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The official emblem of the Andhra government
The official emblem of the Andhra government|Photo credit: Andhra Pradesh government
Governance

AP: Maladministration? Corruption? Or Vengeance?

All is not well under Jaganmohan Reddy, say bureaucrats, police and rival politicians

Sandhya Ravishankar

Sandhya Ravishankar

Hoardings dot Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh’s most urban city. Newly minted first time chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress beams benevolently at the Telugu populace, holding babies, hugging old women and holding the hands of the commoners.

Armed with a pro-people populist image, Jagan, as he is better known, won a landslide victory in May, defeating his rival Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

Jagan’s style of functioning became apparent to the bureaucracy and the police soon after he took charge.

And his hoardings, with the kindly bashful grins, belie what is taking place on the ground.

Andhra CM Jaganmohan Reddy
Andhra CM Jaganmohan Reddy

Hell Hath No Fury…

Andhra Pradesh, especially before its division in 2014, was a cheerful state, much sought after by IAS and IPS officers. Compared to states like Tamil Nadu, where restrictions by cult leaders were many, Andhra’s officers enjoyed freedom to experiment and actually carry out projects.

“Nobody really said anything to us unless we goofed up in a big way,” said an IAS officer stationed in Vijayawada on condition of anonymity. “We were able to speak and express our opinions. Now things have changed completely,” he said.

The message went out loud and clear when a number of senior IAS officers like Ajay Jain, Satish Chandra, G Sai Prasad and A Rajamouli, who had served in Principal Secretary capacity with previous chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, were transferred out without postings for over 100 days.

Other younger officers like Cherukuri Sreedhar who was in charge of the crucial APCRDA (Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority) which was building the new capital of Amaravati, was also left hanging without a post. He too, like Ajay Jain, was given a posting only after 100 days of wait.

These officers could not be reached for comment.

“Everybody who was perceived to be “close” to Chandrababu Naidu or who had worked closely with him were thrown out in a sense,” said another senior IAS officer. “We all understood. We had to pledge our allegiance to Jagan or fly below the radar.”

Such a sense of paranoia permeates the bureaucracy that when this journalist attempted to meet with senior bureaucrats, most insisted on not meeting in their offices. Many gave interviews in restaurants in Vijayawada, speaking in whispers. Those that did meet in their offices first extracted a promise that they would not be quoted or their department identified.

“This is how things are now,” sighed one bureaucrat. “Andhra has changed.”

Bureaucrats wistfully recall the days under Chandrababu’s regime.

“Whenever we used to tell him anything, whatever may be the cadre of the person speaking, whatever is the department he is working, Chandrababu used to hear first. If he didn’t like the information furnished, he used to ask for others’ opinion,” said one officer.

But in Jagan’s case – “Only Secretary rank and HoDs get to speak to him. He listens to a group of youngsters, called consultants. Then there are advisors like Ajeya Kallam and Krishnamohan. He goes through presentations either read out or shown on screen. He will encourage the officer doing it to call him “Anna” (elder brother) unlike Chandrababu who prefers “gaaru” (respectful term for a male in Telugu).

Then he will talk about Navaratnalu (nine gems, election promises) and request officers to display the document in their offices and implement it. If any officer says that his idea is not implementable, for instance Udayalakshmi or jobs for locals, he uses rash language. Because of this, nobody is willing to give him any honest negative feedback,” said the officer.

“In the beginning he held subject-wise meetings once. Only once. Now there are no meetings. Files have been pending for more than three months. None in the CMO can go and ask for files to be cleared,” said the officer.

Chandrababu Naidu was also well known for scheduling meetings to review large projects on one particular day every week. Vendors, bureaucrats, officials and stakeholders would be present while the then chief minister grilled them on progress.

Jagan though, is yet to get involved.

“He doesn’t want to listen to people,” said Dr A Chandrasekhar, Human Rights Forum, Anantapur. “He is hell bent on implementing the programs. It is very good for a young man who has taken up the position of chief minister. But at the same time, the administration cannot be run on wishes. The ground reality has to be taken into consideration.

For instance, he wants to go back on the power agreements that the previous government had entered into. The centre is very much concerned, they want to bring in investments in the power sector. That has sent a wrong signal,” he explained.

