Leaked recordings in cash-for-vote case hits CM Chandrababu Naidu where it hurts the most
Just hours before grand celebrations to mark his first anniversary in office, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu finds himself in a political quagmire after the emergence of recordings that embroil the Telugu Desam Party in a cash-for-vote case in which saw a TDP legislator being arrested on Sunday.
The leakage of audio tapes consisting of a purported conversation between Naidu and nominated Anglo-Indian MLA in Telangana Assembly Elvis Stephenson came as a bombshell to the TDP and added a new twist to the cash-for-vote controversy in which a TDP MLA in Telangana A Revanth Reddy was arrested and is being questioned by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
This is the first time in the history of independent India that the audio tapes of an alleged conversation of a Chief Minister over a “shady deal” surfaced.
Even if the charge by the TDP that the TRS Government had tried to pull a fast one on Chandrababu Naidu were to be believed, it surely asphyxiated the power corridors in the neighbouring State.
The timing of the leak of the audio tape in T-News channel, backed by the family of the Telangana Chief Minister KCR, irked not only the Chief Minister, but the entire administration. Especially, at a time when Naidu would be addressing a massive rally at the same venue where his government was sworn-in to administer a “oath of affirmation” (maha sankalpa deeksha).
The audio tapes indicate that a mediator from Naidu’s office has called up Stephenson and set UP the conversation between the Chief Minister and the legislator; and Chandrababu Naidu has assured the MLA that he would honour the commitments given by his envoys, who had already briefed him. The flow of assurances included: “Our people briefed me. I am with you. Don’t bother. What all they spoke (I) will honor. You can freely decide. That is our commitment. We will work together.”
Even as the Telangana formation “festivities” climaxed with the leak of tapes. The T News channel, which was airing the Telangana formation festivities live from the historical Tank Bund, in which Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, and Governor ESL Narasimhan, were taking part, suddenly stopped that and aired the “breaking news” of audio tapes. No sooner had the T News “broke” (or ‘leaked’) the news, than the other Telugu TV channels picked it up.
Soon after the festivities, KCR was closeted with the Governor. In fact, KCR met the Governor, who will be visiting New Delhi on Tuesday, twice on Sunday on this issue.
Meanwhile, Chandrababu Naidu, who also proposed to go to Delhi on Tuesday, went into a huddle late on Sunday with senior police officials and some confidantes and discussed the matter threadbare on what stand to take.
Media Advisor to AP Government Parakala Prabhakar, who is also the husband of Union Minister Nirmala Seetharaman, emerged out of the meeting late in the night and strongly condemned the way the TRS Government was trying to portray the AP Chief Minister in a shabby manner, maligning him.
Prabhakar rubbished the content of the audio tapes. He claimed that the voice in the audio tapes was not that of Chandrababu Naidu. He also said that the tapes were leaked out by T New Channel and sought to know their source. He asserted that “we will not be kowtowed” by such “cheap tricks”.
Prabhakar’s vociferous assertion that the AP Government was not going to take it lying down and that it was going to “see its end and delve the depths of the conspiracy” and it would take all necessary steps “legally, statutorily, constitutionally and politically” in this issue through which the TRS Government sought to tarnish the image of the Chief Minister of AP.
He sought to know when the evidence in the cash-for-vote was deposited in the court of law, how come the tapes were leaked out? Prabhakar said that the tapes were doctored and the edited bits and pieces of Naidu’s utterances were clubbed together and released as part of executing a plan with the malicious intention of affecting the morale of the Government and also the people of Andhra Pradesh.
However, several questions over the incoherent observations of Prabhakar were raised by the detractors of the TDP. If the voice in the tapes was not that of Naidu, how does Prabhakar buttress the argument that the bits and pieces of the Chief Minister’s voice were glued together in editing? Why did he have to say that tapping of the phone of AP Chief Minister by Telangana Government was illegal? Why has he been seeking the source? The Andhra Pradesh Government’s exception to the tapping of mobile phones of the Chief Minister, several top leaders and bureaucrats came under question now saying that “the evidence produced by the voice recording in the phone of the Anglo-Indian MLA doesn’t amount to tapping of another State’s Chief Minister.”
Some TDP leaders argued that there is nothing wrong with what Naidu said in the tapes; that the recording of voice was in contravention of the Indian Telegraph Act; why were the tapes were not submitted to the court; and that the “ongoing” issue of Telangana TDP MLA Revanth Reddy was sub judice — but all these arguments only weakened them further. Prabhakar tried to depict that the controversy was kicked off by the observation of Telangana Home Minister N Narasimha Reddy that the ACB had collected audio and video tapes of conversations in the cash-for-vote scam, by trying to camouflage the fact that the trigger was the visit of Revanth Reddy to the Anglo-India MLA and paying an “advance” of Rs 50 lakhs in cash.
Interestingly, KCR’s son and IT Minister of Telangana Government K T Rama Rao tweeted: “No matter how hard CBN (meaning Chandrababu Naidu) & his cronies try, (the) issue at hand is corrupt practice of TDP & its president. Issue is NOT between Telangana & AP.”
Referring to another audio-tape, involving KTR’s role that was aired by ABN Andhra Jyothy channel, which is very close to Chandrababu Naidu, KTR tweeted: “If CBN has the guts, I dare him to accept my challenge: I am willing to take a lie-detector test live on TV. Are you ready for one?”
Meanwhile, everyone missed the emphatic assertion by KCR in an interview given to Economic Times on the first anniversary of Telangana formation, that “in the transcription of the video footage carried by local newspapers here, the MLA said that his “boss” ordered him to pay the bribe. Who is this boss? Not just boss, he [the MLA who was arrested later] mentioned Chandrababu Naidu at least five times in the video.”
This is the first statement by KCR on this raging controversy. Doesn’t this speak volumes?