In an already ugly and bitterly fought election in Andhra Pradesh, this face-off between Chandrababu Naidu and the Election Commission is only going to make it more virulent. Less than 24 hours after the EC transferred Andhra Pradesh Intelligence chief AB Venkateswara Rao, with a rap on his wrist ordering that he be given no poll-related work, Naidu cancelled the orders. Taking the battle to the EC, Naidu wrote a seven-page letter to the constitutional body, protesting against the transfer of Rao and Superintendents of Police in two districts, accusing the panel of behaving in an undemocratic manner.
“I am shocked to see the communication,” wrote Naidu adding, “this order of the EC is contradicting its own guidelines, totally biased and violates the principles of natural justice”. Alleging a plot, the Telugu Desam chief accused Narendra Modi, K Chandrasekhar Rao and Jaganmohan Reddy of being behind the transfers. This was because the EC had ordered the transfers following a complaint by YSRC Rajya Sabha MP Vijaysai Reddy who had charged the cops with acting as “TDP agents”. Initially, the state government complied with the EC order but decided to adopt a confrontationist position, took a U-turn soon after and cancelled Rao’s transfer. The transfer of the district police chiefs, however, stayed.
Conspiracy theories are now flying thick and fast. Naidu points out that the transfer of Rahul Dev Sharma as Kadapa SP is “highly objectionable” because he is enquiring into the murder of Jagan’s uncle Vivekananda Reddy. In Naidu’s book, the conduct of many in the YSRC is suspect and accuses them of trying to “erase the evidence of murder”. Sharma’s exit, according to the TDP, is a plot to ensure the truth does not come out.
Naidu challenged the EC’s jurisdiction to transfer Rao, arguing that the Intel chief was not involved in poll duties. It released a list of police officers, from DGP to constable level, who are involved in election work and the list excluded the Intel chief. This flies in the face of the usual practise once the Model Code of Conduct comes into effect when the EC takes over most of the powers vested in a state government. Officials are then expected to take permission from the EC before taking crucial decisions and the poll body also transfers officers who they think are not fit to be in a particular position till elections are completed.
The case of the transfer of Srikakulam SP Venkata Ratnam took another turn when he filed a complaint with a police station in the district, against Vijaysai Reddy. Ratnam accused Reddy of giving false information that he had a role to play in facilitating the transfer of Rs 50 crore to the relative of a TDP candidate, at the behest of Venkateswara Rao.
Naidu also accused the EC of being “autocratic” and displaying “prejudice towards the weaker sections”. Citing the instance of the transfer of Srikakulam collector M Rama Rao, Naidu points out that he is the first IAS officer to be posted as district collector in the history of Andhra Pradesh, from the ST (Erukula) category.
“He was collector hardly for 48 hours in Srikakulam and the EC assessed him to be inefficient,” wrote Naidu.
The EC response has dismissed Naidu’s argument, saying it cannot imagine the functioning of the police department without the intel wing. It is indeed true as anyone who has followed politics in India would tell you. The intel department spends a large part of its human and technical resource collecting political intelligence on rivals. It is a critical input that helps the person in power decide on political strategy.
The YSRC in fact, is also asking for the transfer of Andhra DGP RP Thakur in order to ensure free and fair polls. Its leadership has alleged that both Thakur and Venkateswara Rao were acting like TDP activists, toeing Naidu’s line, accusing the cops of tapping phones of YSRC leaders.
In fact, sources in the opposition party say this is routine practise in most states in election season. They also point out that several officers, both IAS and IPS, who have been sidelined by the Naidu regime in the last five years have been in touch with YSRC leaders, hoping for plum postings in the event of Jagan coming to power. They are confident that lower level police officers refuse to cooperate with a ruling party if they get a sense on the ground that the tide is turning.
This entire episode gives you a sense of the rot in the bureaucracy where political parties do not shy away from marking officers as our men and their men. The politicisation of the set-up is a fallout with officers also taking sides openly, depending both on personal and caste equations, to cultivate a symbiotic relationship.
Naidu in the recent past, after his exit from the NDA has accused the CBI, ED, Income Tax department of behaving like outposts of the ruling party in Delhi. He has now accused the EC of “joining the list of constitutional bodies which are no longer independent”.
The battle is now in the High court. For the YSRC, it is about ensuring the police do not play the role of a facilitator. For Naidu, it is about not looking like a politician who is abusing power. The larger import for India is that the EC which was seen as the supreme body at election time, finds itself challenged. With the Andhra election on 11 April, there isn’t much time for the EC to put the house in order.