CBI freezing Jagan's funds ups AP's political heat
All this while, only pawns were moving around on Andhra Pradesh's political chessboard. The game has picked up pace now with the more heavyweight pieces making their presence felt, says TS Sudhir, analysing the CBI's move to freeze Jagan Reddy's bank accounts
Last Friday, in response to a 'Kya ho raha hai?' (What's happening?) greeting over coffee in Parliament, a newly-elected Rajya Sabha Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh told another MP: "Just see what happens in the next 10 days."
If that claim of this garrulous MP is anything to go by, the Congress is moving to a plan. It hopes the Central Bureau of Investigation's move to freeze bank accounts of YSR Congress chief and Kadapa MP Jagan Mohan Reddy's media empire would bring the party back from the cold.
If sources close to the Congress leadership are to be believed, the high command has decided to bite the bullet. Factored in is the distinct possibility that the YSR Congress will win a majority of the 18 assembly and one Lok Sabha seat that will vote in the bypolls in June.
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Image: A file photograph of Jagan Mohan Reddy addressing media after coming out of a court in Hyderabad
Move could boomerang on Congress, too
Over the last few weeks there has been intense pressure on the party leadership, with state leaders arguing that enough was not being done to rein in Jagan.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy was accused of being a Jagan covert by his colleagues in the party. The gameplan now seems to be to strangulate his newspaper and television channel and leave him without the oxygen of 24x7 publicity that his media vehicles give him.
The buzz is that the bank accounts of Jagan's non-media ventures could be frozen next and then move in for the kill by finally arresting him.
But prod a little further and many Congress leaders admit an arrest and the likelihood of Jagan's mother and wife hitting the streets could well boomerang on the Congress.
"But is there another option but to gamble?" they ask. "Let him be arrested, get the Enforcement Directorate after him," is the chorus of those who want to fight a political battle with the help of the investigating agencies.
The more optimistic lot points to the lack of sympathy among voters for Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu in the 2004 elections even after he survived an assassination attempt or for former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa after he was sent to judicial custody.
"If Jagan goes in, it will be difficult for him to come out for at least six months. That could go against him because there is no other tall leader or orator like him in his party, someone who works as hard as him," says an MP, who has friends in the Congress and is also Jagan's friend.
Image: A file photograph of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy
Congress-TDP moving in tandem?
Jagan has accused the Congress of match-fixing with the Telugu Desam to nix his political future. "It is a plot to eliminate the competition," he says.
He is not off the mark entirely if this incident is any indication. Last week, a Congress MP and a TDP MP found themselves travelling together on a Hyderabad-New Delhi flight. The latter, known for his proximity to Chandrababu Naidu, reportedly told the Congress MP that the two parties should "sit together, discuss and show our relevance."
The import of the conversation was that Jagan should not be allowed to poach into the political space that the Congress and the TDP have had a monopoly on, all these years.
I had asked Jagan if he did not anticipate the freezing of accounts by the CBI. "But why should they do it?" was his argument. His party colleague DA Somayajulu says, "The CBI says under the guise of funds for conducting business, ill-gotten money from various sources is deposited in the bank accounts. In our bank current accounts, we deposit the money gained from sale of the newspaper and the advertisement revenue. How is that ill-gotten money?"
Image: Is TDP, led by Chandrababu Naidu (in the picture), also a part in the ploy to restrict the Jagan wave?
Congress fighting for second place in bye-elections
Political analyst K Nageshwar says Jagan is not a fool not to know this was coming. "The move is dictated by the feeling that Jagan derives all his power from his media outlets. That is not entirely true. Past experience has shown that media coverage does not have a decisive impact on the minds of the voters," says Nageshwar.
Jagan has been summoned by the special CBI court to appear before it on May 28. Any action on or after that day is bound to have a bearing on the voting pattern on June 12. Congress leaders say it is wiser at this juncture to look at 2014 instead of June.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has reportedly ordered Kiran: "The party should at least come second." This they say is important because a second position would mean that in the public perception, the fight in 2014 will be between Congress and YSR Congress in non-Telangana districts.
If TDP and Jagan push the ruling party to third place, that would make the government look like a lame-duck dispensation.
Do the Congress leaders think Kiran's days are numbered if his report card is found unsatisfactory in the by-elections? What answer you get depends on who you speak to. His detractors are confident he will be forced to retire hurt; others say he will continue because no one else is captaincy material.
Interestingly, the Telangana lobby does not want Kiran to get out because it feels if Delhi replaces him with a Telangana man, it will mean statehood will never materialise.
Image: Any CBI action on or after May 28 is bound to have a bearing on the voting pattern on June 12 by-polls
Jagan has cause to worry, too
Sakshi is meanwhile projecting the CBI move as an assault on the freedom of the press. Jagan calls it a "black day for democracy, worse than the Emergency". Whether the public buys this argument is anyone's guess.
Another reason to worry for Jagan could be the statement of Suryanarayana Reddy alias Sureedu, former personal assistant to former AP CM and Jagan's father late YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Sureedu, who was virtually the late chief minister's shadow, has reportedly testified against YSR's confidant KVP Ramachandra Rao and also Jagan in the disproportionate assets and the EMAAR case, and now the CBI wants his statement to be recorded in front of a magistrate.
The CBI has already filed three chargesheets in the DA case, all of them naming Jagan as accused number one.
All this while, only pawns were moving around on Andhra Pradesh's political chessboard. The game has picked up pace now with the more heavyweight pieces making their presence felt. Who checkmates who will be as interesting to watch as who follows the rules of the game and who breaks them.
But then as Ravi Shastri never fails to mention, all three results are possible in a match. In cricket, chess and politics, you can never rule out a draw.
Image: Jagan has dubbed the CBI move as restrictive of democracy