Has Naidu’s tech fixation come to haunt him?

The curious case of addition and deletion of votes with the help of the Telugu Desam Party app ‘Seva Mitra’ has rocked both the Telugu states. A case of cybercrime reported by the YSR Congress Party has been investigated by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Telangana police. In retaliation, Andhra’s Chandrababu Naidu government slapped a similar case against Telangana for stealing its data. 

This is the second time that YSR Congress Party has filed a police case in Telangana for a crime committed in Andhra, saying that it has no belief in Andhra police after an airport staffer tried to stab its leader Y S Jaganmohan Reddy with a knife at the Visakhapatnam airport. “If an Andhra man commits a crime in Hyderabad, where do you file the case, in Andhra or Hyderabad,” Jagan shot back at a scribe in front of Rajbhavan after he, along with party leaders, met Governor ESL Narasimhan. But he did not explain why he filed a case in Hyderabad against an attacker who committed a crime in Visakhapatnam.

Naidu’s obsession

Chief Minister and TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu was instrumental in bringing the information technology industry and e-governance to the undivided Andhra Pradesh during the early 2000s. Naidu returned to Hyderabad during the 2018 Telangana assembly elections and campaigned in the IT hub, hoping to revive the fortunes of his party in the state.

The TDP won only two seats as the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) succeeded in igniting the Telangana sentiment among the general public one more time. “What Naidu forgot is that the common man in Telangana still considers him as enemy of the Telangana people and the hurt feeling and the wounds are still fresh,” a senior Congress leader observed.

Naidu, however, has some unfinished business in Hyderabad as the division of tangible assets between Telangana and Andhra is yet to take place. The main data centre of the Andhra government still runs from Telangana. Many IT firms, including the IT-Grids (India) Pvt Ltd, which is in the thick of the data theft case, operates in Madhapur area of the city’s IT hub. In fact, the very IT ecosystem that Naidu created makes Hyderabad a preferred destination for work related to Big Data. This explains why he was careless in handing over his state’s data into the hands of a firm that is located in the geographical area and jurisdiction of Telangana.

Political analysts are saying “we told you so” as Naidu’s belief in technology has proved wrong in this instance. Naidu looks vulnerable as word of missing voters in lakhs has gone deep into the psych of the voters in the state. Naidu will have to answer now whether he actually used his favourite weapon against the people or was it the “return gift” that TRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had promised in return for Naidu’s alleged meddling in Telangana politics. 

Telangana police raided the offices of IT Grids and confiscated hard disks and laptops containing data of voters of Andhra Pradesh. The complaint was that the firm had data of 3.5 crore voters of Andhra along with the master Aadhaar data with colour photographs and bank account details. The police then allegedly picked up four staffers when the firm’s director D Ashok went missing.

The Cyberabad police commissioner said at a press conference that a “key person” in TDP is the person who is behind the illegal transfer of voter data from a Visakhapatnam-based IT firm ‘Blue Frog’, with which the Andhra government has a contract, to IT Grids in Hyderabad. Cyberabad police believe that the TDP was able to delete or add voters on the Election Commission’s voters list with the help of the app created by IT Grids.

The police explained the alleged modus operandi: “TDP workers contact voters and find out their preference. If someone is against the TDP, their vote is deleted. If someone is pro-TDP, then one more vote in his or her name is added. This way, they have added 59 lakh votes”.

No data theft, says EC

While the political parties were fighting about the missing votes, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Andhra Gopala Krishna Dwivedi has ruled out theft of information of 3.5 crore voters from its servers by any entity and said that anyone can access and use the information as the data is in the public domain. He said that only 4,000 votes were deleted through official Form 7 applications. He said the Election Commission had nothing to do with the politics surrounding the data theft issue.

Meanwhile, YSRCP chief Jaganmohan Reddy seems to have scored a self-goal by agreeing that his party filed lakhs of Form 7 applications for review of bogus votes allegedly added by the TDP. The Andhra government constituted an SIT to look into the YSRCP’s action to get voters deleted.

The Naidu government also constituted another SIT to look into alleged data theft by the Telangana government. The allegation is that data pertaining to TDP’s booth level functionaries has been stolen by Telangana police and handed over to YSRCP. The TDP has come out with audio recordings of several phone calls allegedly made from YSRCP’s Lotus Pond headquarters asking TDP activists to come and join their party.

While both the state governments have locked themselves in battle, it is difficult to separate the truth from the lies unless the Election Commission of India, the repository of voters lists, opens up and clarifies whether it is possible for anyone to enter into its database and delete or add voters without its knowledge.

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Has Naidu’s tech fixation come to haunt him?

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