Things have not been the same for the Telugu Desam Party ever since its legislator from Telangana, Revant Reddy, was caught "red-handed", allegedly trying to give a bribe of Rs 50 lakh to Elvis Stephenson, an Anglo-Indian nominated MLA, to influence his vote in the Legislative Council elections.

Subsequently, an audio tape in which a voice, allegedly of Naidu, assured Stephenson of backing all promises made by Reddy, was aired on TV.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, yet to deny if it was his voice, counter-alleged that his phones were tapped by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi government.

The Andhra government launched investigations on charges of phone tapping against the Telangana government, and served a notice to T-News, a local vernacular channel partly owned by TRS chief K Chandrasekhara Rao's family, which first aired the audio tape. It has also summoned various telecom companies for a probe and registered cases against KCR under various sections.

Tapgate vs Cashgate

Speaking to Scroll, Parkala Prabhakar, Advisor (Communications), Andhra Pradesh government, said, “We have credible evidence and a watertight case that the Telangana government has authorised and has been illegally tapping the phones of our various functionaries and officials."

But why were such allegations being made after the arrest of an MLA and release of an audio tape? Particularly when they claim to have known about the tapping for four to five months?

"We will prove all charges.” Prabhakar claimed. "The timing of our complaint in no way changes the seriousness of their crime.”

“We used to share equipment for surveillance, often used against anti-national elements and Naxalites, after separation," Prabhakar explained. "A few months ago, Telangana took over this equipment, which aroused our suspicion. Telangana home minister admitted to tapping. Then poor fellow, ignorant of law, changed his statement saying they did not tap, only recorded it – not realising that too is illegal.”

KT Rama Rao, Telangana minister for Panchayat Raj and Information Technology, and son of KCR, dismissed all such charges. “It is a silly, diversionary tactic. Naidu says it is not his voice, yet claims his phone was tapped. His minister says it is indeed his voice but it was fabricated through cut and paste. He cannot escape the law in a simple straight case of conspiring to bribe legislators by making up such fabrications.”

"No phone tapping was done," Rao insisted. "It is just a bribe case.”

But Prabhakar was equally vehement. “Everyone in politics who has ever resorted to phone tapping – from Richard Nixon to Ramakrishna Hegde - has paid a huge price," he said. "The TRS as a party and KCR as its leader will pay a heavy price for this crime. Sooner or later, he will have to go.”

Legal tangle

Telangana government too moved fast, having taken statements from all concerned while considering its next course of action, including serving summons on Naidu. Things are expected to move fast once results come in from three forensic laboratories where analysis and testing of voice samples is under way for matching and verification.

While the face-off continues politically, and legally, with both parties warring at all levels, Naidu decided to up the ante by demanding that Hyderabad’s law and order should be taken over by the Governor under Section 8 of the Andhra Pradesh State Reorganisation Act, 2014, pushing Telanagana back into a familiar agitational mode.

Prabhakar sought to explain the rationale. “Hyderabad is a unique case, being a capital common to both states for a period of 10 years. While Telangana government has control over the rest of the state, the common capital can’t be ruled over by them," Prabhakar argued. "The government of Andhra Pradesh, its officers and infrastructure, officials and installations, cannot be subordinated to Telangana. These people celebrated when the Act was passed. Now they cannot refuse to accept one section out of it.”

Rao does not buy the argument. “But there has been no law and order problem," Rao countered. "Where is the need to refer to this Section? Without a Constitutional Amendment, this section cannot hold good in law," Rao argued.  “Even Arun Jaitley as the-then leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha had said this section won’t stand legal scrutiny.”

Prabhakar differed. “This Section is part of the Act, and it is for the Central government, and the office of Governor, to implement it."

War of words

The Andhra government has  opened another front by staking claim to various institutions and buildings in Hyderabad. It fired its first salvo by appointing a senior IAS officer as Director General  of the Centre for Good Governance. But there was a small hitch: Telangana had already appointed another officer for the same post. Andhra argued that it had as much stake in the institutions listed under Schedule X of the AP Reorganisation Act. It did not stop there and proceeded to issue a Government Order directing all institutions listed under Schedule X to transfer all bank balances belonging to Andhra.

The more vociferous elements in the TDP are back to demanding that the Centre make Hyderabad a Union Territory, while the belligerent TRS members counter that the Centre should reduce the 10-year term of the common capital under the Act. TRS has also threatened a hunger strike by KCR in Delhi if Section 8 were to be invoked.

Rama Rao has tweeted to Prime Minister on Section 8, saying, “We hope wisdom will prevail and history shall not repeat itself.”

Even the Telangana BJP, silent since the controversy broke out, responded. G Kishan Reddy, BJP state president, said, “Section 8 is not advisable. A fight between two parties cannot be converted into a fight between states.”

As of now, both governments are pushing hard and neither will give in. With neither having left a scope for a graceful exit, or truce, there is only more trouble ahead.


Sriram Karri is author of the MAN Asian longlisted novel Autobiography of a Mad Nation.