A crackdown on IT companies providing backend services to both the Telugu Desam Party and the Andhra Pradesh government has started a bizarre information war
Political parties in the Telugu-speaking sister states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are engaged in a war over information and data. In a bizarre departure from the usual volley of crass words and phrases bandied about, defections by party members and targeting of rival politicians, the ruling party in Telangana has decided to go after two information technology (IT) firms which conduct back-end operations for the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh.
For the past few days, the Cyberabad police has raided the Hyderabad offices of IT Grids and Blue Frog, both firms that deliver mobile technologies and back-end maintenance of online processes for the TDP as well as for some departments of the Andhra Pradesh government.
According to its website, Blue Frog’s clients include AP ZBNF (Zero Budget Natural Farming), NREGS, AP Irrigation, Department of WD & CWD (Women Development and Child Welfare), AP Sports, Panchayati Raj, AP Tourism and even Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. The firm IT Grids boasts of the AP government as its main client, along with AP Panchayati Raj and AP RWS (Rural Water Supply and Sanitation).
The raids come on the back of a complaint filed by a YSR Congress sympathiser Lokeshwar Reddy, that officials of these firms have stolen the data of about 3.5 crore people of Andhra Pradesh who are the beneficiaries of various government welfare schemes. YSRCP MP Vijayasai Reddy too had lodged a complaint on the same but no action was taken.
Sniffing an opportunity, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief K Chandrashekhar Rao decided to act. The complaint by the YSRCP MP was filed under the following sections by the Cyberabad Police:
1. Section 420: Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, seven years in jail
2. Section 188: Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant
3. Section 72 of IT Act, 2000: Penalty for breach of confidentiality and privacy, 2 years in jail and/or fine of Rs 1 lakh
4. Section 66B of IT Act, 2000: Punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device, 3 years in jail and/or fine of Rs 1 lakh
5. Section 379 of IPC: Punishment for theft upto three years in jail
6. Section 12B of IPC: Section governing criminal conspiracy
“The investigation is underway and there are a lot of angles that need to be probed,” said VC Sajjanar, Commissioner of Police, Cyberabad. “We cannot divulge any details at present,” he told The Lede.
Cyberabad police reportedly seized laptops, hard disks and some other material during the searches conducted at the IT Grids office.
In turn, relatives of the employees of the IT firms being raided, who live in Andhra Pradesh, filed a complaint with the Andhra police stating that their relatives are missing and that they fear harassment by the Telangana police.
An employee of one firm IT Grids filed a habeas corpus petition in the Telangana High Court, following which the court, on Sunday, March 3, directed Telangana Police to produce four employees of the company before it on Monday.
A team of Andhra police personnel landed in Hyderabad to investigate this counter-complaint and a tussle of words ensued between the Telangana police and the Andhra police when the latter attempted to arrest complainant Lokeshwar Reddy.
A Furious TDP
The raids have made Andhra Pradesh’s ruling party and its leaders furious. TDP President Kala Venkata Rao released a letter accusing the TRS leadership of stealing data pertaining to the TDP members and communiqués sent to TDP workers regarding elections. This, he says, is crucial data that the TRS is “stealing” ahead of elections.
“TRS has resorted to data theft and leaked the data belonging to TDP party, its volunteers and seva mitras to YSRCP,” he charged in his letter. “TRS is resorting to intimidating tactics and harassing the cadres of TDP.”
Rao further alleges that the trio of TRS, YSRCP and the BJP – all arch rivals of the TDP – have ganged up to attack the ruling party of Andhra Pradesh.
“The politics of conspiracy by YSRCP and TRS have now reached a point of shamelessness. They have conducted raids on realtors and businessmen, tried to intimidate them. Now they are resorting to cybercrime as well. Industrialists and entrepreneurs were their targets till now. But now, they have begun to intimidate, harass and blackmail consultants, service providers and cadres as well. They (TRS) stole the data on TDP cadres and leaders, to help YSRC. Vijayasai Reddy complains to TS (Telangana) Police. TRS government acts immediately and sends TS police to raid service providers and software consultants. They are intimidating service providers and consultants and stealing data from them,” he charged.
Chief Minister and TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu and his son Nara Lokesh too have jumped into the hot and volatile fray.
“KCR is threatening our people and businesses in Hyderabad to support Jaganmohan Reddy,” said Naidu on Sunday. “Hyderabad is still the common capital. We have been using technology since very long. We are using a mobile application to get all updates from the party workers. The Hyderabad police recently raided the offices of this mobile app developer. Just because YSR Congress Party Leader Vijayasai Reddy complained, the police is raiding the offices.
They want to steal our data. I am asking the police why they are harassing us in Hyderabad. Who gave the right for police to torture us like this? I am warning KCR — give respect, take respect,” said Naidu.
His son and Minister for IT, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development Nara Lokesh took to Twitter to lambast the TRS government. He charged them with “kidnapping” of the IT firms’ executives and threatening their relatives.
YSRCP And TRS Sing The Same Song
YSR Congress leader and former Inspector General of Police, Shaikh Mohammed Iqbal said that this was the TDP’s last ditch effort when everything, including money power, seems to be failing. “The TDP is resorting to theft of private details of citizens and voters. During the Pulse Survey, they collected all the details of the people and illegally transferred to IT Grid, which designed and runs the TDP’s cadre app SevaMitra,” he said.
TRS spokesperson Abid Rasool Khan denied allegations of political strong-arming. “We strongly deny these type of allegations. We also deny that we are aiding the YSRCP in any way. It is a police matter and police is actively investigating it. It is a matter connected to alleged data theft. In a few days the police will be able to brief the press on what they have found,” he told The Lede.