At a time when Andhra Pradesh, like many other states, is in the grip of coronavirus, the Jagan Mohan Reddy government’s move to go after opposition TDP leaders for their alleged involvement in scams during the previous government’s term is heating up the state politics.
The manner in which two Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leaders were arrested in two days and the warnings issued by ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) leaders while defending the arrests has kicked up a row. The main opposition is accusing the ruling party of indulging in “political vendetta”.
The arrest of former minister and TDP deputy leader in Assembly K. Atchannaidu by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) from his house in Srikakulam district early Friday raised many questions. His family alleged that 200 to 300 policemen scaled the house’s compound wall to barge in and arrest him.
No prior notice was given to the TDP leader about his arrest for alleged irregularities in the purchase of medicines and equipment for Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) hospitals during the TDP rule, when he was the minister for labour and employment.
Only two days before the arrest, Atchannaidu had undergone a surgery. Since he was made to travel by road for 12 hours to Vijayawada and only after 24 hours did he get some medical aid, his surgical wound is said to have opened.
Political observers say while no one can have any objection to Atchannaidu’s arrest in the ESI scam, the manner in which he was picked up and brought to Vijayawada raises suspicion.
The very next day, former TDP MLA J.C. Prabhakar Reddy and his son Asmith Reddy were arrested in Hyderabad by Andhra Pradesh Police for allegedly forging documents to register and sell vehicles purchased as scrap from a leading automobile company. They were shifted to Anantapur district and presented in a court.
Atchannaidu is the first key TDP leader to be arrested since YSRCP came to power in May last year. After becoming the Chief Minister, Jagan Mohan Reddy decided to not only have a re-look at all major decisions taken by the previous Chandrababu Naidu government but also order a probe wherever irregularities were found.
In February the Vigilance and Enforcement Department claimed to have unearthed a major scam in the procurement of medicines and other items totalling over Rs 975 crore in ESI hospitals by the Insurance Medical Services (IMS) directorate in the last five years.
Atchannaidu had allegedly directed then IMS director to issue work orders to a company without inviting open tenders.
The arrests came a day after the state Cabinet gave its nod for the probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into irregularities in various schemes during TDP rule.
The timing of the arrests also raised many doubts. Opposition leaders believe that it was done to divert public attention from the state’s problems due to the spread of Covid-19 and a series of setbacks the government faced in the courts.
The latest and biggest setback was the High Court setting aside an ordinance brought in to remove N. Ramesh Kumar as the State Election Commissioner. The government faced more embarrassment as the Supreme Court refused to stay the High Court order.
Political analysts say while the state government was trying to justify every action citing the huge public mandate it got, the courts in various cases found fault with the government’s decisions and kept reminding it of its duties.
The Jagan Mohan Reddy government was also under fire from various quarters for its alleged intolerance towards its critics. Those who were criticizing the government on the social media were booked, including a 60-year-old woman.
The YSRCP government, which completed one year on May 30, also saw TDP President and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu intensifying his attacks and trying to galvanise the main opposition party.
Now, the Leader of the Opposition is even trying to politically cash in on the arrests. He described Atchannaidu’s arrest and the ‘ill-treatment’ meted out to him as an attack on backward classes.
“As ACB is dealing with the case, an arrest without notice or on the eve of the Assembly session is not the point. Let law take its own course without favour or vengeance. After challenging for the inquiry, the TDP can’t now invoke the BC card or allege witch-hunt in this case,” said analyst Telakapalli Ravi.
The arrests led to a no-holds-barred war of words between YSRCP and the TDP.
While the TDP slammed the government for being vindictive, YSRCP leaders defended the arrests with the remark that it’s just the beginning and that they have a long list of names, including that of Chandrababu Naidu.
The YSRCP leaders said the arrests have made Naidu jittery as he knows that the law will catch up with him.
YSRCP MP Vijayasai Reddy launched a bitter attack on Naidu, accusing him and his son Nara Lokesh of corruption.
“The father-son duo believed that Hyderabad would be the safest shelter during the lockdown. Now they are looking for a new bolthole to keep themselves from being questioned by investigating agencies,” said Jagan’s aide.
“Just heard that Chandrababu Naidu has contacted one of his best friends, who is a fugitive industrialist, now hiding in London, to find out the best ways to escape from India,” the MP tweeted.
YSRCP leader G Srikanth Reddy said that Chandrababu Naidu is frightened of getting exposed on his alleged role in the scams and hence raising a hue and cry over the arrests of his wingmen.
All in all, politics in Andhra Pradesh is beginning to heat up barely a year after Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power on the back of an overwhelming poll victory.