It has been a week since Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, was imprisoned in Rajahmundry Central Jail on judicial remand in connection with his alleged involvement in the ₹371 crore state skill development corporation scam.
On Tuesday, Naidu’s petition in the Andhra high court seeking to quash the first information report (FIR) registered by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) will come up for hearing.
“Since it is a complicated case, the high court is unlikely to dismiss the case against Naidu immediately but would take up a prolonged hearing before giving its verdict,” people familiar with the matter said.
Simultaneously, a petition moved by his lawyers in the ACB (Anti-corruption Bureau) special court in Vijayawada seeking bail to Naidu will also come up for hearing on Tuesday. The CID is strongly resisting the bail and in fact, has sought police custody of Naidu, for further interrogation.
“In any case, there might not be any immediate relief for Naidu. Even if he gets interim bail [till the case is disposed of by the high court] or a regular bail from the ACB court, the CID authorities are ready to fix him in another case and arrest him,” said a YSR Congress party (YSRCP) leader, requesting anonymity.
On September 11, the day when Naidu was sent to Rajahmundry jail, the CID authorities filed a petition in the ACB court, seeking an arrest warrant against him for his alleged involvement in the Amaravati capital city inner ring road scam case.
Naidu was named as accused no. 1 (A-1) in the case registered on May 10, 2022 based on a complaint lodged by YSRCP lawmaker from Mangalagiri constituency Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, stating that he had allegedly resorted to irregularities in designing of the inner ring road around Amaravati.
Apart from Naidu, the other accused in the case included: former minister Ponguru Narayana, industrialist Lingamaneni Ramesh and Naidu’s family concern Heritage Foods Ltd etc. The CID alleged that in return to the favour done by Naidu in changing the alignment of inner ring road, Naidu was given a palatial bungalow on the bank of Krishna river at Undavalli, free of cost.
So, even if Naidu comes out of the skill development corporation case, the police might arrest him in the Amaravati inner ring road case.
Other than this, there is another criminal case haunting Naidu – that of attempt to murder (Section 307 of Indian Penal Code (IPC)) in connection with the alleged violent attacks on some YSRCP leaders, workers and police during a road show held by him at Angallu village of Annamayya district, on August 4.
The police have named Naidu as A-1 in this case, while his former cabinet colleague Devineni Uma as A-2. Apart from section 307, Naidu has been booked under various other sections of IPC including 120b (criminal conspiracy), 147 (rioting), 148 (attacks with deadly weapons) and 153 (provocative speech with an intent to cause riots) etc.
“The strategy of the Jagan Mohan Reddy government appears to be keeping Naidu in jail in one case or the other as long as possible, so that it would demoralise the party leaders and cadre ahead of the assembly elections in the state, scheduled early next year,” political analyst from Visakhapatnam Mallu Rajesh said. “Even if Naidu comes out after a few weeks, there would be restrictions on his movements, till the cases are disposed of,” Rajesh said.
Lokesh takes centre stage in state politics
With uncertainty looming large over the release of Naidu from jail, his son and TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh quickly swung into action, ostensibly to prevent any situation of panic from prevailing in the party.
“There is no immediate threat to the TDP following the arrest of Naidu as the party has strong leaders and cadre. But they need somebody from Naidu’s family to lead the party from the front. Lokesh is the obvious choice,” said veteran journalist and analyst Bhandaru Srinivas Rao.
He said all these days Lokesh had been walking under the shadow of Naidu and the present crisis has thrown up a challenge to his leadership.
“He has seen the party in power and in the opposition. The people and the ruling YSRCP have not taken him seriously so far; but now, he has got the opportunity to prove himself as a leader,” Rao said.
Hitherto, Lokesh had been supplementing his father’s efforts by taking up a marathon padayatra across the length and breadth of the state. Soon after Naidu’s arrest, Lokesh quickly called off his padayatra and took the party under his control. He dared the CID to arrest him, too, and see the repercussions.
Apart from coordinating with the party leaders and cadre to organise protests across the state against his father’s arrest, Lokesh went to Delhi and interacted with the national media, giving a strong rebuttal to the CID’s charges against Naidu.
“He has sent a message to the national media that he is at the helm of the party in the absence of his father. At the same time, he has gained the acceptability among the party leaders as the heir apparent of Naidu, which was evident from the way he chaired the Telugu Desam Parliamentary Party (TDPP) meeting on Saturday [September 16] and led the protests by the party MPs on Parliament premises on Monday [September 18],” TDP official spokesman N Vijay Kumar said.
But there is still a question that is haunting the party leaders – what will happen if Lokesh is also arrested by the police, Vijay Kumar said, adding, “There is an apprehension that the CID police might arrest Lokesh as soon as he returns from New Delhi and are preparing the ground for the same.”
While announcing the arrest of Naidu in the skill development corporation case, CID additional director N Sanjay had said the CID was also investigating the role of Lokesh and his associates in the same case.
“Besides, we are also deeply investigating Lokesh’s role in the Andhra Pradesh Fibernet and Amaravati inner ring road scams,” Sanjay said.
The TDP spokesperson, however, said the cases against Lokesh were completely fabricated and there was no evidence. “He can come out of these cases as he has no absolutely involvement in them,” Vijay Kumar said.
He said even if Lokesh was arrested for a few days, it won’t have any impact on the party. “The party has a strong organisational network and leadership right from the village-level to the state-level. Even if Naidu and Lokesh have to be in jail, his family members are ready to take a plunge into action to show the direction to the party,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the Jana Sena Party headed by Pawan Kalyan has stepped in to back TDP. The party has also announced an alliance with TDP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
“While Naidu’s arrest generated a lot of sympathy for the TDP among the people, the support from Pawan Kalyan has definitely come as a big boost to the TDP. This will have a definite impact on the party prospects in the coming elections,” analyst Mallu Rajesh said.