Contours of corruption
The skeletons tumbling out of the closets are ugly and frightening, no doubt. But the persons who have been making allegations against the rivals are...
The skeletons tumbling out of the closets are ugly and frightening, no doubt. But the persons who have been making allegations against the rivals are no saints
Corruption has become the most familiar word in the glossary of Indian politics. It does not shock anyone any more. It has even ceased to hurt. It does not make any difference in politics. As Indira Gandhi told us long ago, the bane is universal and there is nothing new about it. A Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan may succeed in provoking a Prime Minister into clamping Emergency. That does not mean end to corruption. Someone like Anna Hazare might make noise for a while and then compromise with reality. Enthusiasts like Arvind Kejriwal may go to the extent of floating a party and fight an election or two before settling for the status quo. Corruption, however, is not going to go away. While this is the state of affairs in the country in general, there are some aspects which are peculiar to Andhra Pradesh. Here is a government which has no moral right to remain in office. But it makes proud announcements of one welfare scheme after another. We have an Opposition that is not ready for an election. But it keeps on criticizing the government, making all sorts of allegations. A tentative chief minister, who has been asserting himself slowly but steadily in spite of the fact that he could not reconstitute a Cabinet which he cannot call his own, is always seen at one meeting or another speaking about giveaways, be it Indiramma Bata or Indiramma Kalalu. Then there is a putative chief minister who is languishing in jail from where he has been guiding his party in every detail, including the photos to be used in the posters, and working on the qualifications of candidates to be fielded in the forthcoming general election; there are also six Cabinet ministers who are 'tainted' but continue to occupy their berths. The worthy ministers get notices from the Supreme Court and legal help from their government. A party high command that has been lying low as far AP is concerned without taking a decision about anything pretending as though it is playing a clever game with an intent to win. You have a ruling party whose stock has been steadily falling and an Opposition party whose popularity refuses to rise in spite of its top leader's strenuous walkathon that completed more than 2000 km; a movement for separate statehood that had reached a plateau. A joint action committee that does not give up. A relentless discussion about a supposed undercurrent in favour of the YSRCP whose intensity is anybody's guess. MLAs belong to the ruling party and the principal Opposition party making visits to Chanchalguda jail and get sacked by their respective leaderships only to declare their loyalty to the leader who is facing grave charges and an uncertain future. This is the fluid and unenviable situation in which the people of Andhra Pradesh find themselves with occasional bouts of excitement whenever the CBI files its chargesheet, or a bail application comes up for orders. The revelations by the CBI or the media have no effect on the popular psyche. The skeletons tumbling out of the closets are ugly and frightening, no doubt. But the persons who have been making allegations against the rivals are no saints. No amount of heat in the speeches made by the opposition politicians, and the noise made by the news channels and newspapers, is causing discomfort to the ministers who face graft charges. There is no danger to the existence of the government. Nobody is pressuring them to step down. They have only their sense of guilt to fear. They are in a Hamletian dilemma-to quit or to stay put. All the ministers in question received notices from the Supreme Court. One of them has been in jail. Two were named as accused in chargesheets filed by the CBI. Three are waiting for the sixth chargesheet in which they expect to be named. All of them are senior political leaders who have won elections a number of times. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has no clue about the future course of action on the ministers who were named by the CBI. The ministers in the dock think that the party high command knows what the CBI is up to. They suspect that even the chief minister was aware of the contents of the chargesheet before it was filed. They have to grin and bear it. After Dharman Prasada Rao, senior minister from Srikakulam, was named as an accused in the CBI chargesheet in August 2012, the rest of the 'tainted' ministers went to Delhi at the behest of the Chief Minister to seek relief. Geetha Reddy, Sabitha Indra Reddy, Ponnala Laxmaiah and Kanna Laxminarayana met AICC General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad. They were told by Azad not to worry as nothing was likely to happen in future without his knowledge. At least that was what the ministers were given to understand. They returned to Hyderabad reassured. But the CBI has been continuing its work with all sincerity at a snail's pace. When Dharmana resigned, as he should, the letter was kept in abeyance. He was asked by the Chief Minister to continue and fight legally, whatever it means. He stayed away from office for four months. The resignation was ultimately rejected by the Chief Minister who made the Cabinet pass a resolution requesting the Governor to deny permission to the CBI for taking the minister