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Naidu on weak wicket, faces biggest challenge of his political career

Andhra Pradesh is now grappling with what is possibly the biggest political crisis in his career spanning close to four decades.

By P S Jayaram

Published: Tue 16 Jun 2015, 10:45 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:58 PM

Hyderabad — For Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, completion of one year in office has been anything but an occasion to celebrate. Once acclaimed as a “Kingmaker” in national politics and an icon of reforms, Naidu’s fall from grace has been dramatic and sudden particularly in the past couple of weeks following the cash-for-vote scam which saw Telangana Telugu Desam Party (TDP) legislator A Revanth Reddy landing behind bars, and the chief minister himself facing the ignominy of being implicated in the case.

The 65-year-old Naidu, in his third stint as chief minister having held the office twice before the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, is now grappling with what is possibly the biggest political crisis in his career spanning close to four decades. The question doing the rounds is how a man, known to be an astute political strategist with foresight, could walk into a trap like the cash-for-vote scam.

Ever since the surfacing of an audio tape, purportedly containing his conversation with nominated legislator of Telangana Assembly Elvis Stephenson in connection with the scam, Naidu has been on a shaky political wicket. At the core of the scandal is the TDP’s alleged offer of Rs50 million to Stephenson to vote for the party in the recent elections to Telangana Legislative Council.

The arrest of Revanth Reddy, along with two of his associates, after he was caught red-handed offering Rs5 million as advance to Stephenosn as part of the deal, left the ruling party in AP red-faced. The video footage of the meeting, aired by the local news channels, came as a major embarrassment to the TDP government which is already grappling with a plethora of problems post-bifurcation.     

The TDP’s response to the scam has been clumsy and incoherent. As soon as Naidu’s audio tape became public, a section of the TDP leaders dubbed it as “fabricated and doctored” and claimed that it was not Naidu’s voice. However, the party soon changed tack and harped on the allegation that Naidu’s phone was tapped by the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government. By accusing the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao of ordering phone tapping, Naidu was seen to be admitting that he did talk to the nominated MLA. Moreover, he has failed to take any action against his legislator Revanth Reddy despite the latter being caught on video tape offering money. Reddy (43), a firebrand TDP leader from Mahaboobnagar district, is now in judicial remand.

Though TDP leaders have been putting up a brave front in public, there is a lurking fear in the ruling party circles that the chief minister could be named as an accused in the case.

What is worrying the TDP leadership is that the video footage of Revanth Reddy’s meeting with Stephenosn clearly shows the TDP legislator claiming that his mission had the blessings of his party “boss,” an unmistakable reference to Naidu. The cash-for-vote scam, which exposes TDP’s desperation to win the support of MLAs through inducements, has the potential to haunt Naidu for a long time. Naidu decided to take the issue to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the central BJP leadership. However, both the PM and the party seem to be maintaining a safe distance from the controversy. In fact, the grapevine has it that Modi had sought all information from the Telangana ACB which is handling the case. And given the ACB’s stance that they had enough material in the case, it is unlikely that the central BJP leadership would bail out Naidu.

Despite being part of the NDA, Naidu has been unable to extract any additional financial assistance from the centre. The promised special status to the state is yet to come. Naidu feels that bifurcation of AP was done in an unscientific, clumsy and politically motivated manner and faces a gigantic task of developing residuary AP from scratch. Given the situation, it remains to be seen how Naidu, once the toast of the media, handles the situation.


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