Other officers though say that they face no problem. Most of these either belong to the Reddy caste denomination or they have decided to go with Jagan Anna’s flow.

“From a social domination point of view, the power has shifted from Kamma domination to Reddy domination,” said Professor E Venkatesu of the Department of Political Science at the Hyderabad Central University. He is also the state coordinator of CSDS-Lok Niti.

“When you look at the coterie that has formed around the chief minister, it is quite obvious. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, AP Industrial Corporation - all crucial positions are being held only by one community - the Reddy community,” he said.

TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu
TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu

Mission ‘Wipe Out Naidu’?

The mission of the YSRC government now appears to be to obliterate the memory or relevance of TDP (Telugu Desam Party) leader Chandrababu Naidu.

All of Naidu’s pet projects have come to a grinding halt, citing corruption, but without offering proof to either the public or to the stakeholders of the projects.

The Lede had earlier reported about the power purchase agreements that are being renegotiated by the Jagan government, to the detriment of the renewable energy sector itself.

Despite the centre writing to the state, saying that contracts could not be rescinded without proving malafide intent on the part of the companies involved, Jagan’s government went right ahead and began to renegotiate power prices.

And when power producers obtained a stay in the Andhra High Court for the renegotiation process, the state then flexed muscle, curtailing power from the producers, meaning that it stopped taking power from them.

Another pet project of Naidu’s, the Rs 50,000 crore Polavaram irrigation project which is a national water project, was halted by Jagan with the contract of Navayuga Engineering Company (NEC) being terminated on July 29, allegedly on the basis of a report by an expert committee that looked into irregularities in contracts awarded for the project.

The YSRC government then swiftly called for tenders, not even providing adequate time for interested bidders to conduct their preliminary examinations or investigations for the project.

A single bidder, MEIL or Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited, emerged, and the contract was handed over, with the government claiming that it had saved Rs 780 crore.

Curiously though, it was the very same Jagan who had raised the flag of rebellion as Leader of the Opposition when the CAG (Comptroller Auditor General) reports were tabled in the Assembly.

Jagan had repeatedly stated that the firms that had got the contracts for Polavaram works were favoured by Chandrababu Naidu who was then the chief minister. In particular, he had objected to Naidu awarding the Polavaram project on a nomination basis to Navayuga, instead of going in for open tenders.

But once he became chief minister, he handed over contracts to a company that had been highlighted by the CAG in 2012 for getting a huge chunk of irrigation projects in the state despite not being empanelled by the government of Andhra Pradesh.

MEIL had managed this by forming Joint Ventures with a variety of contractors who were empanelled with the state. The total value of the 38 contracts that MEIL was part of was Rs 36,916 crore. The firm had formed JVs with a total of 23 companies to bag these contracts.

While there is technically nothing illegal about MEIL working on government contracts with an empanelled partner, there is certainly something wrong with the Andhra government giving such large contracts to a firm that is not even empanelled with the state.

Worse, although Jagan did call for bids for the project, there was only one solitary bidder, which in effect, turned out to be a nomination for the contract.

Human rights activists like A Chandrasekhar say that while all governments and all contracts have an element of corruption in them, neither the TDP nor Jagan have prioritised the most important aspect of the Polavaram project – rehabilitation of the displaced families and villages.

As per the latest CAG report of 2017, the state, which is in charge of acquiring land to relocate and rehabilitate the residents of the villages that fall within the ambit of the Polavaram project, has hardly made any progress.

“The Department was yet to acquire 36,009 acres of land in the submergence areas and a further 26,830 acres of land required for allotment to the Project Affected Families. The Department was yet to rehabilitate 96 per cent of the Project Displaced Families,” reads the 2017 CAG report.

“Re-tendering has saved money for the exchequer,” said activist Chandrasekhar. “Megha (MEIL) is the same company that has cost a lot of money to the Kaleshwaram project in Telangana. The more important part of the project is R&R (relocation & rehabilitation) work for Polavaram.

When about 2-2.5 lakh people and 100 small hamlets are getting displaced, without getting the money for the R&R, you keep talking about this contract and that contract.

