‘The Centre might step up probe into the case originally registered by the ACB of Telangana’.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu fears that he might be targeted by the BJP-led NDA government in the 2015 cash-for-vote case. He shared his apprehensions with his Cabinet colleagues on Friday in the wake of renewed probe into the case by Income Tax officials and reports that Telangana’s anti-corruption bureau (ACB) might hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Naidu, who chaired the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet at Amaravati on Friday, told his ministerial colleagues that the Centre might step up investigation into the three-year-old case that was originally registered by the ACB of Telangana. The CM said that he got information that the ACB was contemplating to hand over the case to the CBI as it has wider involvement (of a CM of a neighbuoring state—AP) in it.
When the case was filed against Telangana TDP MLA A. Revanth Reddy (now he has joined Congress and made Pradesh Congress Committee working president) on 30 May 2015, the ACB sleuths named CM Naidu as an accused along with others. In the video tape recorded by the cop, Revanth Reddy mentioned Naidu’s name behind his offer of Rs 50 lakh cash bribe to a nominated MLA Elvis Stephenson.
The case is about Revanth Reddy taking out the cash from a bag he carried and offered the same to Stephenson for voting for the TDP candidate in the MLC elections from the Assembly quota. However, it was a different matter that as per the Constitution, a nominated (Anglo Indian) MLA won’t have voting rights in the MLC’s elections. Stephenson was nominated by the TRS government.
Revanth Reddy not only claimed to Stephenson that he came to the latter’s house at the behest of Naidu, but also ensured that the MLA spoke to the CM on his personal mobile. In that mobile conversation, Naidu told Stephenson that “Our people had briefed me…. you can vote freely as per your wish”, hinting that he was aware of the bribery bid.
Revanth Reddy was instantly arrested by the ACB cops hiding inside the house of Stephenson, apparently on a tip-off and sent him to jail. Reddy, however, got bail after four weeks and claimed that he was framed in the case, due to political vendetta against him by Telangana CM and TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR).
The police of both the states had slapped cases against each other’s CMs—Telangana cops filed case against Naidu for offering Rs 50 lakh cash to a nominated MLA, while AP cops registered a case against Telangana CM KCR for phone tapping and threatening AP CM, which is prohibited under Section 8 of AP State Reorganization Act, 2014.
The case, which threatened to destabilise both the governments, however, subsided after Reventh’s release on bail, though a clutch of petitions are pending before the Hyderabad High Court. A year later, both the CMs had met and decided to bury the hatchet and ease tensions. The truce was possible as Naidu had decided to leave the political scene in Telangana and scale down TDP activities here.
The situation changed and old rivalries surfaced again after TDP decided to join hands with Congress to defeat TRS in Telangana Assembly elections expected to be held November-December. The I-T department’s raids on the house of Revanth Reddy last week and his grilling on 3 October in Hyderabad, on the source of Rs 50 lakh recovered from him three years ago brought the case into focus again.
Revanth Reddy, now a leading face of Congress in Telangana, and a few of his relatives and a couple of his aides who, too, were named in the case were called for grilling by the I-T officials in the last few days and again they were summoned for another round of interrogation on 23 October. The Enforcement Directorate, too, is likely to question them all.
Revanth Reddy had alleged that he was targeted by the I-T and the Telangana police in a conspiracy hatched by CM KCR and the BJP to ensure TRS victory in the ensuring elections. However, TRS leaders—including MP and KCR’s daughter K. Kavitha—had rejected it, saying that the I-T doesn’t come under the purview of the state government.
Now, there are reports that the ACB of Telangana might transfer the case to the CBI for an in-depth investigation as it involved the CM of AP. These reports had caused alarm in the TDP camp in AP as CM Naidu would be legal troubles, if that happens. Coupled with this, some I-T raids on the businesses owned by some TDP leaders, including an MLA and a former MLA on Friday, too, made the party panic.
Addressing a series of meetings in the last few days, Naidu attacked PM Narendra Modi for “misusing constitutional institutions” for his political ends. The CM had alleged that the Centre was trying to frame him in false cases and that he was not afraid. Naidu told a public meeting in Tirupati this week that “KCR has become a pawn in the hands of Modi”.
KCR had rebutted the charge in his election meetings in Telangana on Thursday and Friday and said that it was Naidu who enjoyed power at the Centre for four years. “It is Naidu who was with Modi all the four years and came out of NDA for his own reasons; how can he accuse me of being an agent of BJP?” asked KCR.
Sources in the Telangana ACB are tightlipped over the reports that they might seek transfer of the case to CBI, but said that a lot depends on the future course after the I-T concludes its investigation of Revanth Reddy and others, possibly by the month-end. TDP Rajya Sabha MP and lawyer Kanakamedala Ravindra Kumar said on Friday that his party was prepared to face the case in any situation.