When the Telugu Desam Party came to power in Andhra Pradesh in 2014, its Rajya Sabha MP CM Ramesh predicted that YSR Congress chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s troubles had just begun. He said that the TDP would ensure that corruption cases against Reddy are pursued vigorously. The gameplan was clear: ensure Reddy’s prosecution before the next round of polls in 2019 so that the path to Chandrababu Naidu’s second term as chief minister is clear.
Reddy is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in connection with amassing wealth through illegal means when his father, the late YSR Reddy, was chief minister of Andhra Pradesh during 2004-2009.
With the judicial process dragging on, the TDP has switched to plan B – to cripple Reddy both financially and politically by hurting his clout.
The focus of Plan B, therefore, seems to be Reddy’s Sakshi media group, which comprises Sakshi, a regional language newspaper, and a Telugu TV channel of the same name.
Last week, Sakshi TV covered the protest fast of Kapu leader Mudragada Padmanabham’s in East Godavari district after which it was blanked out in many parts of Andhra Pradesh. After about a week of this, Sakshi TV moved the Hyderabad High court protesting against being blocked.
Though the government’s official line is that local cable operators, “distressed over the telecast of inflammatory content,” decided to switch off Sakshi TV, it is obvious that the operators did it with more than a nudge from the establishment.
Andhra Pradesh home minister N Chinna Rajappa has previously accused Reddy of using his TV network for his political ends, and said he suspected that the channel would be used to provoke people against the government.
By ensuring the disconnection of an unfriendly channel, Naidu has taken a leaf out of the book of his bête noire, K Chandrasekhar Rao, the chief minister of Telangana.
In 2014, soon after coming to power, TV9 and ABN channels were taken off air by Telangana cable operators after both channels aired programmes that ridiculed KCR, as Rao is popularly known, and Telangana legislators.
KCR then threatened to bury channels that insulted Telangana self-respect “10 km under the ground”.
It was more than a year before the two channels were made available again. The message was clear: cross the line at your own peril.
The case against Sakshi
In Andhra Pradesh, Sakshi newspaper and TV channel recently carried a series of reports on alleged corruption in land deals in the Amaravati capital region – the new capital of Andhra Pradesh – which upset Chandrababu Naidu.
The TDP fears that negative stories in the state’s second-most widely circulated Telugu newspaper, and a channel with a considerable reach, can add to the anti-incumbency that will set in by 2019, when Assembly elections are due.
This is perhaps why the state is attempting to take control of the Sakshi group with the help of the Andhra Pradesh Special Courts Act 2015 – which was framed to recover ill-gotten assets of public servants – and which received presidential assent last month.
Finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said that the Andhra government was consulting legal experts on how to use the Act against the Sakshi group.
“The money that he used to set up the Sakshi group is public money, it belongs to the people of Andhra Pradesh,” Ramakrishnudu told Scroll.in. “The Act permits the government to attach the properties and also take management control. Since the assets of the media group are attached by the Enforcement Directorate now [in connection with the corruption cases that Reddy is being investigated for] we plan to write to the Government of India to hand it over to us.”
While Naidu is expected to take the final call on when and how to proceed against Reddy, Parakala Prabhakar, the communications advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government confirmed that “the process to take over Sakshi group is in the works.”
K Ramachandra Murthy, Editorial Director of the Sakshi group, told Scroll.in that this was “an attempt to intimidate the Sakshi group”.
Murthy added: “The Special Courts Act is about public servants indulging in corruption whereas Jagan was not an MP till 2009, so which public servant are they talking about. They only want to indulge in false propaganda that the media group was set up with money from investors who got favours from YS Rajasekhara Reddy when he was CM, as quid pro quo.”
Most leaders in the TDP support the move as they believe it will clip Reddy’s wings. “Jagan will clearly be at a disadvantage because his voice will not be heard and his paper will not be able to cover him the way it does now,” said a TDP politburo member. But there are some partymen who advise caution, apprehensive that the move could boomerang and show Naidu as being intolerant of criticism.
Politically too, the TDP has put pressure on Reddy.
Since February, 19 MLAs of the YSR Congress have crossed over to the TDP, denting the party severely in many districts.
Again, this is a strategy that Naidu has borrowed from KCR. In Telangana, KCR has virtually finished off the TDP, luring 12 of its 15 MLAs into the fold of his Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
In Andhra, while most former YSRC MLAs said that they crossed over as being part of the TDP would help them develop their constituencies, others like SV Mohan Reddy, the YSR Congress MLA from Kurnool district, who switched loyalties in May, said: “I was unable to tolerate the attitude of Jagan which is why I joined the TDP.”
TDP leaders confirm that at least another nine more YSR Congress MLAs will cross over soon. The idea is to spread the perception that YSR Congress leaders are deserting the party in droves because it is a sinking ship and Reddy is not a captain who can take his team along.
“The flip side, however, is that all these MLAs come with their individual anti-incumbency,” said K Nageshwar, a political analyst. “In 2019, Jagan will field freshers from all the seats where MLAs have defected, while Naidu will be forced to give tickets to the same persons who have joined him.”
Reddy realises that the exit of his MLAs – many of whom are established leaders in their constituencies – along with their followers means he will have to rebuild the party from scratch in those areas. At the party executive committee meeting in Vijayawada on Tuesday, he accused Naidu of “purchasing YSRC MLAs by offering money”.
Reddy added: “I feel sad that there is no one to question this immorality.”
The moves on the Andhra political chessboard are taking place at a fast pace. And its clear, for now, all rules have been thrown to the wind.