said that, “hey fool.. if you write a letter then we will leave you and if you don’t write then we will kill you (and leave)…Later, Vivekananda Reddy agreed to write

However, Dastagiri’s account of how the letter was written is difficult to square with his detailed description of the brutal attack on Viveka in his 161, 164 and 306 statements. The number of blows changes, but the sequence of attack doesn’t.

Here are the excerpts from his 306 statement on 26 November 2021

First set of blowsHe (Sunil Yadav) punched with his right hand on his (Vivekananda Reddy) mouth strongly. Vivekananda Reddy fell down (towards backside).

INJURY 1 – Then, Umashankar Reddy blewe’d the Vivekananda Reddy on his forehead with an axe. He shouted …amma…”.

(The Inquest report notes this is one of “two deep cut bleeding injuries side by side on mid forehead with same length(,) of width about 1 inch(,) while about 3.5 inches of length and 6 inches of deep”)

INJURY 2 – He  turned to the right side and while trying to get up Umashankar Reddy blewed him with an axe for the second time on the back side of his head. He fell down in the pool of the blood

(The Inquest report notes this as –  Deep cut lnjury on rear side of head with length about 4 inch and 2 inch)

Second Set of Blows : Then Sunil Yadav blowed strongly on Vivekananda Reddy’s chest for fifteen to sixteen times (15-16).

Search for Land Documents: Later, Umashankar Reddy gave an axe to me and asked me to, “make sure that he does not get up, meanwhile we will search the land related documents

INJURY 3 : Later, Vivekananda Reddy tried to raise his right hand and said that, “what are you trying to search in my house? Then I blewed him with an axe on his right hand. His right palm was  injured and he started shouting loudly.

(Inquest report – Cut lnjury on right palm with length about 2 inches and width about 1 inch)

Dastagiri told the CBI, and claimed in court twice and in several television interviews that the 67-year-old Vivekananda Reddy, a heart patient who had undergone stent surgery six months before his murder, was alive and in a fighting mood after injuries 1 and 2. Injury 2 had basically exposed the victim’s brain matter, which was found flowing down the drain in the bathroom. After injury 3 on his right palm, Dastagiri claimed the right-handed victim wrote a dying declaration in which just the lower part of the letter was covered in blood.

The CBI took CFSL Hyderabad’s expert opinion to confirm it was Vivekananda Reddy’s letter.

It says the letter was even subjected to Forensic Psychological Analysis in which a CFSL New Delhi expert report on 10.1.2022 said

that the questioned handwriting was written under duress and extreme thought process

But the CBI doesn’t seem to have asked medical experts if that letter could be even written after injuries 1, 2 and 3.

After the murder: What the WhatsApp IPDR data tells us

The chargesheets also include WhatsApp IPDR data which the CBI says shows that (A1) Yerra Gangi Reddy chatted with (A8) Avinash Reddy throughout the night.

Internet Protocol Detail Records (IPDR) provide metadata about a person’s internet activity. While it does not store the actual content sent or received via the WhatsApp server, or even a record of who messaged or called whom, it does show when a person’s WhatsApp account registers activity via a message that is delivered or sent.

The CBI chargesheet includes a chart of IPDR activity on the phone numbers of Gangi Reddy (A1) and Avinash Reddy from 1:37 A.M. to 5.02 AM on March 15. The “analvsis of IPDR reveals certain similar timestamps on the WhatsApp activity” of both the men, the chargesheet says.

The charge sheet notes that attempts to access the messages Gangi Reddy sent and received were unsuccessful. Though the local police seized his phone on the night of 15/16 March and extracted his data, when this was scrutinized, “only logical files were found available. The WhatsApp Chat / Voice Call data and deleted data are not available in the extraction report.”

There are some close IPDR matches between Gangi Reddy and Avinash’s phones that night. Since this is metadata, however, this only shows that a message was sent or received at these exact times by these phone numbers. The logical files say nothing about whether these two phones were communicating with each other, and the CBI will have to produce independent evidence for that.

