The posts of high-profile advisors to the Andhra Pradesh government have been reduced to mere decorative entities.
There are over 30 advisors to Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, drawn from various fields including media, but they have, over the last one year, become virtually inconsequential and ornamental at best. Most of the policy decisions are taken unilaterally, without involving them.
The recent resignation of K Ramachandra Murthy, a veteran journalist and former editor of several publications, as an advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government on public policy issues has stirred the hornet’s nest.
The sudden exit of Murthy, who was earlier the director of the editorial board of Sakshi daily owned by Jagan’s family, had raised questions over the lack of functional autonomy and dwindling role of advisors. Murthy, a left-leaning journalist, had earlier served as editor of the Telugu daily, Udayam and The Hans India, an English daily.
“There is no friction or clash of ideas with the government. I just want to get back to the media which is my first love,” Murthy said. He said that the chief minister had asked him to continue till the end of his two-year term. “I have completed one year in office. But I want to go back to journalism,” said the veteran journalist.
The YSR Congress government has been facing flak from the opposition for splurging money on hiring consultants and advisors at huge packages at a time when it is finding it difficult to even pay salaries to the employees.
“It is ironic that the government is not in a position to pay salaries to the employees and pensions to the retired and the arrears for March and April are still pending. All the advisors are sitting idle without any work. What is the need for appointing new advisors, making a dent into the exchequer?” asked state Congress working president Dr. N Tulasi Reddy.
He pointed out that the government had spent ₹101 crore in the last one year on advertisements out of which a lion’s share of ₹52 crore went to the Sakshi group of newspapers in a classic case of nepotism and wastage of public funds.
Given the personalised style of functioning of the chief minister, it is not known whether the advisors are encouraged to provide any input to help fine-tune the government’s policies and programmes.
“Jagan is a mass leader and is impulsive by nature. He takes key policy decisions during his mass contact programmes based on his personal assessment of the problems on the ground and doesn’t change his mind after that,” says senior analyst Ramesh Kandula.
Questions are being raised in political circles over the appointment of another senior journalist and former national president of the Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU) Devulapalli Amar as the advisor for national media and inter-state affairs. Amar was a popular anchor handling the news analysis segment at Sakshi TV, owned by Jagan’s family, before being brought in as advisor.
“There has been a lot of adverse media coverage and critical editorial commentary at national level on several policy decisions of the government. One is not sure whether the chief minister takes any kind of inputs from the advisors on corrective measures,” said Ramakrishna Sangem, a senior journalist and editor of a current affairs magazine Excel India.
Ammunition for opposition
The resignation of Ramachandra Murthy has provided ammunition to the opposition to attack the government. State CPI secretary K Ramakrishna said Murthy’s exit highlighted the fact that almost all the advisors in the CMO were “just figureheads.”
“They have lost their relevance as the chief minister takes unilateral decisions,” said the Communist Party of India (CPI) leader.
Along with Murthy and Amar, other senior media professionals like GVD Krishamohan and Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy have also been appointed as advisors to the chief minister.
Ironically, the presence of several veteran journalists did not stop the government from issuing a gag order in October last year to sue media organisations over “baseless, false and defamatory news” items in print, electronic and social media. The order empowered special commissioner of Information and Public Relations department to file cases “under appropriate sections of the law.”
Murthy was assigned to advise the CM on matters relating to health, education, and welfare. However, he hardly got a chance to meet the CM during the last one year. The veteran journalist was never seen at review meetings held by the CM on these subjects.
Similarly, Amar, expected to advise the CM on inter-state issues, was also not seen during Jagan’s meetings with his Telangana counterpart K Chandrasekhar Rao. This led to criticism that the posts of advisors have been reduced to mere figureheads.
However, defending his position in the government, Amar said, “I strongly believe that the advisors are not obligated to make public the suggestions made by them. The suggestions made by advisors are usually not in public domain.”
Another advisor appointed
Brushing aside the opposition criticism, the government appointed yet another advisor last week. Ambati Krishna Reddy from the chief minister’s native district of Kadapa has been appointed as advisor on agriculture-related issues for a two-year term.
Like all the other advisors, he will also get the cabinet rank and a gross monthly salary of more than ₹3 lakh. Besides, he will also be paid ₹25,000 for his security. The advisors will also get ₹50,000 for the purchase of a laptop or computer, ₹3 lakh towards furniture and ₹1.5 lakh for cutlery. They will also be allotted a private secretary, a personal assistant, an additional PA, three office subordinates, and two drivers.