Q. Who runs Andhra Pradesh?
Answer : No one. It is on auto pilot mode.
That’s because even though the elections to the Lok Sabha and assembly got over on 11 April, the Model Code of Conduct stays in force till the counting of votes takes place on 23 May. The interpretation is that this reduces Chandrababu Naidu to nothing more than an interim CM who cannot take any policy decisions. To quote chief secretary LV Subrahmanyam, a CM “without powers”.
Last week, when Naidu reviewed the ongoing work at Polavaram project and the Amaravati capital city project and the departments dealing with drinking water and disaster management, the Chief Electoral Officer stepped in. He pointed out that Naidu did not have the powers to review the departments.
Not only that. The Intelligence chief of Andhra Pradesh police was instructed not to report to Naidu. LV Subrahmanyam, the chief secretary appointed by the Election Commission too does not attend any review meetings called by Naidu.
What’s more, Subrahmanyam independently ordered a probe into the transport of 1381 kg of gold belonging to the Tirumala Sri Venkateswara temple from Chennai to Tirupati without valid documents and security. He also reviewed the funds (Rs 10000 each) released under the Pasupu Kumkuma scheme to 97 lakh women of self-help groups, Anna Daata Sukhibhava (payment of crop investment assistance of Rs 4000 per acre to each farmer) and old age pensions.
Finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu was not amused. He took objection to Subrahmanyam’s review of financial matters, pointing out that he is only an “interim chief secretary” who cannot question decisions taken by the cabinet.
That did not stop Subrahmanyam from convening another meeting, this time to review the preparedness for 23 May. The meeting was attended by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), the Home Secretary, the DGP and via video conference by all district collectors and SPs. The TDP contended that only the CEO and not Subrahmanyam was empowered to convene such a meeting.
“Our term in office is till 7 June when Chandrababu Naidu was sworn in as chief minister in 2014. No one can restrict us from functioning. How arrogant of the chief secretary to say that Naidu is a CM without powers,” fumes Lanka Dinkar, spokesperson of the TDP.
There is a history to the TDP vs Subrahmanyam battle. Even though Subrahmanyam was Naidu’s blue-eyed boy during the 1999-2004 tenure, playing a critical part in organising the National Games and the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, there was reportedly a fallout during Naidu’s term as chief minister between 2014 and 2019. Which is perhaps why Subrahmanyam despite being the seniormost IAS officer (1983 batch), was superseded to the chief secretary’s post by his junior Punetha (1984 batch).
When the EC decided to replace Punetha before Andhra went to polls, it chose Subrahmanyam on 5 April. Naidu protested saying this is both unprecedented and unwarranted. The CM also alleged a plot by the EC in cahoots with his political rivals – the BJP and the YSR Congress.
When Subrahmanyam was appointed as Chief Secretary, Naidu pointed out that he was an accused in the EMAAR land scam. What Naidu was trying to imply was that Subrahmanyam got the post because of his proximity to the YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy who was accused number one in the case. What Naidu conveniently glossed over was that Subrahmanyam’s name was subsequently cleared by the High court. And if Naidu had an issue with Subrahmanyam, he should not have had appointed him as Special Chief Secretary.
“Naidu’s behaviour is uncalled for. It shows his immaturity. It is the duty of the chief secretary to implement the Model Code of Conduct. If Naidu has an issue with it, he should approach the EC or go to court to get it modified,” says IYR Krishna Rao, the first chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh after bifurcation. Rao after his retirement had a fallout with Naidu and is now one of his fiercest critics and a member of the BJP.
Naidu clearly is not willing to fall in line. He plans to hold review meetings with ministers and bureaucrats from the first week of May, a clear indication that he is preparing for a showdown with the EC. What may come in handy for him is Cyclone Fani which is expected to hit the south Andhra coast anytime after Sunday. Under the Model Code of Conduct, the CM is empowered to take decisions in the event of natural calamities.
At a larger level, such a confrontation does irreparable damage to the bureaucracy. In a situation where already the babudom is largely politicised, Naidu by protesting against the transfer of senior police officers in key positions, has labelled them as “his men”.
In a sharply worded nine-page letter to the EC, Naidu has protested against the fetters imposed on him. He asks if the National Security Advisor and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau are also prohibited by the EC from meeting the Prime Minister. In the interest of fair play, the EC needs to clarify if similar restrictions have been placed on Narendra Modi as well.