Conspiracy or collective responsibility?

Conspiracy or collective responsibility?

If all ministers signed on the dotted line, the line dotted by their boss at that time, with their eyes shut, they should all be treated alike Did...

If all ministers signed on the dotted line, the line dotted by their boss at that time, with their eyes shut, they should all be treated alike

Did these ministers become conspirators through ready approval of YSR's actions? Or was it a collective decision of Cabinet exercising constitutional power? If the latter is not proved, the first should be presumed. They have to either spill the beans to prove the Cabinet's collective responsibility or turn approvers on plea bargaining to prove that they were forced to benefit Jagan.

Kiran Kumar Reddy is both fortunate and unfortunate. He became Chief Minister at a young age but inherited a crown of thorns. No Chief Minister will be proud of heading a Cabinet with three accused ministers among six suspected and two sacked members. He does not have political freedom, though he has the constitutional privilege to sack a minister who washes dirty linen in public day in and day out.

But the content of criticism is about governance dirt, about which none is bothering. It is pathetic that in this representative democracy, a Chief Minister represents the high command more than the people. Voters elected him as one of 296 legislators while the high command selected him as Leader of the House. Thus he cannot decide who should be in and who should be out of the Cabinet; otherwise, he will be out. And he has to report to the High Command! The so-called 'taint' did not emanate from Kiran's wrongs or rights. However, he cannot escape the fallout because they all belong to the Congress party, and he adopted almost the same Cabinet. Transactions now under scrutiny of the CBI and courts belong to the period of YSR Cabinet. The claim that they are collective decisions is to be probed and proved. Kiran was not a minister in that Cabinet. Thus he has no direct role in any of those trasactions.

If Shankar Rao is the unpredictable rebel, D L Ravindra Reddy was a ruthless critic of the Kiran Government. Being a party to the decisions, even if opposed initially, a minister cannot publicly denounce those decisions. He should either quit or sail with the decision. DL Ravindra Reddy might be upright, and he has every right to dissent and critique the policies. But some of his comments certainly damaged the image of the party and its government.

It was embarrassing for the Chief Minister to make so many trips to Delhi to convince the High Command by translating into English or Hindi the chosen abuses in Telugu to seek permission to sack him. It is an example of lack of cohesion in the Cabinet. Dr Shankar Rao was instrumental in bringing most controversial inquiries into the business deals of Jaganmohan Reddy during his father's rule. The high command took the route of 'High Court' to bend Jaganmohan Reddy, who was revolting after realizing that he inherited the sympathy which could catapult him to power. After use of his petition for this political purpose, Shankar Rao was thrown out. The reason for both these dismissals is basically their tongue lashing.

In a way, Shankar Rao's actions are directly linked to the so- called 'taint' on the Congress Government in Andhra Pradesh, whether led by YSR, Rosaiah or Kiran. Because of his expose, Jagan is under the scanner, and new light is being thrown on shady deals of the then leaders. The 'taint' is not limited to three accused and other three suspected ministers. According to those accused, they just acted as dictated by YSR, and at that time they did not know that benefits from their orders would accrue to the son of the Chief Minister.

The resignation of Roads and Buildings Minister Dharmana Prasada Rao, announced on August 14 last year, has now been accepted. When the CBI accused him, Mopidevi Venkataramana Rao resigned, and since May 24 last year has been in prison. Three other ministers - Dr.J. Geetha Reddy (Heavy Industries), Ponnala Lakshmiah (Information Technology) and Kanna Lakshminarayana (Agriculture) � are allegedly involved in the issuance of government orders among 26 that facilitated unlawful gains for Jagan.

Mopidevi and other two ministers are not treated equally. All the six ministers should be equally responsible for the 26 GOs which transferred huge natural resources to private persons for 'development'. Can the party save its ministers by disowning YSR's decisions and actions? The high command wanted people to believe that they are just signatories while the real beneficiary was Jagan. They are trying to use the principle of collective responsibility to claim immunity for 'tainted' ministers.

If properly probed, the CBI will catch many leaders and officers for these dealings. If so, what is the role of the Congress party in that collective decision? All these questions come up whenever the court summons ex-ministers; the CBI files fresh charge sheets; political decisions on these issues are delayed; Kiran Reddy' frequent trips to Delhi; every time the image suffers fresh damage.

Instead of simply pleading that they signed wherever YSR wanted, can these accused/suspected prove that their orders were in pursuance of a collective decision of the Cabinet? Ministers are custodians of people's money and trust. Did they act in public interest or to benefit Jagan or YSR family? If they did, it is breach of trust besides a crime under Prevention of Corruption Act.

Why did they not advise either Chief Minister or the Governor or tell people that those actions were not in public interest? If not, how can they escape liability? That law must be allowed to take its course. A Accusations and resignations are just manifestations of the disease. In fact, the whole party is tainted; both party and government must share the responsibility. If YSR's dealings have benefitted his son, neither the individual minister nor the Congress party can plead ignorance. Interestingly, all the six ministers and their staunch supporters are pleading ignorance.

Everyone knows who did what and how, besides the 'benefits'. The benefits are in different forms reaching at different times, which are distributed: political benefits to the High Command, power to State leaders, importance to followers, key positions to a number of politicians whether elected or not, huge financial benefits in 'benami' transactions and unimaginable commercial growth for his son. Ministers should tell people the dates and resolutions of the Cabinet to say they are Cabinet decisions; otherwise, the court has to presume that they silently supported the personal decision of the former Chief Minister which makes them accused in conspiracy; and conspiracy is not collective constitutional action.

A common question is: Why should Jagan and Mopidevi be in jail? Why only six ministers are accused, and why other tainted actors and officers, along with their ministers or non-official political representatives in power, are not facing investigation? Will this removal of ministers wash out the taint? Can the Congress party ask these ministers to enter plea bargaining to turn approvers and help establish corruption of YSR?

Jaganmohan Reddy has been continuing in jail since more than one year, and the Supreme Court recently rejected bail again to give the CBI four months more. Can the Congress party use this time for fighting out Jagan's party politically? It's unfortunate that breach of law, serious financial crimes, and misuse of State authority, investigation and hearing by courts are being used for settling political scores. People's court has to punish for these constitutional violations.

The writer is Professor and Coordinator, Center for Media Law & Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

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