Murder and mayhem

Print edition : February 25, 2005

The murder of a TDP legislator in Andhra Pradesh confirms the explosive nature of the mix of criminality, caste and politics in the State.

in Hyderabad

Paritala Ravi.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

THE criminal element in Andhra Pradesh politics was in full view on January 24, when hired killers gunned down the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) legislator from Penukonda, Paritala Ravindra, in Anantapur town.

A faction leader whose name was linked with a number of criminal cases, the 45-year-old Ravindra, or Ravi, had a questionable reputation. His opponents even alleged that he represented all that was wrong with politics in the Rayalaseema region.

The sheer brutality of the murder, in broad daylight, and its violent aftermath shook the people of Andhra Pradesh. The TDP voiced its fears about possible attempts by his numerous enemies to kill him. Soon after the Congress came to power in the State in May 2004, the heavy security cover that Ravi enjoyed was scaled down. The MLA petitioned the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which ordered restoration of the 10 gunmen deployed for his protection earlier.

The fact that Ravi was killed amid a clutch of private as well as police gunmen and a crowd of party workers revealed the meticulous manner in which the murder had been planned. He was waiting at the gate of the TDP district headquarters after a party meeting to board his vehicle, at around 2-55 p.m., when two gunmen confronted him and opened fire. Realising that he had been set up for a `hit', Ravi, who was felled by the first salvo, shouted for help. But, the killers, who were now joined by another, pumped bullets into his head and fled after killing an aide and a police gunman.

As news spread about the killing, TDP workers went on the rampage in several towns and cities. They set ablaze buses of the A.P. State Road Transport Corporation and broke the windscreens of a large number of other vehicles. They also expressed their ire at government offices.

At the end of two days of pitched battles between the police and TDP workers, the APSRTC was poorer by nearly Rs.20 crores. Eighty of its buses had been burnt and 576 had their windscreens and glass panes smashed. The vandalism was the kind which TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu had passionately opposed when he was Chief Minister.

When peace returned to the streets, Chandrababu Naidu had a hard time justifying the arson and violence indulged in by his partymen. "It was a spontaneous outburst of emotion," he said.

This was not the first time that large-scale violence was witnessed in Andhra Pradesh after the slaying of an MLA. Properties worth an estimated Rs.300 crores was set ablaze by followers of Vangaveeti Ranga, a Congress MLA and a prominent leader of the Kapu community, who was killed while he was observing a fast in December 1988. Ravi's killing has confirmed the explosive nature of the mix of criminality, caste and politics in Andhra Pradesh.

APSRTC buses that were burnt or damaged in Guntur following the murder.-RAMESH SUSARLA

Paritala Ravi was among the 51 contestants in the last State Assembly elections named by the Lok Satta, a non-partisan movement for reforms in governance, as having a criminal record. But Chandrababu Naidu stoutly defended Ravi's inclusion in the TDP's list of nominees. "Many of those named by the Lok Satta were acquitted. Values are essential in public life but there are some constraints too," he said.

The killing of Paritala Ravi is part of an unending saga of revenge involving two families belonging to rival factions and different castes. Dozens of innocent and not-so-innocent lives have been lost in this rivalry.

A 1998 report prepared by the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee on Paritala Ravi, a former naxalite, says: "The entire district kneels down before him. Everyone is afraid of him. From 1994, even the political scenario (in Anantapur district) has undergone a change". Paritala Ravi's name was linked by the Anantapur police to numerous murders, including that of Saane Chenna Reddy, an MLA from Penukonda, and Ramana Reddy, a former MLA.

According to police records, an attempt was made in October 1993 to kill Maddelacheruvu Suryanarayana Reddy alias Suri, a faction leader from Anantapur, through a sophisticated method. A portable television set loaded with explosives was delivered at his house while he was away. Unsuspecting members of his family switched on the television. The explosion that resulted brought down a portion of the house, and killed five persons, and injured four others. Paritala Ravi was named Accused No.1 in the case.

Suri tried to take vengeance by triggering off a remote-controlled car bomb in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, in 1997 but missed his target, Paritala Ravi, who was then producing a movie called Sriramulaiah based on his father's struggle against landlords. (Ramulaiah was hacked to death allegedly by Suri's father, Gangula Narayana Reddy, who was killed in retaliation in 1983. Ravi was the prime accused in that case too.) Twenty-six others, including six members of a television crew, were killed. Suri and six others were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The TDP was quick to accuse Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy's son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Panchayati Raj Minister J.C. Diwakar Reddy, and a senior police officer in the Rayalaseema region of conspiring to kill Ravi. The Chief Minister instantly got his Cabinet to pass a resolution handing over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

But before the CBI could start investigations, one of the accused, M. Rekhamaiah, surrendered to the Mahabubnagar police. Within a week, eight of the alleged conspirators had surrendered. While Joolakanti Srinivasa Reddy, who claimed in a television interview to have actually shot Paritala Ravi, was at large even on February 1, another person who had allegedly fired at Ravi, Narayan Reddy, gave himself up to the Anantapur police along with four others.

Paritala Ravi's murder not only showed the extent of criminalisation of politics in Andhra Pradesh but also exposed the deterioration of the criminal justice system. Suri, who is serving a life sentence in the Cherlapalli jail in Hyderabad, could apparently call the shots from the confines of his cell using a mobile phone.

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