Did Chandrababu Naidu And KCR Bury Hatchet to Save Each Other?
File photo of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao (R) and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart Chandrababu Naidu (L).
New Delhi: Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart Chandrababu Naidu have a history of bitter political rivalry. But events over the past few months raise questions whether the two bitter rivals are coming together.
It began with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) special court in Hyderabad directing the Telangana police to re-investigate the case of Telangana TDP MLA Revanth Reddy’s ‘Cash for Vote’ scam of June 2015. It also ordered the ACB to submit its report by September 29.
The “forgotten” scam returned to haunt Naidu. His Telangana counterpart KCR was baying for Naidu’s blood just a year ago and people were expecting him to swing into action armed with the court order to “fix” Naidu whom he derisively called an “outsider” with no business to be in Hyderabad. But he remained silent sending out confusing signals across political circles in both the states.
He followed that up a week later when he transferred his trusted intelligence chief and top police officer B Shiva Dhar Reddy to an insignificant post at the state police headquarters. A promotee IPS officer, V Naveen Chand, was made the new chief of state intelligence.
According to inner circle members of KCR, the officer's transfer was not as routine and regular as the government maintained it was. Shiva Dhar played an important role in tapping the alleged telephonic conversations between Naidu and TRS nominated Anglo-Indian MLA Elvis Stephenson who was allegedly offered Rs 5 crore to vote for a TDP candidate in the MLC elections. Stephenson played along and helped his party to catch the alleged bribe giver, Revanth, who the TRS believed was working at the behest of Naidu.
After this incident, KCR had thundered that he was not going to spare Naidu and they were at each other’s throats, hurling abuses and making allegations. The already strained relationship between KCR and Naidu worsened and they had even stopped talking to each other. With Revanth being sent to jail, Naidu seemed cornered. Sensing an opportunity, his main opponent in the state, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, started moving closer to KCR. But by August 2015, everything went quiet and KCR completely stopped talking about the high profile case.
According to a private complainant in the case, YSRCP MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy’s advocate, the investigation slowed and stopped completely after a certain point as the role of Naidu emerged. “The investigating agency wanted to protect the accused for reasons best known to itself, despite the fact that the voice sample it had of the accused matched with that of Naidu. The forensic lab confirmed that the voice in the telephonic conversation was Naidu’s,” he said.
The ACB officials had categorically stated that the voice recorded in the alleged telephonic conversation between Naidu and Elvis Stephenson during the course of the investigation matched with the voice samples of Andhra Pradesh chief minister. According to some IPS officers, Shiv Dhar was transferred to save Naidu. His successor Chand was considered close Naidu before the state was bifurcated in 2014. He is also the son-in-law of one of KCR’s closest friends and Rajya Sabha member Captain Lakshmikantha Rao. Instead of reopening the case and taking Naidu’s voice samples the ACB is now trying to hush-up the case, the Congress has alleged.
An Alliance On The Cards?
According to political observers in Hyderabad, KCR and Naidu have now buried the hatchet and are no longer interested in an open war with each other. They said that a fight between the two actually benefits their opponents and after realising it, they decided to call a truce.
Besides political interests, there are also many other considerations. To the surprise of everyone. Naidu had invited KCR to the foundation laying ceremony of the new AP capital Amaravati last year. KCR had accepted it and shared the dais with Naidu and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the ceremony. After two months, KCR reciprocated the gesture by inviting Naidu to his native district, Medak, to participate in a huge Yagna – Ayutha Chandi Yaaga – which Naidu attended.
Then, both of them came to New Delhi to hold a joint meeting with the Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti to discuss Krishna water sharing between two states. They displayed a rare bonhomie at that meeting. An IAS officer who was present in the same meeting said, “Both KCR and Naidu displayed statesmanship. They spoke like highly mature leaders. I was surprised to see that after witnessing the drama during the Telangana agitation and even after that.”
It is a well-known that the rivalry between the two leaders played a big part in the founding of the TRS in 2000 which led the agitation for a creation of Telangana as a separate state. KCR was a follower of Naidu’s father-in-law and the TDP founder, the late N T Rama Rao. But he left the party after he was denied a Cabinet berth and made the deputy Speaker of the Assembly in 1999. He had vowed to break up AP to take revenge on Naidu whom he described as a betrayer and a megalomaniac.
