Chandrababu Naidu, Purandeswari and Jagan
Chandrababu Naidu, Purandeswari and Jagan

Shrimp feed, cocaine and AP politics: The latest battle between TDP, BJP and YSRCP

After the CBI allegedly found drugs mixed with fish feed material in a ship that came to Vizag from Brazil, TDP and YSRCP are competing to establish their rivals’ links with the accused seafood company.

A cargo ship from Brazil carrying 25 tonnes of a pale yellow powder reached one of India’s biggest ports, Visakhapatnam, on March 16. The powder was supposed to be inactive dried yeast, a raw material used in making shrimp feed. But Interpol had tipped off the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) about the consignment, and after inspecting some of the packages, CBI says it found the yeast to be just a diluent, possibly mixed with drugs like cocaine. 

A seafood company called Sandhya Aqua Exports Private Limited, to whom the consignment was shipped, is now in the eye of a political storm. With Assembly and Lok Sabha polls fast approaching in Andhra Pradesh, the ruling YSR Congress Party, and the allies in the Opposition, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are at each others’ throats, throwing around allegations that their rivals are somehow connected to the drug bust. 

The scale of the alleged drug bust is yet to become clear. The consignment had 1000 bags, each with 25 kg of yeast, but the CBI hasn’t declared what portion of this had narcotic substances. When it tested some of the bags for cocaine/methaqualone on March 19, the result was positive. CBI then seized the consignment and registered a case against Sandhya Aqua. Here’s a look at the many accusations of political links flying around since then. 

YSRCP’s Brazil connection?

When the news of the drug bust surfaced on March 21, the TDP was quick to share a portion of the CBI’s FIR, where it said that state government officials and employees of Visakhapatnam Port Authority gathered at the site and caused a delay in the proceedings. This, TDP chief and former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu said, “suggests complicity” of the ruling party. He also questioned the timing of a big drug consignment arriving in Andhra weeks before elections. 

Then came more specific allegations, about YSRCP’s links to Sandhya Aqua. 

TDP’s national spokesperson K Pattabhi Ram, revealed that the company’s Managing Director, Kunam Veerabhadra Rao, is the brother of a YSRCP member, Kunam Poornachandra Rao. He held up photos of a political banner put up in the MD’s native village in Santhanuthalapadu Assembly constituency, featuring Veerabhadra Rao along with several prominent YSRCP leaders including local YSRCP MLA TJR Sudhakar Babu. 

Pattabhi also showed a photograph of the MD’s brother Poornachandra Rao standing next to Rajya Sabha MP and CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s close aide Vijayasai Reddy, who is set to contest for the Nellore Lok Sabha seat. 

Once the link to Vijayasai Reddy was made, Pattabhi brought up an old tweet from 2022, in which the MP congratulated the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, on winning the election. Pattabhi questioned Vijayasai Reddy’s interest in Brazil, insinuating that he was involved in illegal activities related to the country where the drug shipment arrived from. 

Responding to these allegations, Poornachandra Rao told Sakshi TV, a channel owned by CM Jagan’s family, that he didn’t know Vijayasai Reddy personally, and that he only happened to take a photo with him while touring the Santhanuthalapadu constituency with the local MLA. “I am a party member but I don’t have anything to do with my brother’s business,” he claimed. 

Meanwhile, Visakhapatnam Commissioner of Police A Ravi Shankar denied the allegations that the local police delayed the CBI’s investigation. “The term ‘causing delay’ is creating unnecessary confusion. The terminology used in the report is technical, not an accusation of interference. No government officials from Visakhapatnam were involved in the operation,” Ravishankar told the media on March 22.

TDP, BJP, shrimp feed, and cocaine

YSRCP too has tried to connect the degrees of separation between Sandhya Aqua and its political rivals. For starters, party general secretary Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy alleged that TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, and BJP state president D Purandeswari (who is also Naidu’s sister-in-law) had connections with Sandhya Aqua. Purandeswari's son Hitesh is part of a company connected to Sandhya Aqua, he alleged, but did not specify what this link was. 

The link that YSRCP’s mouthpiece Sakshi has tried to establish is between Hitesh and Sandhya Marines, not Sandhya Aqua. Sandhya Marines is also a Vizag-based seafood company, and Sakshi has claimed that these two are related. Purandeshwari’s son Hitesh is a Director of Sandhya Marines’ subsidiary, Aquatica Frozen Foods Global Private Limited. Incidentally, Hitesh had joined YSRCP in 2019, but quit active politics in 2023

YSRCP has also tried to connect Sandhya Aqua MD’s son, Kunam Kotaiah Chowdary, to TDP. The party is circulating photographs of Kotaiah with Lavu Sri Krishnadevaraya, a former YSRCP MP who left his parliamentary post and recently switched to the TDP. Krishnadevaraya has refuted any links. Another photo YSRCP is sharing shows Sandhya Aqua’s Kotaiah with Damacharla Satya, TDP’s state organising secretary. 

Another link YSRCP has tried to establish is between Sandhya Aqua’s MD Kunam Veerabhadra Rao, and former minister and TDP leader Alapati Rajendra Prasad. The party has shared a document with claims that Veerabhadra Rao has provided surety for Alapati’s bank loans amounting to Rs 14 crore. 

Alluding to the fact that the directors of Sandhya Aqua are from the Kamma community (who largely support TDP and its Kamma leader Naidu), YSRCP leader Perni Nani said that had they been Reddys or Kapus, TDP would have attacked CM Jagan (a Reddy) and Perni Nani (a Kapu), even more vehemently.

BJP has blamed the state government for the import of drugs and condemned the allegations against Purandeswari. 

What Sandhya Aqua says 

Sandhya Aqua has claimed that this was the first time the company had bought inactive dried yeast from ICC Brazil, an animal nutrition company, as a trial run. The consignment was certified by Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply before being shipped from Santos Port, Brazil to Visakhapatnam Port via Germany’s Hamburg Port. It was Interpol officers from Germany who informed CBI about the drugs. 

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