The confrontation between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and the Election Commission refuses to die down even after completion of elections in the state. A fresh row broke out over whether the Chief Minister’s official meetings to review the status of various projects attract the provisions of the model code of conduct.
The ruling Telugu Desam Party leaders are furious over the poll panel seeking an explanation from the state government for the Chief Minister’s routine review meetings, where the status of implementation of various ongoing programmes, including the capital city construction works and Polavaram irrigation project, were looked at.
The simultaneous elections to the 175-member Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats were held on April 11. The results will declared on May 23.
“During this long gap, do you expect the government to sit idle and do nothing?” the State Finance Minister Y Ramakrishnudu asked. Another TDP leader Y Babu Rajendra Prasad said it was unfortunate that the EC was acting on the basis of “flimsy” complaints being filed by the opposition YSR Congress Party. “This amounts to placing obstacles in the path of the development. What is wrong in holding meetings on people’s issues? Moreover, the polling is already over and there is no scope for gaining any political mileage through these meetings,” argued the State Social Welfare Minister N Ananda Babu.
The State Chief Electoral Officer Gopala Krishna Dwivedi said that an explanation had been sought from the Chief Secretary LV Subrahmanyam regarding the review meetings and further action would be taken depending on the response from the government.
Following a complaint from the YSRCP, the election authorities have called for an explanation as to how the Chief Minister could conduct review meetings when the poll code was in force. The CEO sent excerpts from the model code of conduct to the government which clearly state that the Chief Minister or his cabinet colleagues were not expected to conduct any meetings, except briefings by officials on emergency issues. Even with regard to security related issues, they cannot hold official meetings without prior approval from the Election Commission.
Even in the event of natural calamities, the chief minister or other ministers cannot hold video conferences with officials without prior permission from the EC. They can hold meetings with only district collectors and top officials in-charge of relief operations only in the presence of a representative of the poll panel.
Soon after the directions from the EC, Naidu cancelled his proposed review meeting with top police officials on the law and order situation in the state.
“Chandrababu Naidu is a caretaker Chief Minister now. Till the announcement of election results, he should desist from doing anything that amounts to violation of code of conduct,” said a senior YSRCP leader Ambati Rambabu.
However, the TDP spokesperson Babu Rajendra Prasad disagreed with this and said, “Naidu is a full-fledged CM till the formation of the next government. If the Chief Minister cannot review the progress of works on the Polavaram project to ensure water supply to farmers by the coming season, who else will do it?”
Meanwhile, the YSRCP, in another letter to the Election Commission, alleged that the Chief Minister was using the government facilities for activities related to his party. “It is learnt from the media that the Chief Minister has called for a meeting of party MLAs at Prajavedika, a state government facility, despite the model code of conduct still being in force,” the party general secretary Vijaya Sai Reddy said in a letter to the CEO.
The TDP supremo has been on a collision course with the Election Commission over transfer of the state Chief Secretary and three senior police officials in the run-up to the polling.
The EC had, on April 5, ordered transfer of Chief Secretary Anil Chandra Punetha and replaced him with another senior IAS officer LV Subrahmanyam. Earlier, the government had issued a string of GOs defying the EC’s orders on shifting three IPS officers including the chief of the state intelligence wing AB Venkateshwar Rao.
The transfer of officials and a series of raids on the houses of the TDP leaders by the Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate were seen as signs of “witch-hunting” by the NDA government.
Soon after the polling, Naidu went on the offensive against the EC alleging that it was acting like a “puppet” in the hands of Prime Minister 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.
He also declared a war on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), claiming that they were prone to tampering by managing the micro controller and chips. “My fight against the poll panel is to protect the democracy,” he said and pointed out that only 18 countries in the world were using the EVMs for conducting polls.