Vandalism of the TDP’s headquarters at Mangalagiri has sparked off a row in Andhra Pradesh, with the opposition party alleging that there is concerted police action at the behest of YSRCP.

Andhra Pradesh CM Jagan, DGP Gautam Sawang and Leader of Opposition Chandrababu Naidu
news Politics Friday, November 12, 2021 - 12:42

It was around 6.30 pm on October 19. Large groups of men, believed to be YSRCP supporters, began swarming the head office of the TDP — the chief opposition political party in Andhra Pradesh — in Mangalagiri. Over the next few minutes, the mob raised slogans and pelted stones at the office, breaking several glass panes. Parallelly, groups also gathered outside the residence of TDP spokesperson K Pattabhi Ram and vandalised his house in Vijayawada. These groups of agitators had taken offence to remarks made by Pattabhi just hours earlier, in which he had used profanity against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy while addressing the media. 

The same evening, allegedly after the crowd dispersed, TDP General Secretary Nara Lokesh, who is also opposition leader N Chandrababu Naidu’s son, arrived at the locus of all the tension at the Mangalagiri headquarters. The next day, Guntur Urban police registered a case against several TDP leaders, including Lokesh, based on a complaint of a tribal police officer, Sakru Naik,who was at the TDP office during the attacks. Naik had alleged that Lokesh and the others had abused him with casteist slurs, physically assaulted him with the intent to kill him and confined him.

However, the charges against Lokesh, who was named the prime accused in the case, have since been dropped. Confirming this to TNM, Deputy Inspector General of Police (Technical Services) Pala Raju said that police investigation revealed that the claims were not true. Nara Lokesh said he reached the TDP headquarters only around 9 pm, while the events in the complaint were alleged to have happened before that. 

The incident set off a debate across the state, and police action in the aftermath of the vandalism have brought forth recurring allegations of the TDP that the ruling YSRCP has been using Andhra Pradesh police as a tool to curb any dissent from the opposition party. TDP alleged that there is concerted police action at the behest of YSRCP, mainly by registering cases against its leaders and supporters with irrelevant sections and overstated charges. 

TDP office vandalised | Image Courtesy: Twitter/Telugu Desam Party 

The TDP even formed a dashboard that features the cumulative details about all ‘false cases’ against its leaders and cadres. According to the dashboard, the Andhra Pradesh police have registered 297 cases against TDP cadre and leaders since the Jagan government came to power in May 2019. Out of the 297 cases, 86 cases are related to content posted on social media and 211 cases are related to other sections. Among the 86 social media cases, FIRs have been filed in only 61 cases, of which only in 42 cases the FIRs were uploaded. 

The aftermath of the attacks

Soon after the attacks on October 19, the police booked many TDP leaders, including Pattabhi, whose own house was also vandalised. Pattabhi was arrested on October 20 under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), and 505 (2) (statements conducing to public mischief). He was sent to judicial custody, and was granted bail by the Andhra Pradesh High Court only three days later. Television debates also turned the spotlight on Pattabhi’s contentious words against Jagan, on whether they were unparliamentary or an expletive. 

Meanwhile, it was only four days after the incident that the police arrested 16 persons for vandalising the TDP central office, and 18 people for attacking Pattabhi’s house. The political affiliations of these men have not been declared yet. 

Incidentally, Lokesh told TNM that CCTV footage from around 70 CCTV cameras at the TDP office showed the involvement of more men. “The police gave notices to only a few people. However, CCTV footage showed that around 124 men were involved in the attack. We also identified car numbers that the men had come in,” alleged Lokesh. He also alleged that one of the cars belonged to the wife of Devineni Avinash, a YSRCP leader from Vijayawada. 

Lokesh said that although all the video evidence has been handed over to the police, there has been no substantial development in the case. “The DGP is a sitting duck, acting as per his (Jagan’s) whims and fancies,” Lokesh alleged. 

He added that he has gone from not having a single police case against him before 2019 to being named in 11 FIRs as of November 5. “This is clearly an attempt to stifle the voices of the opposition simply because they (YSRCP) are scared,” he alleged. 

Meanwhile, the YSRCP has officially denied its involvement in the incident. CM Jagan has also seemingly justified the attacks as a “reaction from those who admire me and lost cool on hearing abusive language and misinformation being spread on television." 

When the Jagan government was criticised

In most cases involving social media posts where YSRCP leaders have been criticised by TDP leaders or cadres, or even the general public, the police have been registering cases under sections 153A and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code, according to advocate KM Krishna Reddy. He has appeared in the High Court on behalf of several TDP leaders and cadres. 

