An intensifying battle with the judiciary following a string of legal setbacks is pushing Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy closer to the BJP leadership.
When Jagan landed in Delhi on Tuesday (September 22), it was clear that he was on a political mission. He had two back-to-back meetings with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, seeking a CBI inquiry into the alleged irregularities in land transactions in the Amaravati capital region during the previous Telugu Desam Party regime.
A day earlier, his government moved a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court, challenging the High Court’s orders staying a probe ordered by the state government against former advocate general Dammalapati Srinivas and 12 others in the Amaravati land scam.
Apart from staying the probe by the Special Investigation Team (SIT), the high court issued a gag order preventing the media from covering the news relating to the allegations of shady land deals in and around Amaravati, the original dream capital proposed by the former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
According to YSR Congress Party sources, Jagan explained to Amit Shah how several TDP leaders, including family members of Chandrabau Naidu, made huge purchases of land in and around Amaravati between June and December 2014, before it was declared as the new capital region.
The Chief Minister urged the Centre to order a CBI probe to ferret out the truth and expose the omissions and commissions of the previous TDP regime.
It was pointed out that a cabinet sub-committee which probed the charges of “insider trading” by the then TDP government had found several irregularities including fraudulent means of grabbing assigned and government land and surrendering it for land pooling to get the benefits announced by the government.
The sub-committee in its affidavit submitted to the high court alleged that more than 4,000 acres were purchased by people close to the then TDP government, with prior information about the capital coming up in Amaravati for throwaway prices from farmers in Krishna and Guntur districts.
Deepening political bond
Jagan’s meeting with Shah has set off speculation in political circles that the YSR Congress may join the NDA government in place of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). His visit to the national capital came close on the heels of SAD’s exit from the union cabinet in protest over the farm bills.
Already, the YSR Congress has been largely supporting the NDA government on key policy issues within and outside the Parliament.
Social media, new battleground
A series of legal reversals has widened the gulf between the executive and the judiciary. The friction is being amplified on social media platforms with the ruling YSR Congress leaders making personal attacks on the high court judges and attributing political motives to them.
The ruling party leaders have been openly raising objections inside and outside Parliament over the high court order stalling the investigation into the alleged land scam.
The party general secretary and parliamentary party leader V Vijay Sai Reddy questioned the legitimacy of the high court order stalling the probe and gagging the media from reporting the contents of the FIR registered by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
“The judiciary in Andhra Pradesh is not impartial and is biased against the state government. The high court has taken some quite unusual and legally questionable decisions. There appears to be no material to justify such censorship other than the allegation by the petitioner that it has foisted the case,” Sai Reddy said.
YSRC floor leader in Lok Sabha P Mithun Reddy said one cannot expect impartial judgments from some judges who had earlier served as legal advisors to the TDP. He demanded that the whole process of appointing judges through collegiums should be re-examined.
The MPs also expressed concern that the courts were obstructing the development work of the people. He said it was strange that the courts were obstructing investigations into the scandals instead of uncovering the scams. The MPs urged the Centre to intervene over the orders of the state high court.
The YSR Congress leaders also alleged that the previous government had allotted housing plots to as many as 14 judges in the prime area of Amaravati.
“Naidu had given prime lands to judges free of cost. Some judicial officers and their family members had bought lands in the capital region. How is it justified? The same TDP is opposing the allotment of house sites for the landless poor in Amaravati,” state deputy chief minister K Narayana Swamy said.
However, the TDP strongly rebutted the criticism on allotment of lands to judges in Amaravati. “There is nothing new in this. During the Y S Rajasekhar Reddy regime, too, house sites were allotted to judges as a matter of policy. The TDP government had allotted lands not just to judges, but also to All India Service officers and journalists,” TDP official spokesman Bonda Uma Maheshwar Rao said.
During the last one year, the courts have issued over 50 orders that went against the decisions taken by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government.
Several controversial decisions, including the unceremonious dismissal of the state election commissioner and cancellation of key infrastructure projects of the previous TDP regime, have been overturned by the courts.
More importantly, the chief minister’s flagship agenda of trifurcation of the capital ran into rough weather, with the high court ordering status quo. This has put a brake on the government’s ambitious plans to shift the executive capital to Visakhapatnam at the earliest and showcase the coastal Andhra city as a potential investment destination.
On May 29, the High Court struck down an ordinance to remove the state election commissioner (SEC), Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar, by amending the AP Panchayat Raj Act to reduce the term of the SEC from five to three years.
The court also struck down an order increasing the quota for OBCs in the local bodies from 27% to 34%. The HC had also ordered a CBI inquiry into the suspension and alleged persecution of Dr K Sudhakar, a doctor from Visakhapatnam who had accused the government of not providing all medical professionals with PPEs.
In another embarrassment to the government, the court had ordered reinstatement of senior IPS officer AB Venkateswara Rao, suspended on suspicion of leaking critical intelligence information to an Israeli defence manufacturer.