Telangana Chief Minister and TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) now holds the key to make or mar the political future of his Andhra Pradesh counterpart and TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu as the 15-month-old cash-for-vote scam haunts the latter after a Telangana Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) special court ordered a fresh probe into the matter.

The special court directed the ACB to file a report before it after conducting a fresh probe into the role of Naidu whose telephone conversations formed the basis of the case, by 29 September. If the ACB confirms the role of Naidu in the bribery scam, the special court can order the inclusion of his name as an accused in the FIR and that may cost him his CM job.

Though the ACB is an independent investigating agency and will file a report based on the material evidence in the case, sources in the government told The Sunday Guardian on Friday that it would have to follow the overall government policy and the mind of the Telangana Chief Minister. “After all, the case is based on a complaint filed by a ruling party MLC, Elvis Stephenson,” said a senior police officer.

Stephenson, a nominated MLC from the Anglo-Indian quota, filed a complaint on 28 May 2015 stating that he was approached by A. Revanth Reddy, TDP deputy leader in the Assembly, for cross-voting for his candidate in the MLCs’ election in lieu of a bribe of Rs 5 crore. Revanth Reddy was caught red-handed by the ACB sleuths, with Rs 50 lakh he gave Stephenson as bribe.

Revanth, at the meeting, told Stephenson that he came on behalf of his party president and AP CM Chandrababu Naidu. Revanth arranged Stephenson to talk to Naidu over phone, during which the latter said: “I am with you, don’t worry, we will honour what all was promised to you by our people and they briefed me about it.”

In a pre-planned operation, Stephenson tipped the ACB officials about the bribe offer and even recorded on CCTV cameras each and every move of Revanth Reddy as well as his mobile conversation with Naidu. The audio tapes were sent to a government forensic lab in Hyderabad and the lab’s report was submitted to the court in a sealed cover.

The ACB had filed last August an FIR mentioning Revanth Reddy as the accused No. 1, followed by two mediators Sebastian and Rudra Uday Simha, who arranged the meeting as accused No. 2 and 3 and a former TDP MLA Vem Narendra Reddy as accused No. 4 and another TDP MLA Sandra Venkata Veeraiah as accused No. 5. 

Surprisingly, the ACB had just mentioned in its FIR Naidu as a witness, but not as an accused in view of the inclusive evidence through audio tapes. The Telangana ACB, which initially served notices on the AP CM to interrogate him as a witness, has fallen silent and made no effort to record his statement in the case so far.

The matter came to the fore last week as YSR Congress MLA in Andhra Pradesh Alla Ramakrishna Reddy filed a petition before the ACB special court seeking a probe in the role of Naidu in the cash-for-vote scam and sought a directive from the court to interrogate him afresh. The special court passed an order on 29 August directing the ACB to file a case against Naidu and give a report within a month.

The ACB filed a memo on 31 August before the court stating that there was no need to file a new case against the AP CM in the scam as it was already under investigation under a case filed on 28 May. Naidu has filed a quash petition before the High Court on 1 September seeking the declaration of the special court orders illegal and that the Telangana ACB had no right to probe him in the case. 

Justice Raja Elango who heard the case on Friday granted eight weeks’ stay on the special court order and directed the ACB to file a counter by November first week, the next hearing. 

Sources in the ACB said on Saturday that their regular probe into the case will not be affected by the HC stay. Their routine investigation will certainly have a bearing on Naidu’s political future. In case the ACB files a report saying that Naidu can be interrogated and mentions him as an accused in the supplementary charge-sheet, it would be untenable for Naidu to continue as CM, even if he goes for an appeal against the ACB’s charge-sheet, said legal experts here.

KCR’s decision becomes important as he is the final authority in setting the goals to the ACB in corruption cases. That the ACB would go by the views of the political leadership was clear after ACB director-general A.K. Khan called on Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan and CM KCR at Hyderabad Raj Bhavan on 30 August to brief them about the progress of the case.

KCR initially wanted to create trouble for Naidu when the case was filed last year, but later both became “sort of friends”. Now that both CMs are on good terms and they were trying to be on the same side of their relations with the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, KCR is unlikely to create any fresh problems to Naidu, sources close to the Telangana CM said.

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