Centre advises Jagan government to step up protection to N. Ramesh Kumar.

 

HYDERABAD: Andhra Pradesh State Election Commissioner (SEC) Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar seeking protection from the Centre for his life from the ruling YSR Congress has landed Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy in an embarrassing situation. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs, which received the letter from Ramesh Kumar, advised Jagan’s government to step up protection to him with immediate effect.

The confrontation between the SEC and the Jagan government took an ugly turn after the former suddenly postponed the ongoing local bodies’ elections in Andhra Pradesh by six weeks, citing the threat of Covid-19. Ramesh Kumar, a retired IAS officer, appointed to the post by the previous TDP regime, on 16 March issued orders putting off the poll process, without consulting the state government.

Already, a war of words has been going on between the ruling YSR Congress and the main Opposition TDP on the alleged irregularities in the local bodies elections—for both Panchayat Raj and urban civic bodies in the last week of March. TDP has alleged that the ruling YSR Congress has resorted to large scale violence and threatening, forcing its candidates not to file the nominations in many seats.

TDP along with BJP have brought the issue of these irregularities to the notice of the Centre, but the ruling party has denied the same. The ruling party won around 10% of the seats unopposed in some districts, which according to the TDP, was nothing but the result of misuse of power. The Andhra Pradesh High Court, too, heard some petitions on the poll violence in some areas.

Ramesh Kumar, while postponing the elections till the end of April, also issued orders transferring the Collectors of Guntur and Chittoor districts and Superintendents of Police of Guntur Rural and Tirupati Urban, along with four other police officials holding them responsible for the violence. The SEC ordered that these officials should be removed from the election duties.

Things flared up after CM Jagan lodged a complaint against the SEC with Governor Biswabhushan Harichandan in Vijayawada and later held a media conference alleging that Ramesh Kuamr, an appointee of former CM Chandrababu Naidu had deliberately postponed the elections without consulting his government. Jagan also said that “Ramesh belonged to the community of Chandrababu Naidu”.

The next day, Ramesh Kumar presented his version to the Governor and insisted that his decision was based on the prevailing threat of Covid-19. Ramesh Kumar rejected AP Chief Secretary Neelam Sawhney’s letter to take back his postponement orders. The SEC differed with the CM’s argument that postponement of elections beyond 31 March would stop Central funds, around Rs 5,000 crore.

The Andhra Pradesh government immediately moved the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the orders of SEC and urged conduct of elections to the local bodies. However, the SC didn’t stay the SEC orders but told the poll panel to consult the State government on fixing the fresh dates for elections. The apex court lifted the model code of conduct and allowed the government to go ahead with routine developmental schemes.

As Ramesh dug in his heels on putting off the polls, several ministers, MPs and MLAs of the ruling party held press conferences and lashed out at the SEC for his unilateral decision to scuttle the prospects of their party. Then, Ramesh Kumar wrote a letter to the Union Home Ministry complaining that there was no security to his life in AP and that he be provided police security at his house in Hyderabad.

Presently, the SEC has a residence in Amaravati limits in Andhra, but through his letter to the Centre, he hinted that he might shift to Hyderabad for his safety. The Union Home Ministry has promptly asked the AP government to step up security with 4 plus 4 cover at the house of Ramesh Kuamr in Hyderabad. The confrontation between the SEC and the state government appears to continue till April end.

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