Who called whom and when

The charge sheet seeks to establish a relationship between the eight accused men through an elaborate and impressive looking chart of conversations. The chart, which maps activity on March 14 and 15, 2019, shows Avinash Reddy (A8) calling his father (A7), exchanging calls with his aide D Siva Shankar (A5), and one of his personal assistants getting a call from another party activist G Uday (A6). These four are regular associates.

Another cluster of calls or messages is between Yerra Gangi Reddy (A1), Sunil Yadav (A2), Dastagiri (A4) and G. Umashankar (A3), who were also known to be regular associates.

What connects these two groups of associates are two calls made by the political aide of Avinash, i.e. Siva Sankar, and Viveka’s political aide, Yerra Gangi, one at 8 pm on the night of March 14 (when both men were officially out campaigning) and another at 9:30 am on March 15, i.e. the day after the murder in the intervening night.

The CBI believes this demonstrates the existence of a criminal relationship between all the accused. However, examination of Yerra Gangi’s or Siva Sankar’s calls with others may reveal other patterns, which the CBI has neither included or excluded.

Who knew what and when?

Other than Ranganna the watchman, who saw Vivekananda Reddy’s bloodied body but apparently chose to keep quiet about it, and the four men allegedly involved in the murder, the world at large was unaware of the crime until Viveka’s PA, Krishna Reddy, who discovered the body, started informing the family from 0615 on March 15.

Therefore, if anyone knew about Viveka’s death before 0615, that would certainly be grounds for suspicion.

According to the CBI chargesheet, the mother of Gajjala Uday Kumar Reddy – Accused no 6 and a close associate of Avinash Reddy – told neighbours that her son knew about the murder around 4:00 am:

“One Prabhavati Devi (Mother of T. Raghu Natha Reddy) stated that her neighbour Smt. Shakuntala (Mother of Gajjala Uday Kumar Reddy) had told her that her son Gajjala Uday Kumar Reddy knew about the death of Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy in the morning at about 04:00 AM and he left the house early in the morning. Shri .T Raghu Natha Reddy has also corroborated the version of his mother regarding conversation between Smt. Shakuntala and Smt. Prabhavati Devi. Moreover, Smt. Prabhavati Devi had also disclosed this fact to one Shri Guduru Sivarama Krishna Reddy and his wife Smt. Uma Devi, who during investigation have also corroborated this fact.”

It appears that Prabhavati Devi, now denies that Uday’s mother told her he knew about the murder at 4 am, at least going by a complaint forwarded to CBI director Praveen Sood by Avinash Reddy (A8) on June 19, 2023.

In his complaint, Avinash forwarded the names of at least 14 witnesses who said that they were either completely misquoted in their 161 statements or their statements were signed by officers other than those who had interviewed them. Raghunath Reddy is shown in his deposition as phoning his mother in the middle of his interrogation to confirm the details of the conversation, but not only does he deny that ever happened, his and Prabhavati’s statements were signed by Devender Meena when they were interviewed by Addl SP Ram Singh.

Ram Singh was taken off the case by the Supreme Court in March 2023 over complaints that the investigation was dragging on. Earlier, there were also allegations that he had coerced witnesses into making false statements. Four people have filed cases against Ram Singh during the course of the investigation.

This is exactly why the Supreme Court in Saini V Baljit  had asked the CBI and the state police to record 161 statements and install CCTV cameras in all police stations. So that all witness and accused interactions with the interviewing authorities could be recorded.

CBI says Jagan got early alert, its ‘source’ strongly denies this

The CBI chargesheet claims a similar ‘early alert’ was given to chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy though the source it attributes this information to – former AP chief secretary Ajeya Kallam – has refuted the claim. The charge sheet cites Kallam as saying that he was in an election manifesto meeting with Jagan at the latter’s residence at 5 am on March 15, 2019:

“While discussions were going on, at around 5.30 am, his attendant knocked on the door and informed Sh. Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy that Amma (Mrs. Bharti) was calling him upstairs. Sh. Y.S Jagan Mohan Reddy went out and returned after 10 minutes to the meeting hall. While standing only he informed that his uncle (Sh. Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy) is no more (Chinana). We were shocked to hear this.”

