KCR, Jagan react in radically different ways as probe agencies zero in on kin
While KCR-led BRS is outraged at the ED questioning of Kavitha, the reaction has been mostly muted in Andhra as the CBI probes Jagan's cousin in a murder case
The Chief Ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh find themselves in a strange but identical predicament as the possible arrest of key family members by central investigative agencies looms large. Surprisingly, the parties they lead talk differently about the reasons behind the unpleasant development.
While Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is annoyed by the questioning of his MLC-daughter K Kavitha by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Delhi liquor scam, the embarrassing moment for his Andhra Pradesh counterpart YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is presented by the CBI’s grilling of his cousin and Kadapa Lok Sabha member YS Avinash Reddy in connection with the murder of his uncle in March 2019.
Despite putting on a brave front, the talk of arrest of the daughter of a chief minister, considered to be the founding-father of Telangana, that too in an alleged bribery case, is disquieting for many senior Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leaders.
As the Assembly elections are around the corner, BRS leaders worry that the BJP would use Kavitha’s alleged involvement in the scam as vindication of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oft-repeated refrain that KCR is ruling for the family not for the people and that family rule begets corruption.
KCR family not used to this
Arrest and jail custody are unknown in KCR’s family. So, Kavitha’s arrest, if it happens, is likely to create problems not only within the family but outside also. Already, Telangana BJP chief Bandi Sanjay has said that by entering into liquor deals, Kavitha had defamed Telangana.
So, BRS wants to fight it out by aggressively invoking the Telangana sentiment. Kavitha has become hyperactive. She has re-energised the Telangana Jagruti, a cultural organization she floated with governmental support. She overnight discovered the importance of the Women Reservation Bill and vowed to fight for it. She gave a call for a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi last week. Telangana pride has been brought into play. A war-like Telangana vs Modi government is sought to be created.
On Saturday (March 11), much to the cheer of BRS cadres who reached Delhi in hundreds from Hyderabad, Kavitha emerged from New Delhi’s ED office, after a nine-hour-long questioning. Everybody thought she would be arrested after questioning as many members from Hyderabad have already been arrested on charges of taking kickbacks to the tune of Rs 100 crore in the Delhi liquor scam. According to the Enforcement Directorate, Kavitha is the principal beneficiary of the deal. The ED is questioning her under PMLA.
A liquor businessman from Hyderabad called Arun Ramachandra Pillai has reportedly spilled the beans that he was a benami of Kavitha. So, everybody thought her arrest was imminent. Her brother and Minister KT Ramarao arrived in Delhi by a special flight to monitor the situation.
A day earlier, in Hyderabad, Chief Minister KCR, while addressing an extraordinary meeting of party leaders and ministers, hinted at the possibility of his daughter’s arrest. Reacting curtly to the ED’s questioning of his daughter, he said: “The ED might arrest Kavitha. What else can they do? I am not scared.”
To convert this displeasure of BRS leadership into mass sentiment, the erstwhile ferocity of TRS has been recalled. Kavitha tweeted, “Telangana won’t bow down”, hinting that her arrest was an assault on Telangana womanhood. She said the ED had issued summons to her only to stall her dharna for Women’s Reservation Bill at Jantar Mantar.
The entire cabinet went berserk, peddling conspiracy theories against Telangana in general and KCR in particular. Ministers G Jagadish Reddy, Niranjan Reddy, E Dayakar Rao, A Indrakaran Reddy, Koppula Eshwar and Satyavati Rathore lashed out at Modi and called the summons for Kavitha a political vendetta. The ED, prolonging the suspense, has asked Kavitha to attend another session of questioning on March 16.
Where’s the fury?
This type of explosive display of anger is missing in Andhra Pradesh. Curiously, while CM Jagan remains silent, the YSR Congress views the CBI investigation into Jagan’s uncle’s murder case as a conspiracy of the Telugu Desam Party. Not a word is uttered against the CBI which looks hell bent on arresting the chief minister’s cousin.
YS Vivekananda Reddy, the younger brother of YS Rajasekhar Reddy, was hacked to death early on March 15, 2019 in Kadapa district. The first reaction from YSR Congress was that Viveka, as he was popular in the area, had died of heart attack. It took a long time for the truth to come out that he was brutally murdered and blood stains were washed out to erase the evidence.
The then TDP government of Chandrababu Naidu appointed an SIT to probe the death of the former minister and MP. With TDP’s defeat in the 2019 elections and the arrival of Jagan’s government, the SIT lost its sting, raising suspicions about family members’ role in the murder.
Responding to a few petitions, the Amaravati High Court ordered the transfer of the case to the CBI. This has not brought any qualitative change; instead, YSRCP leaders started booking cases against CBI sleuths. Finally, Viveka’s daughter Dr Suneetha Reddy had to knock at the Supreme Court to get the case transferred to neighbouring states as the investigation was not progressing in Andhra Pradesh.
The apex court transferred the case to the special CBI Court in Telangana. This gave the CBI enough freedom to pursue the investigation. Following many leads and mobile data, CBI now is zeroing in on YS Avinash Reddy and his father Bhaskar Reddy.
In no uncertain terms, the CBI made it clear to the Telangana High Court that the agency wants to arrest them. The temporary relief for Avinash came in the form of a High Court directive not to arrest him until its judgement.
Though arrests and court cases are not new to Jagan’s family, the fact that the arrest of a key family member is likely to take place when he is the all-powerful chief minister and an ally of Prime Minister Modi is rattling the YSR Congress establishment.
Everybody was under the impression that Viveka’s case would disappear into thin air given Jagan’s influence at the Centre; he ensured the CBI trial in the disproportionate assets case did not move an inch in the last four years.
On the other hand, the same CBI is slowly inching towards the arrest of his beloved cousin which in turn points the needle towards Jagan himself. The apprehensions have been uttered by none other than chief minister’s own advisor and party general secretary Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy.
Sajjala told the media that TDP president Chandrababu Naidu appears to be influencing the CBI investigation in Viveka’s murder case with an intention to connect it to Jagan. “Naidu has a history of influencing central agencies. Given the way the CBI is chasing the CM’s cousin, we suspect that Naidu is influencing the investigation. We are compelled to suspect that through Avinash’s arrest, they want to connect the murder case to CM Jagan Mohan Reddy,” Sajjala said unambiguously.
The question being asked is why Jagan’s clout at New Delhi is not able to rein in the CBI against the possible arrest of his own cousin. The theory one hears in the Telugu media is that it has a Telangana connection.
The talk is that going lenient in the case of Jagan’s cousin while wanting to arrest KCR’s daughter would have a negative fallout. It lends credibility to the witch-hunt charge of the ED in Telangana.
This is the backdrop against which two strong chief ministers have become onlookers while central agencies surround their families.