Bound Together By Common Interests
Political parties, who are in the Opposition, allege that both of the leaders have joined hands to finish them and protect each other’s business interests. They claim that Naidu has huge commercial interests in and around Hyderabad – Secunderabad and he does not want KCR to trouble them. Sources said that a mentor of Naidu, an old and highly influential business tycoon, has played the role of a mediator to bring them together. This businessman has properties worth tens of thousands of crores in Telangana and he has also patched up with KCR after some initial fight.
Senior Telangana Congress MLA and former minister D K Aruna said that KCR and Naidu had been fooling the people for a long time. Speaking to News18, she said, “They have common political interests. KCR wants to use Naidu to take on Reddys in Telangana. Naidu is worried that Jaganmohan Reddy might get stronger in Telangana. He thinks that helping KCR is always better for him because he is their common rival. They also have so many other interests. Because of that both are keeping quiet on telephone tapping and cash for vote (sic).”
Dismissing these charges, senior TDP leader and former AP home minister Dr. Mysoora Reddy said, “AP and Telangana share a lot of resources. We have common assets and common interests. There is no point in KCR and Naidu trading charges against each other on a daily basis. Whatever has happened has happened. That’s now past. They want to look forward and behave like true leaders in the larger interests of AP and Telangana”.
Downplaying this new-found bonhomie, Naidu told media that as chief minister of AP, his relationship with neighbouring state chief minister KCR would continue. He said, “Though we cooperate on issues being chief ministers, politically we continue to be adversaries.”
Telangana Health Minister Laxma Reddy dismissed reports of bonhomie. He even accuses Naidu of trying to stall irrigation projects in Telangana.
A Political Truce
According to the political analysts, political realities in both Telangana and AP have also played a big role in bringing them together. Naidu is engaged in a big fight with his arch rival Jaganmohan in AP. He does not want an angry KCR to throw his weight behind Jagan to unseat Naidu. At the same time, KCR also needs Naidu in Telangana to keep BJP, Congress and YSRCP out of power. Even though YSRCP is not currently focusing on Telangana, if it comes to power in AP it will be in a position to mount a challenge.
The caste calculations in Telangana also favour the YSRCP as the Reddy community is dominant there. Being a Velama whose population is very small, KCR has to keep Reddys happy to stay in power. It can happen only if the YSRCP stays away. KCR knows that Jagan is a bigger threat than Naidu in the long run.
To this end, the TDP can divide the anti TRS votes, helping KCR to stay in power. Besides TDP, there are four other big players – Congress, BJP, MIM and YSRCP. The Communists also have some influence left in certain districts. A multi-corner contest with some help from TDP is likely to benefit TRS.
High level sources also said that KCR, who almost decimated MIM in Hyderabad – Secundarabad municipal elections, has now reportedly decided to go slow on the party. He reportedly told top leaders that MIM could eat into TRS’s Muslim votes in 30-35 assembly seats across Telangana and it would be wiser to not to disturb the Owaisi brothers-led party for just seven seats in the state capital.
According to some top level TDP sources, Naidu has asked his party unit in Telangana to take on the KCR government at a closed door meeting a week ago. He told them he would also hold a monthly brainstorming session with them in Hyderabad. “During our regime in the erstwhile united AP, we kept Hyderabad city on the global map by developing infrastructure. But now, the city’s infrastructure is being neglected by the TRS government. Pathetic condition of roads in the city is a classic example for this,” Naidu was quoted saying in the media. When contacted, TDP leaders refused to confirm it, saying that internal meetings can’t be discussed in public.
TDP MLA Revanth and others were caught-red handed while offering a bribe of Rs 50 lakh to nominated MLA Elvis Stephenson as advance of a total Rs 5 crore promised to him in return for support to a party candidate in MLC elections.
Stephenson, who represents the Anglo-Indians in the Telangana Assembly, had lodged a complaint with the police stating that an individual called Mithiyas Jerusalam had approached him and offered Rs 2 crore and an air ticket to leave the country or vote in favour of the TDP in the MLC elections. On May 31, 2015, the ACB officials had registered cases against Revanth, Bishop Harry Sebastian, Pastor Rudra Udayasimha and Jerusalam.