Predicament of a Chief Minister kept on pause mode

Chandrababu Naidu
The TDP chief's deliberations are part of his efforts to unite non-NDA parties.

Senior officials don’t report to him. His review meetings and official visits to project sites are largely ignored. And, he is not even on talking terms with the chief secretary of the state.

This is the predicament of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu who has been put on a pause mode in the name of Model Code of Conduct.

Ever since the simultaneous election to the state assembly and Lok Sabha was held on April 11, governance in the state has been virtually kept under suspended animation with the Chief Minister being on a collision course with the Election Commission over application of the provisions of the election code till the declaration of results on May 23.

A huge gap of over 40 days between the polling and declaration of results has made matters worse, triggering a full-blown turf war between the bureaucrats bound by the poll code and the political leadership.

Naidu has been at loggerheads with state chief secretary L V Subrahmanyam, appointed by the poll panel, and the two are not even on talking terms. While the Chief Minister has been shooting off strongly-worded letters to the EC, raising objections over obstacles being placed in the way of his functioning, his cabinet colleagues have been attacking the poll body for acting like a “stooge” of the central government.

Naidu had to face humiliation on Monday (May 6), when officials skipped his visit to the Polavaram dam site for inspection. Earlier, on April 30, no official turned up when agriculture minister S Chandramohan Reddy called for a meeting of his department to review the drought situation and procurement of seeds ahead of sowing season.

Bitter showdown likely

A bitter showdown is expected on May 10 when the Chief Minister is planning to hold a cabinet meeting to review the status of various welfare and development programmes. The chief secretary has already made it clear that neither he nor any of the secretaries would attend the meeting.

“We are bound by the provisions of the model code of conduct. Naidu is a CM without powers because the poll code is still in force,” Subrahmanyam said.

Rule 19.6.1 of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) states, “During the period of operation of the Model Code, no video conferencing shall take place between the Chief Minister/ministers /political functionaries of the Union and state governments with the government officials.”

“The EC’s direction to us is very clear. We have been asked to scrupulously follow the poll code. We are not here to make political statements,” the chief secretary said.

Interestingly, it is the chief secretary who is required to prepare the agenda for a cabinet meeting. If no agenda is prepared and no official notes are submitted, the cabinet cannot take any policy decisions. Since the top bureaucrat has expressed his inability to attend the meeting, the May 10 meeting is likely to end up as an unofficial meeting of the council of ministers.

On his part, the Chief Minister has threatened to take action against the officials who stay away from the meeting as per the business rules.

As per the poll code, while no policy decisions can be taken or any new beneficiaries of a programme be identified, the political leadership can take decisions on sanctions with prior approval of the EC.

Humiliation

When Naidu visited the Polavaram project site, neither the irrigation secretary nor the collectors of West Godavari and East Godavari districts showed up, breaking the regular protocol. There was none to receive him at the Rajahmundry airport or at the helipad near the project site.

The ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) took umbrage over the ‘humiliation’ being meted out to Naidu because he has parted ways with the BJP.

Will move Supreme Court

Seething in anger, the agriculture minister Chandramohan Reddy questioned the conduct of EC and threated to move the Supreme Court to assert the rights of the state government.

“Our constitution has given us all the powers to rule the state. What is the purpose of the administration if we are not allowed to hold review meetings,” Reddy told The Federal.

Another minister, P Pulla Rao, accused the chief secretary of acting like an “extra-constitutional authority” as part of a larger conspiracy to cripple the democratically elected TDP government.

“He [CS] is dancing to the tunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He should understand that he cannot stop the cabinet from holding meetings nor can he disobey our instructions,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, the TDP spokesman Lanka Dinakar said his party would launch an agitation in New Delhi if the EC it did not give up its discriminatory attitude towards AP.

The TDP leaders are furious over the poll panel seeking an explanation from the state government for Chief Minister’s routine review meetings.

On April 27, the Chief Minister shot off a letter to chief election commissioner Sunil Arora, questioning the poll panel’s authority in preventing the state intelligence chief from meeting him. Naidu also accused the EC of denying him a level playing field as compared to the Centre and other states.

“The state chief electoral officer (Gopala Krishna Dwivedi) is exceeding his brief. He says CM cannot hold review meetings because of the model code of conduct and has instructed the intelligence chief not to report to the CM. Because of his illegal orders, the intelligence chief is not reporting to me. Do you mean to say that the IB Director and National Security Advisor (NSA) are also prohibited from meeting and briefing the Prime Minister?” Naidu had said in the letter.

“Even in other states, has the EC issued orders barring intelligence chiefs from reporting to their respective chief ministers? If not, why are these discriminating orders being issued only in case of Andhra Pradesh?” he asked.

Collision course

In the run-up to the elections, the EC had ordered the transfer of chief secretary Anil Chandra Punetha and intelligence chief Venkateshwar Rao and replaced them with its own choice of officials.

Since then, the bitterness has been growing between the poll panel and the state government over multiple issues including the conduct of official review meetings by the Chief Minister.

Vishwajeet had replaced senior IPS officer Venkateshwara Rao as the intelligence chief while Subrahmanayam was appointed as the chief secretary on the orders of the EC. The twin developments, which were based on a complaint filed by the opposition YSR Congress Party, triggered a war of words between the state government and the poll panel.

“In my 40 years of public life, I have never seen an election so badly conducted, logistically mismanaged and poorly organised. The CEO’s public comments and instructions are quite embarrassing. The state intelligence chief works directly under the control of the chief minister. I would like to know whether the ADG (Intelligence) should also report to EC and if not, whom he should report to,” the TDP chief questioned.

In its complaint, the YSRC had claimed that the previous intelligence chief was acting as a TDP agent in the elections.

The Chief Minister also questioned the CEO’s authority in preventing him from conducting review meetings of various departments, including Polavaram irrigation project and new capital city construction, in the name of model code of conduct. “The CEO is clearly exceeding his jurisdiction. He cannot bar an elected government from discharging its duties,” the Chief Minister said.

He said there was no such provision in the Model Code of Conduct that a Chief Minister should not hold official review meetings. He pointed out that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre had held a cabinet meeting on April 15 despite the model code of conduct being in force and even now, regular security briefings and meetings were taking place at the central level. “Similarly, in the neighbouring state of Telangana, the Chief Minister is conducting various departmental review meetings regularly. Why is this discrimination against Andhra Pradesh?” Naidu asked.

“I take strong objection to this discriminatory approach of the Election Commission in facilitating functioning of the BJP-led central government and the friendly state governments and denying the same to Andhra Pradesh,” he said.

“Since the electorate has already exercised their franchise, the EC has no jurisdiction to stop any review meeting or briefing,” he said. Soon after polling, Naidu went on the offensive against the EC alleging that it was acting like a “puppet” in the hands of Narendra Modi. “The Election Commission has lost credibility with the non-functioning of EVMs at majority of places in Andhra Pradesh. It has failed the country,” the Chief Minister had said.