into custody. Governor Narasimhan sent the file back to the Cabinet asking it to take legal opinion. The file was forwarded again, after a gap of one month, to Narasimhan who could not but sign it just as he attested his signature on the file appointing political beings as RTI commissioners. It may be legally and technically right.A But it was morally wrong. A Dharmana has started attending his office at the Secretariat. He renewed his efforts to build a thermal plant at Sompeta in the face of spirited opposition by villagers. His case has now become a precedent. Even if Sabitha submits her resignation, the CM cannot forward it to the Governor since he is obliged to follow the precedent. AICC General Secretary in charge of AP affairs, Azad, says Sabitha would stay till the court gives its decision. Sabitha Indra Reddy, who has been very tactful in her political life, was named as accused number 4 in the 5th chargesheet. She was accused of giving limestone mines to Dalmia Cement which in turn allegedly invested in Jagathi Publications and Bharati Cement. She did it in her capacity as minister holding mines portfolio in YSR regime. She is now the Home Minister. The CBI or any other agency cannot investigate the allegations against a person who is a minister in charge of Home affairs. There is sure to be 'positional bias.' The immunity that is supposed to be available for a minister is there only to help him or her to discharge duties but not to escape the consequences of an illegal action. The Supreme Court has made abundantly clear the scope and meaning of the immunity enjoyed by members of the Cabinet. If it is only a First Information Report, there is no need to resign. But once a chargesheet is filed, it becomes untenable for a minister to continue in office. LK Advani, who was accused in the Jain diary case, tendered his resignation as member of the Lok Sabha and returned only on getting re-elected after the courts declared him innocent. Sabitha has to resign on moral grounds. But Kiran Kumar Reddy is seen opposing the idea of resignation since such a decision would make his position awkward. Soon after returning from Delhi and on hearing about the chargesheet, Kiran sent PCC Chief Botcha Satyanarayana and Finance Minister Anam Narayana Reddy to Sabitha's residence to persuade her not to insist on resignation. Sabitha was keen on sending her resignation letter to the CM through the PCC chief. Kiran's suggestion to Sabitha was that she should go to Delhi and meet representatives of the high command. Sabitha is there in politics because of her husband, Indra Reddy, a powerful leader who also handled the Home portfolio. When he died in a car accident, his wife was drafted into politics. She is understandably reluctant to go to Delhi since she has no lobby there. She has been confined to her residence receiving friends and sympathy. She was close to YSR who used to call her 'Chevella Chellamma'. He used to launch all his programmes, including the historic paadayaatra, at Chevella. Sabitha's son, Kartik Reddy, is identified with the YSRCP. Her preference would be to see that her son's entry into legislature is comfortable. When an emissary of Rahul Gandhi, the AICC Vice-President, met her a couple of days ago, she suggested that Kartik be fielded from the Chevella Lok Sabha constituency. Even the YSRCP does not have a candidate for the constituency right now. Kartik can choose his party six months before the elections. So is the case with many young leaders who are now in the Congress but plan to move out of it and contest on YSRCP ticket. They cite the example of Stalin, Karunanidhi's son whose house was raided by the CBI soon after the DMK announced withdrawal of support to UPA. Though the Prime Minister and Finance Minister gave elaborate statements to dispel the impression, the enthusiasm of the investigative agency has been a talking point in political circles. The prolonged investigation by the CBI is sure to hurt the Congress more than YS Jaganmohan Reddy. Kiran Kumar Reddy is launching yet another welfare programme, "Amma Hastam", in which the government gives nine essential items for Rs 185. It remains to be seen if the welfare programmes would offset the cumulative anger and anguish among the people on account of ten hours of power cut in villages. Besides this aspect, the longer Jaganmohan Reddy is in jail the greater will be the sympathy he and his party would get. Nobody would believe that the CBI is acting independently, even if it is true. The CBI should hasten up and finish the investigation soon and file the final chargesheet after which Jagan would become eligible for bail. Kiran Reddy should be permitted to reconstitute his Cabinet. All the ministers who have legal problems have to be dropped and new and bright faces have to be inducted. Only then can the Chief Minister enhance the image of his government and the party. He absolutely needs a free hand if he has to command the loyalty of his colleagues, respect of officials and admiration of the people and then take YSRCP by its horns. Corruption is not going to be an election issue even though almost three years have been spent talking about it. Governance, power supply and tariffs and prices of essential commodities are going to be the real issues. Kiran Reddy, who is most likely to continue undisturbed in the rest of the term, needs at least one year to give confidence to the people and overcome double incumbency. It is evidently an uphill task though he has been fighting gamely. Time is fast running out for him and the Congress.