Cash for vote: Chandrababu bruised, KCR wins Round 1

It is an opportunity that no political leader would ever miss to encash to its fullest potential. The sensational ‘Cash for Vote’ case that rocked the political establishments of two Telugu states is one such rare, once-in-a-lifetime chance for Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and he is using it to his full advantage.

The stage for the ultimate shock for the invincible Nara Chandrababu Naidu, was set when one of his Telangana unit member A Revanth Reddy was caught red-handed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Telangana while allegedly offering Rs 50 lakh to Elvis Stephenson, a nominated Anglo-Indian MLA of the TRS, a day before the Telangana Legislative Council elections.

For Naidu, who has weathered many political cyclones, the trapping of his MLA by the Telangana government and recording of his voice while seeking political favour from Stephenson was the beginning of an unending saga of nightmares. How can a politician of Naidu’s stature who once played a pivotal role in national politics, by supporting the NDA-I and bringing in ‘missile man’ APJ Abdul Kalam into Raisina Hill, miscalculate the fall out of such a misadventure? Or was it really a well calculated set up by his arch rival KCR to defame Naidu?

Either way, the credibility of Naidu took a severe beating following the incident. A day after a Telangana-based TV channel aired Revanth Reddy’s episode, Naidu looked pale at the Nava Nirmana Deeksha Programme in Vijayawada, while the people of the residual state who had pinned all their hopes on him looked numb.

Naidu and his TDP, who have been claiming a moral high ground by projecting Opposition’s Y S Jaganmohan Reddy as ‘god of corruption’, suddenly looked naked and vulnerable. The belief that the corruption-free image of Naidu will bring foreign investment to AP was nipped in bud.

The second wave of onslaught on Naidu’s credibility was in the form an audio recording in which a voice akin to that of Naidu’s could be heard asking Stephenson that all the promises made by his men will be honoured. Now, the State Forensic Laboratory (SFL) has been entrusted with the responsibility of finding out whether the tapes were doctored as claimed by the TDP. The SFL has already submitted its preliminary report on the veracity of these recordings to the ACB Special Court.

The ruling TRS has no doubt triggered a chain reaction by admitting TDP’s Kukatpally Legislator Madhavaram Krishna Rao, by almost kidnapping him days before the MLC elections. KCR, who has announced that at least two TDP MLAs are ready to join the TRS, oversaw the transition. He needed more MLAs so that his party could win a fifth MLC seat even though he has numbers to compete for only four MLCs.

Chandrababu retaliates

This might have prompted Naidu to unleash a retaliation by using Revant Reddy’s connection with Stephenson, the unsuspecting and less known TRS legislator who was unmindful of the consequences. In fact, KCR nominated the Anglo-Indian to save him from the brink of a financial meltdofiledmade by Jerusalem Mattiah, an accused in the Cash for Vote case, KCR charged Rs 1 crore to nominate him ignoring many other prominent Anglo-Indians in Telangana. Stephenson, who owns an electronic goods manufacturing unit, is said to have been in dire straits before KCR saved him.

Going by the allegations of Naidu and his TDP that their phones were illegally tapped by the vengeful Telangana government, the TRS government is also capable of listening to the conversations of its own legislators who are vulnerable to the lust for lucre.

It is said that the TRS boss caught Stephenson bargaining with accused number one Revanth in a recorded conversation and confronted him. Mattiah, who was under the protection of AP police, said that a cornered Stephenson then agreed to trap Revanth and help the ACB to nail Naidu, the ultimate catch.

However, what KCR failed to predict is the ability of the TDP leader to wriggle out of the mess in a rebound. While KCR certainly emerged as a winner during Round 1 by nailing his opponent, Naidu has successfully diverted the real issue of corruption. He painted it into an issue of safety and liberty of people of AP living in Telangana, and particularly in Hyderabad.

While Revanth Reddy is considered as a martyr in the fight with the TRS, Naidu evoked enough passion in the minds of the “settlers” (people from AP) that the TRS is now worried about polarising their votes in the ensuing Greater Hyderabad Municipal Commission elections.

The raging controversy over the implementation of Section 8 of AP Bifurcation Act 2014 on the powers to the governor in the common capital has taken over the contentious issues of cash for vote, the source of the cash and the alleged phone call from the AP CM to the TRS MLA.

The law will take its course and the courts will decide who the real culprit is but Naidu owes an explanation to his people whether it was his voice and whether he had authorised Revanth to offer Rs 5 crore to Stephenson.

It is said that there are many technical lacunae in the ACB’s case and Revanth would go scot-free. He might one day even become the TDP’s aggressive face in Telangana. He boasted in one of the recorded conversations with Stephenson that Naidu had chosen him to play the “Reddy” card in Telangana to regain the lost glory. As they say, may be anything is possible in politics.

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