The ghost of the cash-for-vote scam seems set to come back to haunt former Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, as YSRCP legislator for Mangalagiri, Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking an early hearing in the case. The cash-for-vote scam pertains to the alleged role of the TDP and the attempts of several of then TDP leaders to buy votes in the 2015 Telangana Legislative Council elections. The Supreme Court, as per its own order, was to hear the case this year in February but the case has, since then, not been listed for hearing.
Speaking to TNM, one of the lawyers arguing the case for Ramakrishna Reddy, said, â€śWe do not know why the Supreme Court did not list the case for hearing in February. We went to all Supreme Court registrar officials many times since then, but they did not give any reason for not registering the case for hearing. They just kept saying that they would. We canâ€™t say if there was a political push to not list the case.â€ť
The TDP faced a big defeat in the Assembly elections earlier this year, winning just 23 seats and facing a 36% drop in vote share. Things have not looked for Chandrababu Naidu as well, as he also faced some defections of leaders.
The charges Naidu is facing
In May 2015, nominated MLA in the Telangana Assembly Elvis Stephenson lodged a complaint alleging that he was offered Rs 5 crore by the then TDP legislator A Revanth Reddy to vote for the TDP nominee in the election to the Telangana Legislative Council on June 1, 2015. Elvis was nominated again as an MLC by the TRS government this year.
On May 31, 2015, the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested three people, including Revanth Reddy, for allegedly handing over an advance sum of Rs 50 lakh.
In the investigation that followed, a chargesheet filed by the ACB on July 28, 2015, mentioned TDP chief Naidu's name, but not as an accused. It was noted that the trio had allegedly attempted to settle the deal with Stephenson for Rs 5 crore.
An audiotape of Naidu's purported phone conversation with Stephenson on May 30, 2015, had also found its way to the media.
Naidu, in return, had accused the TRS Government of illegally tapping phones, as the audio was first broadcast on T News, a media outlet owned by the TRS.
The Hyderabad High Court then let off Revanth Reddy and the two others involved for the lack of substantial evidence. Efforts to reinvestigate the case by the Telangana ACB were quashed and the court in 2017 declared that the petitioner, Ramakrishna Reddy, had no locus standi on the case. Reddy then challenged this in the Supreme Court in November 2018, which had adjourned the case to February 2019.
â€śBut the case never came up for hearing,â€ť said the lawyer. â€śThere was one more petition filed seeking the cash-for-vote case to be investigated by the CBI because then the Andhra Pradesh government and the TRS colluded. Those petitions were quashed,â€ť alleged the lawyer.
In his petition, Ramakrishna Reddy had stated, â€śIt is just and necessary that the criminal appeal is heard at an early date along with the writ petition, otherwise the accused persons would influence the state police and destroy the evidence available against them.â€ť
Vengayam Bala, the high court lawyer who fought the case for Ramakrishna Reddy in the Hyderabad High Court, told TNM, â€śWe expect the case to be heard sometime in December itself.â€ť
The road ahead for Naidu
A lot has changed for the TDP in the past two years. The Telangana TDP wing has now become a non-player in Telanganaâ€™s state politics. The party has just one legislator in the Telangana Assembly and had abstained from urban local body elections.
Revanth Reddy, one of TDP's key leaders in Telangana, jumped ship in 2018 and joined the Telangana Congress, to later become their Working President. In February this year, he got a knock on the door from the Enforcement Directorate, who questioned him for two days over Naiduâ€™s alleged role in the cash-for-vote scam. Revanth had then accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Telangana CM KCR for targeting him and Naidu in the case.
With one of the Telugu states now out of his grasp and with his political grip loosening in his home state, Chandrababu Naidu, in recent weeks, has been making attempts to repair his relations with his former NDA allies â€” the BJP and the Jana Sena. However, the YSRCP seems to be adamant in their efforts to make sure that the case against Naidu remains in the spotlight.