Rama Krishna Sangem
The arrest of former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu in a corruption case on September 9 and his subsequent remand for two weeks heated up Andhra Pradesh politics, ahead of 2024 April/May elections. Naidu is TDP president and Opposition leader in the AP assembly. An additional sessions court in Vijayawada remanded him to custody till September 22.
Naidu and his TDP termed the arrest as part of political vendetta by CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy led government and called for a statewide bandh on September 11, Monday. The ruling YCP and several ministers rejected the charge and said that the former CM was clearly involved in a skill development scam, which began as a scheme to help the unemployed youth 7-8 years ago when he was in power.
An FIR filed by the AP CID sleuths, then Naidu government has started a massive scheme for skill development of youth through an agency, Siemens, at an estimated project of around Rs 3,300 crore, of which around Rs 371 crore was paid from the state exchequer. The rest, close to 90 per cent of the amount was to come from Siemens as grant in aid for the scheme.
The CID which registered case against Naidu under several IPC sections including 409 and 420 said that the third party, Siemens, had failed to contribute its share while most of the money paid by the state government has been pumped back to some shell companies, purportedly held by those close to Naidu and TDP. The CID says this is a clear case of money laundering and a scam designed and executed from push at the highest level – then CM.
Naidu has stoutly refuted the charges and maintained that he hasn’t received any personal benefits out of this scheme at anytime and any stage. He argued with the CID officers during his interrogation that as the decision to implement a scheme for skill development of the youth was taken by then Cabinet, led by him and its budget was passed by the then Assembly, he alone cannot be blamed for any irregularities in it.
The CID, however, argued that Naidu – as the CM was the prime force behind the entire process – from approval of the scheme to release of funds -, he alone can be held accountable in this scam. Naidu has been named as Accused No 1 in the case, after a few persons were arrested earlier. The CID has also recorded statements of some officials who were connected to the scheme during Naidu’s regime from 2014-19.
Massive legal fight on the cards
A massive legal fight appears on the cards as the CID and Naidu’s TDP are readying for more courtroom battles. If Naidu is going to knock the doors of the High Court and the Supreme Court to get bail, the CID is going to file more custody petitions to grill him in this case as well as some more corruption cases, already registered with it. The sleuths have already sought Naidu’s custody in another case – related to Amaravati Inner Ring road lands acquisition.
A battery of lawyers on behalf of Naidu are pressing for an early bail for him at higher courts in view of his stature as former CM and his age – 74 years and his health – he suffers from some chronic ailments like blood pressure and diabetics. As of Monday, they were arguing for at least house arrest of Naidu. But, the additional advocate general opposed it on the grounds that such move would lead to Naidu influencing the witnesses in the case.
Unblemished image tarnished
Legal aspects aside, Naidu arrest will have greater impact on the coming elections to the assembly and Lok Sabha in AP. While those support Naidu are of the view that this arrest would help him get a sympathy wave and fetch him more votes and seats, those of YCP feel that this scam and his arrest have wiped out his so far unblemished and clean image as far as corruption is concerned.
“Till now, Chandrababu Naidu has maintained that he wasn’t even touched by the agencies in any corruption case. This arrest and remand demolishes that claims,” aid AP government’s chief advisor Sajjala Rama Krishna Reddy on Monday. As CM Jagan is away on a UK tour, several ministers and YCP leaders dared Naidu come clean in the case. “Why not Naidu prove his innocence in the case?” asked Minister Botsa Satyanarayana.
TDP on the other hand, got the backing of Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena who termed the case as an instance of political vendetta by Jagan’s government. Even BJP and Congress too condemned the arrest and voiced concern over a growing culture of victimization of political opponents in AP. BJP’s Andhra unit president Daggubati Purandeswari too termed Naidu arrest as a political vendetta. TMC leader and Bengal CM Mamata too condemned the arrest.
Will it settle scores between Jagan and Naidu?
Now the important question is how will AP people view this? How this arrest will impact the coming elections? Till now Naidu and Pawan Kalyan have been saying that CM Jagan went to jail in corruption cases and he was just on bail. Now, Jagan and YCP leaders too go to people saying the same things about Naidu.
Of course, Naidu will get a bail in this case within sooner or the later, but AP CID is preparing ground to dig out more cases and file FIRs against Naidu in coming days. This may affect Naidu’s campaigning in elections. More cases, more troubles.
But, their political fall out needs to be watched. After all, elections in our country are fought on public perception. How voters will see a leader decides the election outcome. In this case, whom will they believe? Will they judge Naidu as a victim or an accused in a corruption case? One certain fallout of this arrest will be – Naidu will go all out to stitch a seat adjustment with Jana Sena and BJP to take on CM Jagan. It’s a do or die battle for him.