Sections 153A involves promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, while section 505(2) deals with statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes. 

In May 2020, the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Andhra Pradesh booked a 66-year-old woman named Ranganayaki Poonthota for sharing a Facebook post criticising the YSRCP government’s handling of the Vizag LG Polymers gas leak incident. The CID booked the woman under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy), sections 153A and 505(2). She was also booked under section 67 of the IT Act (punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form). 

Ranganayaki appeared to be a TDP supporter, and the CID accused her of posting “defamatory content against the government in a way that creates anxiety among people, and shared false information to stoke dissent among people.” The CID asked people to avoid posting “illegal, defamatory content against the government or government officials, thereby creating mistrust among people towards the government,” warning of legal consequences. 

Just a month prior, in April 2020, Guntur CID police had registered a similar case over a “fabricated” audio clip against CM Jagan, which was uploaded on the YouTube channel called TeluguOne. The complainant alleged that the news item was misleading the public and creating hatred for Jagan, his family, the YSRCP and the state government.

The case was challenged in the High Court. The court eventually pronounced its verdict in August 2020, which would go on to become a reference point in similar cases. 

In the judgment, the court observed that to constitute an offence under IPC section 505(2) — statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes — there must be two groups or classes belonging to two different castes, religions or communities etc., which was not the case in this instance. 

“Here, there are no two groups or classes and even Sri YS Jaganmohan Reddy and the government by itself cannot be construed as one group. In the absence of two groups, the question of commission of offence punishable under section 505 (2) of IPC does not arise,” the order said. 

The court also invoked past Supreme Court judgments, which said that a person who “has not done anything as against any religious, racial or linguistic or regional group or community cannot be held guilty of either the offence under section 153A or under section 505(2) of IPC.” The judgments have termed such cases “illegal, arbitrary and abuse of process of law.” 

Despite the court verdict, the Andhra police continued to employ this section. In September 2021, the East Godavari police booked a Vijayawada man named G Veera Venkanna for posting a comment on Whatsapp and Facebook against Jagan and a tribal woman and YSRCP MLA Nagulapalli Dhanalaxmi. The Andhra Pradesh High Court invoked the August 2020 judgment to stay Veera Venkanna’s arrest, noting that his actions did not constitute an offense under IPC sections 153A and 505(2). 

Alleged foisting of overstated, false cases

TDP leaders working closely with the party’s legal team said that these sections are often wrongly invoked by the state CID and police when TDP leaders and workers, and even the general public, criticise the government. TDP General Secretary Vijay Chintakayala said that since the August 2020 judgment in the TeluguOne case, the party lawyers have been invoking the verdict to secure the release of its workers who were arrested over social media posts. 

In another trend, advocate Krishna Reddy alleged that police have been registering “illegal” first information reports (FIRs) under section 107 (security for keeping the peace in other cases) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) against TDP cadres across the state. 

“The provisions of CrPC section 107 are only preventive. If there is reasonable suspicion that a person can disturb peace, he/she can only be asked to execute a bond by the Magistrate. Yet, such illegal FIRs have been registered across the state, in order to open a rowdy sheet against them, stating that section 107 proceedings are pending,” he alleged. 

In October, the High Court directed the DGP to instruct SHOs (Station House Officers) of all police stations that FIR cannot be registered for proceedings under sections 107 of the CrPC. The court was hearing a petition by Bandi Parasuramudu, a TDP worker from Anantapur district, to quash an FIR against him. The court observed that the FIR in question under section 107 CrPC was “ex facie illegal” and “clearly unsustainable under law.” 

In its order, the court mentioned that it had been coming across several cases where Andhra Pradesh were registering FIRs for proceedings related to CrPC sections 107 and 145 (a dispute concerning land or water is likely to cause breach of peace). The court also directed the DGP to instruct SHOs to stop this practice. 

However, speaking to TNM, Pala Raju, DIG Technical services, said there isn’t anything unusual about using CrPC 107 and 145. “These sections are used across the country and there is nothing unusual about it. If you go through the data about the number of persons arrested under these sections, it will become clear that both these sections are used often.”  

When the case on alleged attack on a reserve police inspector during the TDP office attack came up for hearing, the High Court directed the police to not arrest the TDP leaders, instead serve them notice under section 41A (appear before the police) of the CrPC. The court directed the police to follow the Supreme Court guidelines on avoiding unnecessary arrests and detentions. 

