N Nagaraja Rao
In the midst of the electioneering, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy was summoned for interrogation by CBI, and YSR Congress is contesting in 17 Assembly constituencies and one Lok Sabha constituency that will vote in June.
Reddy was questioned for three consecutive days and that his answers to certain investments made by a few companies to Sakshi Television and Jagathi publications, owned by him, were not convincing said CBI. “Some routing of funds have been detected from tax havens like Mauritius and Isle of Mann, indicating that there were quid pro quo investments in his TV channel and publication by some companies which were given land in the much sought after Andhra Pradesh Industrial Development Park,” the CBI officials were quoted as saying. Thus after three days interrogations he was arrested and sent to 14 days judicial custody till June 11 in connection with the disproportionate assets case. Soon after his arrest, his mother Vijayamma, a legislator along with her daughter and daughter-in-law (Jagan’s wife) sat in dharna at the guest house where CBI was courting Jagan after arresting him. They were physically lifted and dropped at their residence by the Police forcibly. A bandh call was given and its leaders were kept under house arrest.
Many leaders who were in the thick and thin of election campaigning were forced to remain indoors. YSR Congress leaders appealed to the State Election Commission to intervene in larger interest of democracy and free and fair by-elections of June 12. Jagan was arrested in a most undemocratically way on May 5, just 15 days before the by-elections as part of a larger conspiracy to deprive his participation in the elections with the sole objective of helping the ruling Congress candidates, YSR Congress alleged. Political commentators say Reddy’s arrest and an emotive appeal from his mother might just turn into an electoral advantage for him in the by-elections.
According to the CBI, the modus operandi of Jagan—fully backed by his now deceased father, chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy—was simple. Allocate huge tracts of valuable land (taking advantage of the liberal policies of the government of India, which was promoting SEZs as a panacea for rapid industrial growth) to companies of all sizes and pedigrees, and in return get them to invest in his ventures. The quid pro quo was not direct; sometimes it was through numerous channels. Bureaucrats and plaint officers too played havoc during the regime of late Rajasekhar Reddy who did the actual paperwork and signed on the files allowing a patently unfair deals. Ministers also cooperated. Mopidevi Venkataramana, until a few days ago Andhra Pradesh’s excise minister and now in jail for allegedly permitting shady deals that led to allocation of a staggering 24,000 acres of land to a company in 2008 when he was minister-in-charge of investments, has said that he knew nothing about the deal and that he was called to the CM’s office and told by an all-powerful officer to affix his signature, because YSR had wanted it. Needless to say, the ministers and the secretaries also made their own deals on the side.
After the arrest of two senior IAS officers and two more were named in chargesheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the State’s top bureaucracy is protesting that they are being made answerable whereas the ministers and the Cabinet is let off and not held responsible. “The business rules say the minister is primarily responsible for the working of the department. It does not say the secretary is responsible. Whatever the scams in the mining or industries department, the entire Cabinet is responsible. We are asking why only the officers are being made answerable,” commented a bureaucrat. With the IAS taking on the ministers and the political establishment, the high-profile CBI probes have virtually opened a pandora’s box in the State.
The point to note is that in all these dealings, Jagan was nowhere in sight. Neither did he talked to any officer nor did he directly gave any instructions. Three chargesheets have been filed and three more are expected – all stating he was the beneficiary of all these moves. This was because when he set up media companies to bring out a newspaper, a TV station, the people who invested in the equity were none other than those who had benefitted from these patently unfair deals with the State government . There are also investments from companies in Mauritius whose ownership has not been properly established. CBI has also stumbled upon dozens of paper companies with headquarters in places as far afield as Howrah and Rajkot that invested in Jagan’s companies.CBI has charged Jagan under Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating), 409 (criminal breach of trust) and 477A (falsification of accounts) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Investments to the tune of Rs 1,234 crore have been made in his (Jagan’s) companies and he himself got enriched by Rs 300 crore.
Now, as the State heads for by-elections to one Lok Sabha and 18 Assembly seats on June 12, the YSR Congress is the clear favourite to win the elections, which could spell doom for the Congress government. Independent poll surveys have stated that the YSR Congress are miles ahead of its rivals and sure to win hands down. Now the moot question is about the timing of the arrest. Was CBI used as a tool to browbeat him into submission or to confine him such that the YSR Congress cadres get discredited? The punch line often repeated by the Congress spokesperson is that the law is taking its own course, but then there are still many powerful ministers in the present Cabinet who were part of decision making then and why were they not arrested? The present Home Minister was then the mining minister, while the bureaucrat is jailed the minister goes scot free.