K. Ramachandra Murthy
Why is the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and president of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Nara Chandrababu Naidu making a hue and cry all the way from Amaravati to Delhi? Chandrababu has become super-active after the polling in the first phase ended. He has been attacking the Election Commission of India and the State Chief Election Officer for their ‘miserable failure’ in conducting free and fair elections. Is he preparing the ground to blame the Election Commission for the imminent defeat to be pronounced on May 23, the day of reckoning for Indian democracy, when the votes would be counted?
If we were to go by arithmetic calculations, the TDP should lose the elections. In 2014, Chandrababu had no anti-incumbency since he was in the opposition for ten years in the united AP. He had an alliance with the BJP whose leader Modi, had created a huge wave for himself and his party. Chandrababu also had Power Star of Tollywood Pawan Kalyan, to support him without asking for seats to contest or share in power. Pawan is not new to politics as he had campaigned extensively for the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) founded by his elder brother Chiranjeevi in 2009. The TDP chief was experienced as he was the chief minister of united AP for nine years and Leader Of Opposition for ten years. Even during 1989-94, when the TDP was in opposition, Chandrababu led the party in the Assembly and outside, and not NT Rama Rao, the founder of the party, who boycotted the Assembly and kept himself busy with films. Because of his vast experience in running the party and the government, Chandrababu was preferred by the voters over the young and inexperienced YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in 2014.
Chandrababu Naidu has proved to be a disaster as the chief minister of a nascent State. None of the 605 promises he made in his election manifesto was implemented in full. The dream of Amaravati, the new capital city, remains unfulfilled. Polavaram project was used as a milch cow. Its cost has been escalated from Rs 14,000 crore to more than Rs 60,000 crores. It will take at least two more years to complete. The CM was not serious about getting special category status to his State which was a solemn promise made by the outgoing prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, in February 2004, on the floor of Rajya Sabha just before the AP Bifurcation Bill was passed. He was, instead, going round the world in a special plane at the cost of the public exchequer collecting designs for Amaravati. He has spent hundreds of crores of rupees in the name of getting designs for Amaravati made. He built Pattiseema project which would be redundant after the Polavaram project gets commissioned. He fled Hyderabad after the episode involving his party MLA in Telangana State, Revanth Reddy, who was caught offering Rs 50 lakhs to a TRS MLA Stevenson to make him (Stevenson) vote for the TDP candidate in the election to the Legislative Council. The AP CM bought over 23 MLAs who were elected on YSRCP tickets. Four of them were unabashedly made ministers. The law and order in AP was at its worst. A Tahsildar, an employee of the revenue department, was dragged by hair by a TDP MLA Chintamaneni Prabhakar for questioning his loot of sand. It has been a saga of corruption right from the Chief Minister’s Office to Janma Bhoomi Committees.
An attempt was made on the life of YS JaganMohan Reddy, the AP Leader of the Opposition, at Vizag airport. Instead of tracking down the criminals, Chandrababu Naidu has been ridiculing the case and the Opposition leader, describing it as stage-managed. A retired judge, Justice Somayajulu, gave a clean chit to Chandrababu and his government in the case of the stampede at Rajamahendravaram on the eve of pushkarams, in which 29 persons were killed. The judge blamed the devotees for their over-enthusiasm and the media for holding mirror to the chaos. In another ghastly incident in which more than 20 coolies of Tamil Nadu origin were killed, while felling sandalwood trees, in a shootout ordered by an irresponsible police officer, at a forest near Tirupati, no culprit was identified or punished. The State administration was in disarray. The chief minister is surrounded by a coterie. Bureaucrats were not respected. They were sought to be co-opted. Those who prefer to go by the rule book are insulted and sidelined. The officers who do things at CM’s bidding without a question are preferred. Chairman of Brahmin Corporation IYR Krishna Rao, a former chief secretary of AP, was forced to resign in a huff.
Chandrababu Naidu has very carefully selected his team of officers to be placed in key positions so that it would be easy for the party to manipulate things during the elections. He has IGP, Chief Secretary, chief of intelligence, almost all the district collectors and DSPs who were handpicked by him. But the over-action on the part of Chief Secretary Anil Chandra Punetha, in defying its order at the behest of the CM, has angered the Election Commission. Opposition YSRCP had made several complaints to the EC against a number of officers who were allegedly working for the TDP. The Election Commission has sacked Punetha and appointed in his place LV Subrahmanyam, the senior most IAS officer in the State, as CS. The EC has also transferred a couple of district collectors who were perceived as loyal to the ruling party. Chandrababu could not digest the appointment of LV Subrahmanyam whom he does not like or trust.
