In the ongoing “ego battle” between state election commissioner and the ruling YSR Congress government in Andhra Pradesh (AP), the former has fired another salvo.
The SEC, Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar has ordered the house-arrest of state minister for panchayati raj and rural development Ramachandra Reddy on Saturday (February 6) till February 21.
The state director general of police, Gautam Sawang has been directed to by the Andhra poll panel chief, to confine Ramchandra Reddy to his residential premises till the elections to the gram panchayats are concluded on February 21.
This official order comes in the wake of a threat issued by minister Reddy to collectors and returning officers of various districts that he would blacklist them, if they withheld the results of the gram panchayats, where unanimous elections were held.
At a press conference on Friday evening, Reddy had warned, “If any officials follow the SEC’s instructions not to declare the unanimous elections, serious action will be taken against them and they will be blacklisted.”
The minister added for good effect that while the present SEC will no longer hold his post on March 31, 2021, when he will retire, the YSRC government will continue beyond it. He asked the returning officers to ignore the SEC directions and declare all unanimous elections.
The YSRC government and the SEC have been at loggerheads over this local body elections for nearly a year. The initial notification for holding the gram panchayat polls in AP was declared on March 7, 2020. However, the state government had cited the COVID-19 pandemic and contested the SEC’s decision to hold the elections. Since then, the YSRC government and the SEC are fighting many a legal battle on the elections, with the government officials siding with the government.
But, in January 2021, Kumar scored a decisive victory when the Supreme Court favoured elections to local bodies, and also observed that they will not be a part of this “ego battle.”
Ramesh Kumar, an otherwise low-profile and unassuming 1984-batch IAS officer, has appeared to be a hard nut to crack for the government.
In his recent directive against the minister, the SEC has said that Reddy will not get access to the media to ensure that he does not make inciteful utterances. This can have an adverse impact on the ongoing panchayat elections in Andhra Pradesh, as well as on the law and order situation in Chittoor and elsewhere. Observing that the minister’s statement had created a fear psychosis among the voters in the local bodies, he said that this amounts to not only interference with the election process, but also subversion of democratic election process to the local bodies underway.
The SEC said the minister, however, could get access to medical aid and such other exigencies as deemed reasonable. “He can also discharge his duties as a minister, have access to all official records and papers and can dispose of the matters,” the SEC added.
Meanwhile, Reddy, who described Kumar’s orders for his house arrest as atrocious, told officials not to follow Kumar’s orders. Claiming that the SEC was acting under the directions of Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu, he said that he should first understand whether his orders would be implemented at all.
Political analysts however believe that the Jagmohan government despite having a majority in the state assembly has lost the perception battle with the SEC. It was felt that the divergent roles vested with with different organs of the constitution, such as the judiciary, election commission, legislature, etc., has to be honoured.