Even before the charge sheet was submitted, some of this information was leaked to the Telugu media, prompting Kallam to hold a press conference denying he had made any formal statement to the CBI as had been reported. He had still not seen a copy of his purported statement but following the filing of the third chargesheet last week, Kallam has now filed a petition in court stating that the CBI has completely misquoted him:

“In contrast to the above, I had clearly stated to the officer who examined me on 29-04-2023 that the meeting for preparation of manifesto of YSRCP commenced in the house of Sri Jagan Mohan Reddy at around 5 AM on 15-03-2019 and after one and half hour thereafter, an attendant knocked the door of the meeting hall and the OSD to Sri Jagan Mohan Reddy went to attend to the knock and came back in to the room and whispered something to Sri Jagan Mohan Reddy who immediately got up expressing his shock and surprise and said that his chinanna had died. Further, I had not stated anything about Sri Jagan Mohan Reddy being called for by his spouse and I submit that, unfortunately, what I had stated was not accurately recorded by the CBI and the version as recorded by the CBI is entirely false and it has the tendency to prejudice the investigation and falsely implicate several individuals.”

The attendant at Jagan’s residence that morning, Goparaju Naveen Kumar (LW 263) said in his deposition that he received the call at 6.30 am and not 5.30 am:

At around 06:30 AM on 15.03:2019 1 received a call from Shri Y.S.Avinash Reddy on my mobile number 9000xxxxxx, Shri Y.S.Avinash Reddy asked me whether Jagan sir was present in the house. I told him that Jagan Sir was in meeting at that time….Thereafter, Shri Y.S. Avinash Reddy directed me to give the phone to Krishna Mohan Reddy (OSD) immediately.

Cleaning the crime scene

The question that took up most of the headlines in the early days of the murder was the heart attack story and the cleaning of the crime scene. In the CBI’s submissions, besides the ‘technical evidence’ analysed above, this constitutes the major charge against three of the accused.

This is the chronology as recorded by the CBI.

Viveka’s brother-in-law, Narreddy Siva Prakash Reddy, called Avinash Reddy and told him “something has happened to bawa, please go to the house now.” This was at 6.26 am on March 15, 2019. Avinash Reddy (A8) has said he was on the road to Jammalamadugu for campaigning in four vehicles so he took a U-turn and returned, calling for doctors en route. He reached the house at 6.32 am and made calls to the family first and then to Pulivendula SHO CI Sankaraiah at 6.44 am.

Viveka’s typist Inayat told the CBI in July 2020 that circle inspector Sankaraiah arrived within 2-3 minutes of Yerra Gangi (A1), who came at around 7.00 am.

Nothing had been touched till then except Viveka’s purported ‘dying declaration’ and phone. The letter had been put away on Narreddy Rajasekhar’s instructions and Viveka’s phone had been pocketed by his PA, M.V. Krishna Reddy.

Inayat showed the CI the body in the bathroom, the signs of blood spatter up to eight feet high and the broken almirah handle. CI Sankaraiah saw the blood marks but, according to Inayat,

on this, he said that Vivekananda Reddy might have fainted and fell down on the floor and due to falling with force on floor blood may spread on the walls, your Sir was a good man how can someone do that to him.

Then, Yerra Gangi (A1) proceeded to get the area in front of the bed cleaned and the body moved, apparently with the knowledge if not approval of the CI. In Inayat’s words:

Gangi Reddy told that whatever happened had happened, let the blood be cleaned and bring the body out of the bathroom. At that time D.Siva Sankar Reddy, Y.S.Manohar Reddy, Yerram Reddy Palli Jagadish and others were present in the bedroom. I asked M.V. Krishna Reddy that why Gangi Reddy is in so much Hurry, Krishna Reddy replied that he is also thinking, the same.

