Nobody expected fireworks of this scale on the first anniversary of the formation of Telangana on June 2. The cash-for-vote scandal broke when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti accused the Opposition Telugu Desam Party of trying to bribe its legislator in the run-up to the legislative council polls.
On May 31, the Telangana anti-corruption bureau arrested TDP MLA A. Revanth Reddy with Rs50 lakh in cash. The money, the ACB said, was part of the Rs5 crore offered to TRS MLA Elvis Stephenson. Two others were arrested with Reddy—R. Harry Sebastian and Rudra Uday Simha. All three were remanded to judicial custody and, on the dawn of June 9, the Telangana ACB raided their homes.
Reddy is the TDP’s deputy floor leader in the Telangana assembly. Reports on the internet suggest that Sebastian is a self-styled bishop of the All India Independent Churches Diocese, an organisation he founded in 2007. Elsewhere he is identified as archbishop of the Tennessee-based Holy Catholic Church International, founded in 2010 (not to be confused with the Catholic Church headed by Pope Francis.) A member of the TDP’s Christian cell, Sebastian is being accused of brokering the deal.
The main pieces of evidence shown by the TRS is the video footage shot when Reddy visited Stephenson’s apartment and an audio clip of a conversation, allegedly between Stephenson and N. Chandrababu Naidu, TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister.
T News, the TRS news channel, first aired the clips. Though the clips have not been authenticated, the publicity has been damaging to the TDP and particularly to Naidu, who came to power on an anti-corruption plank in 2014.
On June 8, the first anniversary of the current TDP government, Naidu ignored the storm and talked about achievements like raising the retirement age of government employees to 60, zero power cuts within 100 days, and clampdown on smuggling of red sanders.
But, later, in Guntur, he struck out: “How dare you tap my phone? This amounts to insulting the people who have elected me. If you have an ACB and police in Hyderabad, I also have my ACB and police in Hyderabad. I warn you not to cause tensions between the people of the two states.”
TDP cadres filed multiple cases in police stations in Andhra Pradesh accusing Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, aka KCR, and the Telangana ACB of defamation and illegally tapping phones.
KCR, too, was his usual belligerent self and called Naidu a nakka (fox). “Naidu should realise that Hyderabad does not belong to his grandfather,” KCR said. “Telangana is ruled by a Telangana bidda (son of the soil) and the Telangana government has control over Hyderabad. When the party which is in power in a neighbouring state comes to Hyderabad and tries to buy ruling party legislators, what are we expected to do?”
Much depends on Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan’s stand. Under the loophole-ridden AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, the Governor is empowered to exercise control over law and order in Hyderabad, the joint capital, for 10 years. The TDP wants specific sections in the Act to be defined better as Narasimhan did not step in when KCR lured TDP and Congress MLAs into the TRS.
Meanwhile, the Congress and the YSR Congress are demanding Naidu’s resignation. This storm comes at a time when he is building a new capital, facing a fund crunch and reaching out to the Centre for support. If he is as wily as KCR accuses him to be, now is the time to show it.