Chandrababu Naidu stays on collision course with poll panel

Updated 7:04 PM, 27 April, 2019
Chandrababu Naidu - The Federal
A set of baffling U-turns and flip flops has eroded the credibility of Naidu who was once feted for his astute political strategies. Photo: PTI

The actions of the Election Commission have come under scanner in Andhra Pradesh with the ruling Telugu Desam Party dubbing the state chief secretary L V Subrahmanyam, appointed by the poll panel, as “extra-constitutional authority.”

While the state ministers have virtually declared a war on the top bureaucrat, the Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu continues to be on a collision course with the poll panel, questioning its “authority” in preventing him from conducting review meetings of various departments.

In a fresh salvo against the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, he questioned the EC’s authority in preventing the state intelligence chief from meeting him. Naidu also accused the poll panel of denying him a level playing field as compared to the Centre and other states.

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“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 said in a strongly-worded nine-page 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.

Collison course

In the run-up to the April 11 simultaneous elections to the Assembly and Lok Sabha, the EC had ordered 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 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. After the elections, Venkateshwar Rao was appointed DGP of Anti-Corruption Bureau.

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.

Pointing out that there was a gap of 42 days before the elections results are announced on May 23, Naidu said that the normal administration cannot be allowed to come to a standstill. There were several crucial issues pertaining to the state like drinking water crisis, deaths due to sunstroke, release of water to crops and expedition of ongoing works on Polavaram.

“Since the electorate has already exercised their franchise, the EC has no jurisdiction to stop any review meeting or briefing,” he said.

Extra-constitutional authority

Naidu’s ministerial colleagues have sharpened their attack on the chief secretary. “He is acting like an extra-constitutional authority. He is part of a larger conspiracy to cripple the democratically elected TDP government,” a senior minister P Pulla Rao told The Federal.

He accused the 1983 batch IAS officer of “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 that his party would stage a dharna in front of the EC office in New Delhi if it did not give up its discriminatory attitude towards Andhra Pradesh.

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

Turf war

Soon after the EC ordered transfer of chief secretary and three senior police officials, the government had issued a string of GOs defying the EC’s orders on shifting three IPS officers including intelligence chief 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 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.

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