Yerra Gangi Reddy instructed me 2-3 times to ask for someone to clean the blood but I did not paid attention  on this he shouted and asked me to get Lakshamma ( house keeper) to get blood cleaned. …I told Lakshamma that Gangi Reddy is asking for you to get the blood cleaned. She came to bedroom with bucket and towel she was weeping and left bedroom without finishing the cleaning work then after Gangi Reddy himself scrapped the dried blood, while tanker Basha and P. Rajasekhar used towel to sweep the blood[.]

Yerra Gangi Reddy asked Cl Sankaraiah that room has been cleaned can we bring the body out  on this CI  said Okay you can bring out the body.

None of Viveka’s staff claimed that the family had forced them to clean the crime scene. They were present but did not speak to anyone. The man responsible for the cleanup was Yerra Gangi.

As for the CI, he went back to the PS and wrote up a report that indicated he hadn’t been to the crime scene at all. He also wrote that Avinash told him Viveka had died of a heart attack. This ‘heart attack’ claim figures prominently in the CBI charge sheet as part of its argument that Avinash sought to cover up the murder. If the alleged conspirators planned to claim Viveka’s death was due to natural causes, this begs the question of why they made Viveka write a dying declaration blaming driver Prasad for what was clearly going to look like a violent rather than a natural death.

  1. Nagaraj, then DSP of the SIT set up by the TDP regime, arrived at the scene at 10.30 and took over the case formally that very afternoon. He is now retired. He told the CBI,

[CI Sankaraiah] informed me that Shri YS Vivekanand Reddy has died and the relatives of the deceased had informed him that Shri YS Vivekanand Reddy might have died due to falling in the bathroom and hitting his head on the commode. Cl Shankaraiah was present at the SoC but he did not inform me that the SoC was being cleaned.

Nagaraj had made the same notes in his own case diary in March 2019. A week after the murder, Shankariah was suspended for his behaviour that day.

These contradictions aside, the fact remains that Yerra Gangi (A1) cleaned the crime scene; Avinash Reddy (A8) and Bhaskar Reddy (A7) and Siva Sankar (A5) were present when the crime scene was cleaned.They will have to explain their actions to the court.

Following the money

According to Dastagiri, Viveka’s murder was a paid hit. In his first statement to the CBI on August 25, 2021, he said that Yerra Gangi told him Rs 40 crores had been promised to him by Siva Sankar Reddy (A5), and that Sunil Yadav had met him at a helipad and given him Rs 1 crore as advance of which Yadav had borrowed Rs 25 lakh

Yerra Gangi Reddy told us that he will be receiving an amount of Rs. 40 crores from D. Shankar Reddy … I did not carry my share to my home but gave it to Munna for safe Keeping…. I decided to purchase a villa at Vijaya Homes, Pulivendula at the cost of Rs 75 lakhs

Five days later, on August 30, 2021 he remembered more

in the first week of March 2021… about 10-15 days before leaving for Delhi, Sh. D. Shiv Shankar Reddy called me through Sh. Bharat Yadav at the house of Bayupu Reddy and there he asked me not to disclose their names before CBI and he also promised me that he will settle my life

By the time of his 306 Approver Statement in November 2021, Dastagiri remembered even more:

I asked Sunil to confirm that (we) have to murder Vivekananda Reddy. “Are you telling the truth? or are you telling a lie? Though l have received the money”. Then Sunil Yadav took me to Yerra Gangi Reddy house and called D. Siva Shankar Reddy. Siva Shankar Reddy spoke to me over phone and told me that “do whatever Gangi Reddy is saying. We told you that we are there, then again why do you doubt on it”

The only problem is the CBI recovered the money from Munna, a slipper shop owner at Pulivendula cross-roads, a year before Dastagiris confession:

Today I have been shown the Locker operation Memo dt. 22.00.2020 closed on 23.09.2020 wherein the Locker no. A-65  in the name of S. Munna and S. Mahaboob Jan was operated and a recovery of Rs 46,70,000/ and other items was made. The locker has been freezed U/s 102 Cr.P.C. by yourself under my acknowledgement.

