Ahead of the elections to the Rajya Sabha in two months, the ruling parties in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have begun a massive poaching of opposition MLAs, raising concerns about flagrant violation of the anti-defection law. If it is Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana, it is Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh that is drawing opposition MLAs.
The open poaching of legislators by the respective ruling parties is aimed at winning the maximum number of RS members. Congress’ senior MP, V. Hanumanth Rao and TDP member Gundu Sudha Rani (who has joined TRS) are retiring by 2 June. The TRS is bent on bagging both the seats by increasing its tally to over 82 (41 first preference MLA votes are needed per RS seat).
In Andhra Pradesh, four RS members are retiring: Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (BJP), Union Science and Technology junior minister Y.V.S. Chowdary (TDP), Jairam Ramesh and J.D. Seelam (both Congress). Congress has no MLAs in the AP Assembly, but YSR Congress leader Jagan is sure of winning at least one seat as he currently commands 62 MLAs (after defections).
In the last one week, four TDP MLAs, including its legislature party leader Errabelli Dayakar Rao joined TRS in Telangana, and many more, including those from the Congress, are set to switch sides to the ruling party. In Andhra Pradesh, five YSR Congress party MLAs along with its MLC defected to TDP and another 20 are rumoured to be in the queue.
TDP won 15 MLAs in the 2014 Telangana elections, and already six of those have defected to TRS, thus reducing the party’s strength to five in the Assembly. Interestingly, Dayakar Rao, who earlier had submitted a petition to the Speaker seeking disqualification of his defected six MLAs, has now submitted another memorandum seeking the merger of TDP with TRS as two-thirds of the elected members have switched sides.
T. Srinivas Yadav, one of the TDP MLAs who joined TRS within weeks after the election results, has been made a minister with commercial taxes portfolio in the K. Chandrasekhar Rao Cabinet and now Dayakar Rao, too, is likely to be accommodated in the ministry soon. Yadav and Dayakar Rao have claimed that a few more of the leftover TDP MLAs too will join TRS soon.
TDP’s newly appointed leader of the legislature party, A. Revanth Reddy has complained to Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan on the defections and demanded that the 10 TDP MLAs should be declared disqualified under the anti-defection law. The TDP’s Telangana unit, too, has asked Assembly Speaker S. Madhusudhana Chary to disqualify the defected legislators. Telangana TDP president L. Ramana has told the Speaker that the ruling party was luring opposition MLAs with money and Cabinet berths. “Those who refuse to fall in line are threatened with slapping of criminal cases in the now dormant cash-for-vote scam,” Ramana said in his memorandum to the Speaker.
However, Dayakar Rao, speaking to The Sunday Guardian on Thursday said that they were impressed with the developmental activities of the Chief Minister. “People have rejected us (TDP) time and again and it is now for us to either join the ruling party or fight against the government, and our choice is clear,” he said.
Speaker Madhusudhana Chary told this newspaper that he was consulting legal experts before deciding on the two petitions before him—one seeking disqualification of the defected MLAs, while another seeking the merger of TDP with TRS by the defected MLAs. “At this stage, I can only say that I will safeguard the interests of all MLAs and no action will be forced on them against their will,” he said.
The situation in Andhra Pradesh is grave. Five YSR Congress MLAs — Bhuma Nagi Reddy, his daughter Akhila Priya, A. Adinarayana Reddy, Jaleel Khan and T. Jayaramulu and one MLC Narayana Reddy — have joined TDP in just two days, triggering speculation that another 15-20 MLAs are going to follow them.
This came as a major blow to Jagan who just a few days ago claimed that many TDP legislators were ready to join him at an appropriate time. Jagan who went to Delhi to meet the President and the Prime Minister to submit memorandums on the special status to AP, returned to his native Kadapa to stop defections.
CM Naidu is likely to back Sitharaman as BJP is set to re-nominate her from AP and will give another term to Union minister Chowdary. He is eyeing two more RS seats by reducing Jagan’s tally in the Assembly to below 40. “We cannot rule out that a majority of YSRCP MLAs are fed up with Jagan,” said TDP RS member C.M. Ramesh.
However, Jagan is planning to lead a delegation of his MLAs to the President and the Governor next week and demand the resignations of the defected MLAs. “We will certainly expose this murder of democracy in AP and won’t allow the defected MLAs to cast their votes in the RS elections,” film actress and YSR Congress MLA Roja told this newspaper.