The post of the Chief Secretary in a state government is the seat of bureaucratic power. It is the senior most civil services position in any state government. In practice, this IAS officer is an important power centre. They are trusted aides of their Chief Ministers, with many displaying more loyalty than party men. It would not be an exaggeration to say that any attempt to sully the image of the CS would be considered by a CM as an image to sully the government itself.
Which is why, the I-T raid at Tamil Nadu government’s Chief Secretary Rama Mohana Rao is a significant development, with definite political undertones.
Rama Mohana Rao was in the trusted inner-circle of late CM J Jayalalithaa, not just when he became the CS as a state, but also as one of her personal secretaries during the 2011-2016 government. When he was appointed the CS in June 2016, after Jayalalithaa’s second consecutive victory in the assembly polls, he was seen to have been awarded for his loyalty and good work in the previous regime.
If Jayalalithaa had been alive today, and we can say this with a fair amount of confidence, that these raids would have never taken place, and even if they did, Jayalalithaa’s wrath would have consumed the union government in whole. Difficult not to imagine a tough missive from her to the PM, asking why the federal guarantees of the Indian democracy are being threatened by the Centre.
(On a related side-note, West Bengal CM Mamata Bannerjee lashed out at the Centre this morning over these IT raids. Read here. Very similar to what Jayalalithaa’s line of argument would have been.)
Many in Chennai's political circles say the CS was on the radar for a long time and recent revelations by others caught in the web had emboldened the department to go ahead with the raids.
The Chief Secretary of TN may or may not have secrets to hide, but a raid on the topmost bureaucrat of a state would not have been done without political sanction.
I-T raids – or CBI and ED cases for that matter – have long been political tools for any government in the centre. Even the Supreme Court of India took cognizance of it when it made the CBI ‘caged parrot’ remark.
In view of the above, it is hard to miss the strong political undertones in the ongoing IT raids in Tamil Nadu. Yes, much of this is in the realm of speculation. But when palace intrigue is driving the course of our democracy, some reasonable conjectures come in handy for citizens.
After the death of Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu is a state ripe for picking, especially the BJP. There have been murmurs of the Centre, or the BJP, indeed having a say in what happens in Tamil Nadu. Senior BJP leaders and Union Ministers met Sasikala just before Jayalalithaa’s death, and many BJP political operatives have been seen hobnobbing with the Sasikala family, which is now ostensibly running the state.
The recent statement by BJP leader H Raja that TN CM O Pannerselvam is doing a ‘good job’, and many sources have also indicated the same, hint that the BJP is wary of Sasikala being in complete control of the state as the CM, and prefer OPS to remain at the helm. In other words, a bit of rattling here and there would be the perfect message to send.
Shekar Reddy, one of the businessmen who was raided earlier this month by I-T department, which threw up Rs. 130 crore in cash and 177 kgs in gold, has been linked to O Panneerselvam, members of the Sasikala family and AIADMK leaders.
As TOI’s senior journalist B Sivakumar pointed out on Times Now, a CBI and ED case was registered against Reddy just this week, and there are raids on Rao immediately after. And after the I-T inspection commenced at Rao’s residence on Wednesday morning, the CBI and ED are also investigating Rao and were present at his home. It would not be unreasonable to wonder if there is a link between Reddy and Rao. Rao is also known to have good working relationship with Sasikala and OPS.
Expectedly, several AIADMK leaders have accused the centre of playing politics, and BJP has denied all these allegations. But given recent political developments, the I-T raids do seem to betray political undertones. Any incriminating evidence or material from the Chief Secretary on politicians he is close to can be used as political leverage for a long time to come.