The charge sheet offers an explanation of sorts for this, related to marital trouble Munna was facing with his two wives that Vivekananda tried to mediate when he was alive. The CBI first questioned the wives, and then Munna, found the latter ‘evasive’ about money matters and then found the money in a bank locker for which he offered no satisfactory explanation.

 Munna’s money came up during Avinash Reddy’s anticipatory bail hearing at the Telangana high court, where Justice M. Laxman’s order notes that “it is most unfortunate that the CBI failed to recover [the money allegedly distributed to the accused] from accused Nos.1 to 3 and [the] amount recovered from Munna is also under doubtful circumstance. The CBI has not examined Munna and recovery was not under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act.”

Unidentified fingerprints…

Few people know that the world’s first fingerprint system was developed in India by two sub-inspectors, Aziz-ul-Haque and Hem Chandra Bose (See here and here). The first finger print bureau anywhere in the world was set up in Calcutta in 1897.

It is galling therefore, that Indian investigators rarely use fingerprints in their search for truth. In the Vivekananda murder case however, the ’clues team’ – state lingo for mobile forensics – found six ‘chance prints’.

Chance prints refer to fingerprints from places in a crime scene that there is a chance the suspect may have touched. Inmate prints are fingerprints of people in the house who may or may not be suspects. Suspect prints are fingerprints of possible suspects, which are then verified in a field investigation.

The Kadapa clues team had arrived at the crime scene by 10 AM and of the six prints identified photographed and developed, the report said four had enough ridge characteristics for a meaningful comparison. One was on Viveka’s phone which had been picked up by PA Krishna Reddy.

That left three relevant prints – two from bathroom wall tiles and one just under the inside latch of the North door. The two on the bathroom wall were especially important. They were marked in blood. So the possibility that the killers had made them was high.

By March 16, the local police had compared these prints to all house staff and the four currently accused of the murder – Yerra Gangi (A1), Sunil Yadav (A2), Uma Sankar (A3) and Dastagiri (A4). They were not a match.

While this does not necessarily exclude them completely, it is exculpatory evidence the CBI should have presented to the court.

By the time the case went to the CBI, family members had been printed, so had a total of 1461 suspects, including 400 others in Pulivendula and checks run in the rest of the state through fingerprint databases available at the State Crime Records Bureau and National Crime Records Bureau. There was no match.

and the theft of documents

Finally, though the CBI charge sheet presents the murder as the product of political rivalry, the testimony of both Dastagiri and Ranganna suggest theft may also have been a factor.

Both witnesses describe the search for papers in detail. “Later, Umashankar Reddy gave an axe to me and asked me to, “make sure that he does not get up, meanwhile we will search the land related documents.”

And later:

“…Yerra Gangi Reddy washed the blood stains which were there on his panca (lower garment, it’s like a lungi) in the bathroom, came to the hall and took the documents. Later, we tried to break the almirah with an axe but it couldn’t open.”

In a previous statement, he gives a detailed description of how there was a round seal on the document.

Watchman Ranganna confirms the search for something in both his 161 and 164 statements:

The curtains were open, and the bedroom was visible from the window. I have seen four people who were roaming from the hall to the bedroom as if they had lost something.

The CBI’s latest charge sheet acknowledges there was a theft but that it found nothing related to it in a search at Yerra Gangi’s place:

Shaik Dasthagiri (A-4, turned approver) further revealed that after committing murder of YS Vivekananda Reddy, T. Gangi Reddy (A-1), Yadati Sunil Yadav (A-2) and Gajjala Umashankar Reddy also searched some documents and they also tried to break open the almirah… in order to trace out the documents, a search was conducted at the house of T. Gangi Reddy (A-1) on 11.08.2021 in which several original as well as photocopied property related documents bearing round seals have been recovered but none of these documents recovered were found to be related to YS Vivekananda Reddy.

The CBI may have failed to find the documents, but they acknowledge they looked for them. And crime scene pictures show a detached almirah handle that Inayat says was broken during the murder. So here’s a simple question – where’s the theft charge?

Sarita Rani reports on the intersection of crime, politics, and law and has been a reporter for 20 years.