The Telangana government and the Centre have been at loggerheads for a while now. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making aggressive efforts to expand its influence in the State before the 2023 elections, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is going all out to try and keep its vote base intact. The two parties pulled out all stops to win the recent Munugode bypoll. The TRS finally came out on top, but the outcome has led to an ugly political slugfest, with both the parties using government arms and agencies to ‘fix’ leaders of the other side.
Days before the bypoll, the TRS left the BJP red-faced by releasing a video in which three persons, purportedly engaged by the BJP, were heard trying to poach TRS MLAs. The recordings also named the National General Secretary of the BJP, B.L. Santosh. The government then constituted a Special Investigation Team headed by the Hyderabad Police Commissioner C.V. Anand to probe the poaching of MLAs. The Chief Minister released “proof” of his allegations and circulated it to the top judiciary and to politicians. The BJP expectedly dismissed the video as “false” and accused the TRS of having “undoubtedly fabricated video and audio content.” It then knocked the doors of the judiciary seeking relief from the ongoing probe and succeeded partially.
Soon after this, central investigation agencies, including the Income Tax (IT) Department and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), began to carry out raids on three Ministers, four MPs and two legislators, all belonging to the TRS. The ED and IT Department carried out simultaneous searches at multiple locations, including the residence of Civil Supplies and Backward Classes Welfare Minister Gangula Kamalakar and the offices of several granite companies in Karimnagar. This was purportedly to probe the alleged violations of the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999.
The ED also provisionally attached 28 immovable properties and other assets worth ₹80.65 crore belonging to TRS MP Nama Nageswara Rao in the alleged money laundering case against Ranchi Expressways Limited and Madhucon Projects Limited. Mr. Rao is the promoter and director of the Madhucon Group and personal guarantor to the bank loan defaulted by Ranchi Expressways.
The ED also grilled Animal Husbandry Minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav’s office staff and family members in an alleged money laundering case pertaining to a casino business.
The three-day IT raids on the residence, office, colleges and hospital of Labour Minister C. Malla Reddy and his family members capped the dramatic events of the last few weeks. MPs Vaddiraju Ravichandra, Parthasarathy Reddy, and M. Srinivas Reddy as well as legislators Manchireddy Kishan Reddy and L. Ramana faced raids too. As searches intensified, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao told party leaders and elected representatives to “stay strong” and not get jittery.
These tit-for-tat acts have led to fear in the TRS and BJP camps. The raids by central agencies appear to be an attempt to hit the financial sources of the TRS leaders ahead of the 2023 elections. At the same time, the TRS too wants to corner the BJP leadership with its narrative that the national party is attempting to poach its leaders. But how far this narrative will succeed remains to be seen as the TRS has equally been involved in poaching candidates of other parties. Since its landslide victory in 2018, the TRS has successfully split the Congress by taking more than a dozen of its MLAs and encouraging defections. It has justified these acts by saying that it invited leaders from other parties in order to achieve “political stability”. Rival legislature parties merged their groups with the TRS legislature party. But it will not be easy for the TRS to escape any blame of encouraging poaching and defections that come its way.
What is happening in Telangana is not new. Political parties always look for ways of settling scores with one another. However, what is worrying is that they don’t hesitate to misuse government agencies in their political wars. The ED and IT Department as well as State agencies must not only be fair, but also seen to be fair. The events of the past few weeks raise serious questions about their independent functioning and in turn about democracy.