Former Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President Nara Chandrababu Naidu is in serious trouble. He was arrested by the state crime branch in the multi-crore Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Corporation funds scam, which runs a little over Rs 350 crore. It appears to have come as a lethal blow, even before he could recover from the Income-Tax Department notice served on him for the non-disclosure of money received from some corporations in accounts submitted for I-T scrutiny.
Although, he may deny any wrong-doing and claim the case to be witch-hunting by his bete noir Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) President and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, he keeps mum in the I-T case, which accuses him of money laundering.
He purportedly received huge sums in return for the favours his government granted to two corporate giants, including Larsen & Toubro, in several infrastructure projects in the new capital Amaravathi, during his tenure. They allegedly ran into a few thousand crores and payments were routed through several shell companies in Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Singapore.
These two serious cases, that too, ahead of the next year’s general elections, may as well seal the TDP’s poll prospects.
What is more shocking to many, including his party colleagues, is how both the state and central governments came hard on their leader when he was confident of getting readmitted into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold from which he walked out before the 2019 general elections.
Interestingly, the simultaneous actions by the Centre and state agencies, only strengthens the possible suspicion of conspiracy to fix the 77-year-old Naidu and his party.
The I-T notice was served to the TDP chief; no sooner Jaganmohan Reddy met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. Many political analysts suspect that the prime minister seems to have gotten a firm assurance from the young Chief Minister that he would help the rightist party blossom, which was allegedly prevented by their senior leader for years.
The BJP which is desperate to bag more Lok Sabha seats this time around to compensate for its possible losses in the north apparently got a firm assurance from YSRCP with half a dozen seats. Added to that, the BJP opted to trust Jaganmohan Reddy as a new ‘friend-in-arm’ than its former ally, the TDP, which has let the NDA down, not once, but on couple of times. The trust deficit, as well as the arithmetic of the TDP and Jana Sena Party of Pawan Kalyan, not showing any improvement even after two elections, was the other factors that prompted the BJP to accept the YSRCP leader’s friendship. Also Jaganmohan Reddy helped the NDA push through the Delhi Ordinance and other national issues in the Rajya Sabha along with Biju Janata Dal (BJD) recently. Thus far, the BJP appears in no great hurry to grab yet another state in the south but to find some foothold for the time being.
Coming back to Naidu, the sections that slapped on him by the state intelligence sleuths in the Skill Development program scam include 120B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating and dishonesty), besides 465 (forgery). The notice was served under Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) Section 50 (1) (2). It is a non-bailable offence. He was officially arrested around 6 am yesterday from a private residence in Nandyal. The state CID has also invoked the Prevention of Corruption Act against him.
One has to wait and see how the political developments are likely to unfold by the time of next year’s general elections. This is in the wake of Naidu’s brazen posture. He stated on X (earlier Twitter) soon after his arrest that he did nothing wrong. “For the past 45 years, I have selflessly served Telugu people. I am prepared to sacrifice my life to safeguard the interests of the Telugu people.
”No force on earth can stop me from serving Telugu people, my Andhra Pradesh, and my motherland,” he boasted. His confidence may be borne out of winning the public sympathy over his arrest as the Centre and state together appear to have conspired to finish his party in the state. Yes, similar to that of Jaganmohan Reddy, who was also sent to jail in a money laundering case and later came out on bail and fought the 2014 elections unsuccessfully, but became victorious in 2019. Meanwhile, Naidu received support from his family members like the Tollywood star and his brother-in-law, Nandamuri Balakrishna, who said the arrest, was illegal and they are willing to fight it out legally.
Perhaps, that might have emboldened Naidu to make a fervent appeal to people and party cadres to exercise restraint. Only time will tell whether this is going to be ‘masterstroke’ of Jaganmohan Reddy or Naidu’s emergence as a ‘hero’ by playing a victim card.