At about 9 AM on the polling day, April 11, Chandrababu demanded re-poll in a number of booths claiming that one-third of the EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) were malfunctioning and the voters were put to a lot inconvenience. He did not stop at that. He called the new CS a co-accused, along with Opposition leader YS Jagan, and a covert. He also said that the Election Commission is not fair or impartial and is working as per the instructions of the prime minister.
Chandrababu also criticised the EC for scheduling AP polls in the first phase with an ulterior motive of denying him enough time for campaigning. Demanding re-poll so early in the morning of the polling day has made the observers suspicious of the CM’s intentions. They assumed that the TDP supremo was utterly upset with the information that the people, irrespective of caste, region or religion, were voting en masse to YSRCP. He lost his cool and started his temper tantrums. He did not expect a poor show in the elections since he had taken every precaution. He was pretty confident that the welfare measures taken just before the poll schedule was announced would impress the Self-Help Groups and farmers and give dividends. For, he saw that every DWCRA woman got Rs 10,000 before the polls. The last instalments of the farm loans were also paid. These measures which were promised in the election manifesto five years ago were not acted upon for four years and nine months. It is still not sure how the women voted. Chandrababu Naidu has denied the benefit of doubt for himself and indicated that he is going to lose the elections badly. In order to prepare the ground to blame the EC and the Modi-KCR-Jagan triumvirate, he started a show in which he would play the lead role with the other leaders of opposition like Mamata and Arvind Kejriwal, who are busy with their own elections, in supporting roles.
There are doubts about the EVMs the world over. But the voting machines were improved in India by introducing VV-PATs. The Opposition insisted that the best way to ensure fair elections is to switch back to ballot papers and dump the EVMs. But the highest court in the land rejected the plea and said some samples of VV-PATs may be counted to reinforce popular faith in the machines. Chandrababu repeatedly made the plea that at least 50 per cent of the VV-PATs have to be counted in each constituency. This demand was rejected by the EC and is not likely to be entertained by the Supreme Court. YS Jagan Mohan Reddy met Governor ESL Narasimhan on Tuesday to complain about TDP leaders’ attacks on YSRCP workers. He reminded the media persons that the same EVMs were there in 2014 when Chandrababu’s party won the elections. Even in Nandyal by-poll, EVMs were used, but Chandrababu had no complaints against EVMs at the time. YS Jagan never blamed the EVMs or EC for his defeat in the last elections. He took it in his stride and said his party would behave like a responsible Opposition. However, the whole idea is not so much to reform the election process. It is only to make the people believe on May 23 that the TDP lost because of the EVMs which were designed to defeat him.
The CM used all the tricks in his bag in order to win the elections. He had tacit understanding with the Congress and the Jana Sena Party(JSP) so as to divide the anti-incumbency vote. The Congress was asked to contest on its own. None from this party is expected to win. Those who have some popularity were advised to defect and contest on TDP ticket. Kotla Surya Prakash Reddy, Kishore Chandra Deo and Panabaka Lakshmi are former Congress leaders who were in the fray as TDP candidates. Even the JSP fielded its candidates in many constituencies in consultation with Chandrababu so that the two parties can defeat the YSRCP.
Another trick was to make KA Paul, a non-serious person who has a non-descript party, to put up candidates whose names are identical to the names of the YSRCP contestants. Paul’s party got a symbol, a helicopter with the fan prominently seen, which resembles the fan which is the election symbol of YSCRP. This crooked idea is devised to confuse the voters of the YSRCP some of whom might vote for helicopter instead of the fan. The expenditures of the candidates of these parties were taken care of by the TDP. But these measures did not seem to have worked. It was not true that one-third of the EVMs were malfunctioning. In fact, 362 out of about 92,000 EVMs deployed developed problems. 300 of them were replaced immediately and the rest were repaired within one or two hours and the polling resumed. The bogey was raised with a view to claiming upper hand even when he is down and out. Seeing the writing on the wall, Chandrababu Naidu has mounted a big campaign to shift the blame on to the Election Commission and EVMs for his impending defeat. He is also trying to find a place for himself in national politics should he lose power in the State. He would not like to sit in Opposition while YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, younger than him by at least twenty years, dons the mantle of chief minister. He had met his match with his peer and Jagan’s father Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy when the latter was the chief minister and leader of opposition in undivided AP. The TDP’s supreme leader would rather make his son Lokesh Naidu the Opposition leader while he would keep himself busy in national politics. Lokesh, who is yet to prove his mettle as a politician has to learn the ropes very fast if he has to nurse and run the TDP. In the meanwhile, the people of AP are waiting for the election results with bated breath.