Row over Andhra poll chief: In Guv’s letter, Jagan govt could find an escape route

With a High Court judgement hardly helping, State Election Commissioner Ramesh Kumar keeps running from pillar to post for relief.
A collage of Ramesh Kumar and Jagan Mohan Reddy
A collage of Ramesh Kumar and Jagan Mohan Reddy
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In Andhra Pradesh, a game of hide-and-seek is playing out, involving the YSRCP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy government, Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan and sacked State Election Commissioner (SEC) N Ramesh Kumar. The suspense-filled game resembles a melodrama with no climax in sight and seems unending, with multiple twists and turns. As a judgement of the state’s High Court hardly helps bring it to a halt, 64-year-old Ramesh Kumar, a 1982 batch IAS officer, keeps running from pillar to post for relief.

Ramesh was appointed the first SEC of the bifurcated state on April 1, 2016 during the regime of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) under former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

However, he was removed from office through a Governor’s ordinance on April 11, 2020, one year before his five-year term came to an end, following a recommendation by the Jagan government. The Chief Minister was upset with his decision to defer the local body elections, keeping in view the coronavirus pandemic.

Ramesh hoped he would get relief with the Governor dispatching a letter on Wednesday, “directing the government for taking necessary action” as per the direction of the High Court. The court in its judgement declared the ordinance that made way for Ramesh Kumar’s removal null and void. 

The ordinance came along with a couple of Government Orders – one, downsizing the five-year term of the SEC to three years, giving way to Ramesh Kumar’s exit and the other, facilitating appointment of retired Madras HC judge J Kanagaraj as Ramesh Kumar’s successor. The two GOs ceased to exist as a result of the Andhra HC order quashing the ordinance.

No relief in sight

When he found no prospects of the government implementing the judgement, Ramesh filed a contempt petition in the HC. In its order, the court instructed the sacked SEC to meet the Governor for his reinstatement.

In the meantime, the Jagan government moved the Supreme Court seeking a stay over the HC’s direction. The matter is pending disposal. 

Andhra Pradesh Advocate General (AG) Sriram Subramanyam at a media conference maintained that Ramesh Kumar failed to represent the government over his reinstatement and that the question of the government not honouring the court’s direction did not arise.

The AG even cited the HC judgement which had asked the “state” to make way for Ramesh Kumar’s continuation, adding that the sacked SEC had, however, made a self-declaration that he was taking his old post back, without the government’s cognisance.

In line with the HC’s instructions, Ramesh Kumar on July 22 met the Governor with a request to take steps to implement the court’s order. Curiously enough, the Governor issued a letter addressed to “N Ramesh Kumar, IAS (Rtd), Andhra Pradesh”, instead of addressing it to the Chief Secretary of the state, leaving little or no onus for the government to act on his letter.

The perceived misdirection of the letter gives enough scope for the government to stretch the issue till its plea against the HC ruling is disposed of in the apex court.

Governor plays it safe?

The Governor understandably played it safe by ensuring that his gubernatorial office is not caught in the ongoing legislature-judiciary conflict. If the Governor ensures implementation of the HC order by the government now, his measure, in the event of the apex court ruling against the HC’s verdict, may land him in a legal tussle, said a legal expert, who wished to remain anonymous.

The BJP, which threw its weight behind Ramesh Kumar, maintains a stoic silence over the fate of the Governor’s letter. Former state minister Kamineni Srinivas, belonging to the BJP, is one of the petitioners who defended Ramesh Kumar in the HC. 

It’s also the BJP’s vocal Rajya Sabha member YS Chowdary who is backing the sacked SEC against all odds. “We’re examining the Governor’s letter, I can’t speak on this issue right now,” BJP spokesman Kota Saikrishna told The News Minute.

The opposition TDP, in an apparent bid not to rub the constitutional head of the state the wrong way, seems to have conveniently ignored the technical lapse in the letter. This also could be, because Biswabhusan Harichandan has occupied the Governor’s office in Andhra Pradesh after decades of working as an active BJP functionary.

Beating around the bush

If Naidu’s party targets the Governor, it amounts to spoiling its efforts to build bridges with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The TDP is sparing no efforts to target CM Jagan by isolating him from the BJP. There is no response from the government yet on the Governor’s letter. Ponnavolu Sudhakar Reddy, a spokesman of the YSRCP Legal Cell, refused to comment on the stalemate.

Ramesh Kumar was unwittingly caught in an ego clash with Chief Minister Jagan by deferring the local body elections due on March 31 this year, and taking action against Collectors and Superintendents of Guntur and Chittoor districts on charges of their partisan functioning in favour of the ruling party in the run-up to the elections.

Pointing out that Ramesh Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu hail from the Kamma community, Jagan attributed motives to the former’s decision to postpone the elections. Alleging a threat to his life from the ruling YSRCP, Ramesh Kumar has urged the central government to provide him security.

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