The TDP general secretary says all parties are in solidarity against the arrest of party chief and former Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.
The judicial custody of Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, has been extended till October 5 by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) court in Vijayawada. Naidu was arrested on September 10 in connection with the Andhra Pradesh skill development scam that the Andhra Pradesh CID is investigating. TDP leaders maintain that political vendetta and vengeance are at the core of the arrest. Naidu is being held at the Rajahmundry Central Jail.
On September 22, the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed Chandrababu Naidu’s petition to quash the FIR registered by the CID , following which he moved the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Andhra Pradesh CID has named Naidu as an accused in the fibernet scam case. The allegations involve manipulation of the tender process and misappropriation of funds. The CID has also named Naidu as the prime accused in the Amaravati Inner Ring Road (IRR) case, wherein the allegations concern the alignment of the IRR so as to favour landowners close to the TDP.
The legal troubles of the TDP supremo continue while it is speculated that more leaders from the party are likely to be arrested. In an interview with Frontline, Nara Lokesh, general secretary of the TDP who is named as an accused in the IRR case, spoke about revenge politics, the threat of more arrests, and the newly formed alliance with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party (JSP). Excerpts:
The High Court dismissed Chandrababu Naidu’s petition to quash the FIR filed against him. And the judgment on the bail petition is yet to be pronounced. The legal troubles are continuing.
The case is merely a speed breaker against the momentum that the TDP has built up over the last four years.
On one side, there is my padayatra Yuva Galam. And on the other side, the Babu Surety—Bhavishyathu Ki Guarantee programme was going on. Pawan Kalyan ji’s Varahi Yatra was also going on. So, three programmes are simultaneously going on, and the Chief Minister [Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy] felt insecure that he is getting exposed. That pushed him into making such a decision.
Any charges against Mr Naidu won’t stand up… The cadre is focussed and charged up. There is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction among people with the government. Look at the cost of living, law and order, corruption, unemployment, etc. We are going to expose the YSRCP’s [Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party] false propaganda.
Did the arrest come as a shock to the party, or was such a move anticipated?
The TDP cadre has been harassed since day one. Close to a thousand of our cadre are still in jail. About 3,500 of our leaders have cases against them.
I am also a victim of this government. It has foisted close to 22 cases against me. There is an attempt-to-murder case now against me. There is an SC/ST case against me.
And it is not just the opposition. The common man who speaks against this government is threatened with false cases. I mean, the cases against Mr Naidu reinforced what we have been saying about the behaviour of the Chief Minister.
Speculation is rife that there could be more arrests and cases on TDP leaders. A social media post on the official YSRCP page claimed that your arrest is impending, too.
Do you need more evidence to prove this is nothing but political vendetta? If you look at the remand report in the skill development case, they have not been able to establish any money trail to Mr Naidu.
There is also a clear abuse of power. Seeking the Governor’s permission under Section 17A [of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988] before going after a former Chief Minister was not followed. It is a provision that has been kept in place to prevent regime revenge.
Isn’t it obvious that the Chief Minister is misusing official machinery? They want to go after me as well. So be it. But I am not running away. I am in Delhi coordinating our legal strategy.
“Except for the central leadership of the BJP and the Congress, all major political parties have expressed solidarity with Mr Naidu. Even the state units of the BJP and the Congress have done so.”Nara LokeshGeneral secretary, Telugu Desam Party
Do you think the political solidarity and on-ground protests have been muted?
I don’t believe so. We are peaceful in the way we protest. Mr Naidu has made it amply clear that we should continue our fight against this government, but do it peacefully. We are going door to door. We will ensure his message reaches everyone.
Political parties across the spectrum, be it the INDIA bloc or the NDA, have expressed solidarity. That’s the credibility he has. Except for the central leadership of the BJP and the Congress, all major political parties have expressed solidarity with Mr Naidu. Even the state units of the BJP and the Congress have done so.
TDP MPs were trying to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other national leaders of the BJP. Has there been any progress on that front?
Well! [Union Minister Nitin] Gadkari ji expressed solidarity and said the arrest was unfair.
Has the newly announced alliance with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party (JSP) brought renewed enthusiasm to your party?
This alliance was waiting to happen. And, if you look at it, even Pawan Kalyan ji wasn’t allowed to enter Andhra Pradesh for his political party meetings. The same thing happened when I was doing my yatra. This is what they [YSRCP] keep doing. So, we decided to join forces and fight against it.
The JSP continues to be a part of the NDA. And you have mentioned that the equation with the BJP is for the JSP to decide. But do you also see this as a conundrum for the TDP since the BJP’s central leadership has kept its distance from the current case?
See, two like-minded political parties have come together. We have already made it amply clear that anyone else who wants to fight against him can join us. There are no second thoughts about it.
Is the TDP open to other political parties joining the alliance?
The JSP and the TDP are going to fight the 2024 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections together. Beyond that, those who want to join will reach out and discuss strategies. We will wait and watch.
Will announcements about the specific aspects of the alliance with the JSP be made soon?
Absolutely. In the next one week.