Per the guidelines, for offences where the maximum punishment is under seven years, the police must first serve a notice to the accused to appear before the police officer. If they comply, they are not to be arrested, unless the police still feel arrest is necessary and proper reasons are recorded in writing. 

However, according to advocate Krishna Reddy, the Andhra Pradesh police have circumvented the section 41A notice process. “The police have started registering FIRs under IPC section 307 (attempt to murder) even when it isn’t applicable, just so that they can arrest the TDP leaders concenred without issuing a notice,” he said. 

To invoke 307, there must be intention to kill, preparation, and a clear attempt. However, with none of these grounds, even in incidents of spontaneous clashes that are not very grievous, attempt to murder charges are being applied, alleged advocate Krishna Reddy. 

In the TDP office attack case, Nara Lokesh was booked under IPC section 307 and the relevant section under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. 

Nara Lokesh told TNM when the attacks on the Mangalagiri TDP office began on October 19, Lokesh said he was in Hyderabad. “I took a flight from Hyderabad to Vijayawada around 7.10 pm, and reached the party headquarters only around 9 pm. I was booked as the main accused for assaulting an officer. However, after I held a press conference and exposed the false case, my name was dropped from the FIR. This gives credence to the fact that instances of foisting false cases have been happening,” he said.

Referring to the case, DIG Pala Raju said, “Initially, the cases were booked based on the contents of the complaint. However, during the investigation, it was found that the claims are not true. Hence, the charges of attempt to murder and prevention of SC/ST atrocities were dropped.”

When asked why the inspector was not booked for misleading the investigation by alleging an attempt to murder and casteist insults by Nara Lokesh, Pala Raju said, “The investigation is underway, it will be decided what action should be taken in due course of time.”

Nara Lokesh also alleged that the police are misusing the SC/ST Act, 1989, claiming that in many instances, TDP leaders were being booked under it based on complaints from SC/ST persons, at the behest of the police or YSRCP leaders. One such instance that drew statewide attention was in October 2020, when Amaravati farmers protesting the Jagan government’s capital trifurcation move were arrested after being booked under the SC/ST PoA Act. Ironically, five of the arrested farmers were from Scheduled Castes themselves. 

Read: Farmers handcuffed in Amaravati: Human Rights body asks DGP, Chief Secy to take action

Police personnel detain a protestor during a farmers demonstration in Amaravati in January 2020 | Image Courtesty: PTI 

TDP’s elaborate legal response system 

The TDP said it has appointed one lawyer in each of the 25 parliamentary constituencies in the state to specifically handle what the party calls ‘illegal and foisted cases’ slapped on its cadre and leaders. Like all other political parties, TDP also has its own legal cell that manages the usual legal issues of the political party. However, according to the party, it constituted the TDP legal cell committee, with 25 lawyers headed by former MLA Alapati Raja, to specifically handle the increasing number of cases being booked against its cadre and leaders. 

According to a highly placed source in the party, the 25 lawyers who are part of the TDP legal cell committee work voluntarily without any kind of remuneration. “They are party sympathisers who voluntarily came forward to be part of the committee, to help the party fight the increasing false cases being slapped on our cadre and leaders,” said the source.   

The TDP has an app and WhatsApp link called iTDP for its party cadre and ground level workers. If anyone from the cadre is booked by police for a post or comment on social media, they can inform the heads of iTDP using the app or on WhatsApp. 

Vijay Chintakayala, General Secretary of the party and the incharge of iTDP, explained how the system works. “As soon as I get the information or message, I contact the legal cell committee headed by Alapati Raja to guide us about how to proceed legally. The committee finds out which court, which place and more details about the case. The particular lawyer from that parliamentary constituency is then assigned to the case,” he said. 

The aim of the legal cell committee is to expedite the process and ensure that the party worker is not remanded, said Vijay. “We had a legal cell even before Jagan came to power. However, after he came to power, we had to scale up the legal team due to the high number of cases against the cadre and leaders.”

“People are using social media platforms to hold the government accountable,” said Vijay Chintakayala. “Social media posts are usually handled through regular police cases, but today, the CID is called in to investigate these cases. The Andhra Pradesh government wants to instil fear in the minds of the people so that they will not speak up or question the government. They register cases, release the information to the media and their purpose of instilling fear among others is fulfilled.”

When TNM reached out to the Andhra Pradesh police for a comment on the allegations by TDP, senior officials from the department initially assured detailed responses to each allegation with adequate proof. However, TNM is yet to receive said response despite multiple reminders. The story will be updated if a response is received.

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