With the Telangana government appointing a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the role of central BJP leaders in the MLA poaching case, the saffron party is facing a counter-offensive to its strategy of deploying investigative agencies against its political opposition.
Central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Income Tax department, and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have intensified their raids in the state. In turn, the SIT has named BJP’s influential national general-secretary BL Santosh as an accused in the case related to the bribing of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MLAs to switch over to the saffron party.
The consequences of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oft-repeated refrain about Telangana — that family rule breeds corruption and the corrupt would not be spared — are in full display in the state. All the PM’s addresses during his recent visits to the state revolved around the theme, i.e., family rule and corruption.
The PM’s statements were followed by the CBI, I-T department, and ED raids. But these spurred an unexpected backlash when the I-T descended on the houses and colleges of state Labour Minister Chemakura Malla Reddy and his relatives between November 22 and November 25. There was fierce resistance to the raids, and TRS workers staged a dharna.
Both parties filed complaints of manhandling and obstructing a public servant from discharging his duties against each other. While I-T officials filed a case against Malla Reddy alleging that the laptop of the department’s deputy director Ratnakar was stolen to delete the evidence they collected, Malla Reddy alleged that his son was beaten up and his signature was taken under duress.
Malla Reddy, who owns several medical and engineering colleges, said hundreds of CRPF personnel were deployed to terrorise his family members during the raid. His son suffered chest pain and was rushed to hospital, he added. The I-T officials’ complaint was that Reddy’s institutes had illegally collected huge sums as fees and evaded tax running into hundreds of crores.
More surprises in store?
Around the same time, the SIT delivered a blow to the BJP, naming Santosh as an accused in the scandal.
Summons were issued to Santosh along with two others, asking them to appear before the SIT. Though the Telangana High Court stayed the summons till December 5, 2022, TRS sources claim more surprises are in store, as the target of the SIT is to name BJP bigwigs in New Delhi as the accused, based on the call data of the brokers of the MLA bribing deal. While some did not rule out Santosh’s arrest, TRS circles fear more retaliatory raids on businessmen connected to the party.
The unexpected turn took place amid speculation that Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s daughter Kalvakuntla Kavitha, who is also an MLC, would be the next target of the CBI, as her name also cropped up in the Delhi liquor scam. But it has not happened. Instead, the rich businessmen of TRS are under the scanner of central agencies.
Cause of worry for TRS
“It is a source of worry among TRS leaders,” said a party leader who didn’t wish to be quoted. “A quarter of the TRS’s 104 MLAs are rich businessmen and industrialists engaged in sectors from mining to education to real estate. The way Malla Reddy’s houses were raided a few days after the PM’s statement came as a rude shock and sparked panic among many TRS leaders and their supporters,” he said.
Targeting the financial supporters of the party instead of KCR’s family members would intimidate them and even force them to distance themselves from the TRS, the leader added.
In June 2021, the ED conducted searches on the residences and offices of TRS MP Nama Nageswara Rao of Madhucon Group, which is also a promoter of Ranchi Expressway Ltd. Rao, a former TDP MP, chose to join TRS in March 2019, ahead of the Lok Sabha election. He won the Khammam Lok Sabha seat as the TRS candidate and became the party’s floor leader in the House. The raids were connected to an alleged bank fraud case to the tune of ₹1,064 crore.
Then, in the second week of November 2022 came the raids on offices of two granite exporters — BC Welfare Minister Gangula Kamalakar and Rajya Sabha MP Vaddiraju Ravichandra. These raids were immediately followed by high-profile searches conducted by the I-T department on the residence and offices of another minister, Malla Reddy.
According to the Congress senior vice-president Mallu Ravi, the BJP is pursuing a two-pronged strategy in Telangana to overcome the dearth of leaders in the party. The saffron party is on the lookout for rich leaders who could spend money in the next Assembly elections, and these raids are a political strategy, he said.
“On one hand, the BJP wants to demoralise Congress workers by luring leaders like Marri Shashidhar Reddy. On the other hand, it aims to intimidate rich business people by deploying the CBI, I-T, and ED. They hope that the raids would force them to join the BJP, as happened in Andhra Pradesh some time back,” said Ravi.
In Andhra Pradesh, scared of raids by the CBI, the I-T, and ED, four rich TDP Rajya Sabha members — including YS Chowdary, CM Ramesh, and TG Venkatesh — joined the BJP in 2019.
The BJP had launched a campaign of sorts against the alleged bank frauds by Chowdary. Party’s Rajya Sabha member GVL Narasimha Rao wrote a letter against them to RS Ethics Committee Chairman Narayan Lal Pancharia on November 28, 2018, describing Chowdary and Ramesh as “Andhra Mallyas.” The letter was written four days after I-T and ED officials raided the offices and residences of Chowdary, former Union minister and a close aide of TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu, on complaints of money-laundering and bank frauds.
In October 2018, I-T officials searched the houses of Ramesh in Hyderabad and Potladurthi, a village in Kadapa district.
Rao’s campaign ended abruptly after Chowdary and Ramesh joined the BJP along with two more Rajya Sabha MPs in June 2019. Nothing was heard about their financial offences from the I-T and ED officials afterwards.
Like Mallu Ravi, many observers opine that BJP might be expecting a similar result from Telangana as well following the raids on the businesses of TRS leaders before the 2023 Assembly elections.