No one seems to be serious about this. This is the crucial thing that has to be brought to light. All contracts will be inflated by 25-30%, Megha or any other contractor takes up projects to make money.

People are more bothered about Rs 100 or 200 crores than about the lives of people who will be displaced. It has already been 15 years, as the delays go on, project cost will increase.

How will you re-estimate the lives of the people living there? They have lost their lives, their bearings, their livelihoods. Before implementation of the project you should have looked at the human aspect. Neither TDP, nor YSRC government have bothered about it,” he said.

Political analyst Venkatesu says that for all the grandstanding on the part of Jagan and his YSRC, re-tendering of large projects has only meant that economic power has changed hands from the dominant Kamma community to the other dominant Reddy community. And this shift takes place in the form of changing contracts.

“If you look at it from the peripheral level it seems there has been a shift from the crony capitalist regime to a populist welfare regime,” opined Professor Venkatesu.

“The previous regime was focused on Amaravati and several lakh crores of rupees were spent on fertile lands and Guntur. The crony capitalist class is advantaged historically – a series of big irrigation projects helped create this capitalist class.

Now this class is concentrated around Amaravati in coastal Andhra. Chandrababu became a most suitable chief minister for them since 2014. There was no recruitment during Chandrababu Naidu’s period and too much corruption from gram panchayat level to secretariat level.

Corruption got institutionalised. Welfare schemes did not reach the deserving beneficiaries. There were a series of administrative failures during Chandrababu Naidu, it was a single man administration.

But Jagan, through his padayatra, has understood the problems of the people and his Navaratnalu are all welfare schemes. These are all incrementalistic benefit-oriented strategies that he has adopted. For any outsider this seems like a welfare-centric state government.

But they (YSRC) have adopted the welfare strategy to prevent any resistance from the subaltern community. Welfare activism is a powerful tool or weapon to make the subaltern community dependent on the dominant communities. So it is continuing as before.

When there is a shift from TDP to YSRC, it is not a big drastic shift but merely a superficial shift from Kamma domination to Reddy domination.

The shift is in the economic power. The present dominant community has shifted the economic power from the previous dominant community. This is all just a big drama.

One community (Kamma) comes from the capitalist community and the other (Reddy) comes from the feudal community – they have been competing for pre-eminence in all spaces for decades – politics, culture, arts, literature, everything.

The voters have become a pawn in their hands to capture power and to sabotage state political power. It is to continue the two-caste domination that has been there since the 1950s. Earlier they used to fight for land. Now it is over contracts, deals, corporate-centric – the fight is now in the non-agrarian, service oriented arena,” he said.

As per records available with the Registrar of Companies, MEIL has ten directors – Pitchi Reddy Pamireddy, Rama Reddy Pamireddy, Venkatakrishna Reddy Puritipati, Sudharani Puritipati, Tirupathi Rao Nadipineni, Doraiah Palimpati, Srinivas Reddy Bonthu, Pedda Subbaiah Chakka, Modepalle Baburao and Shravan Kudaravalli.

The group is run by PV Krishna Reddy, nephew of PP Reddy who founded the firm.

As for the most ambitious of Naidu’s projects, the Amaravati capital, work has come to a halt for months now, as The Lede had recently reported. There is no word as to whether the contractors will be changed, whether re-tendering will take place as had happened with Polavaram or if any re-negotiations would be attempted.

If these contracts are indeed renegotiated or if re-tendering is done, will they too go to the Reddy community? All eyes are on Jagan for this one.

“Jagan is administratively inexperienced,” said human rights activist A Chandrasekhar. “Before the bridge has arrived, he has tried to cross the river. One example is his over enthusiasm in trying to change the sand policy. Jagan said he will throw open sand for everyone and suspended the TDP policy for three months.

As a result, there was no sand for contractors and construction labourers for 4-5 months. When you abolish a policy, you should have an alternative policy. Unorganised labour, small contractors get affected. He acts first and thinks later,” he said.

Another example of Jagan ensuring that Chandrababu Naidu was thrown off the capital city turf was to demolish the Praja Vedika structure built at a cost of Rs 10 crore in Naidu’s Undavalli residence.

The house, which was a “gift” from a real estate baron, was Naidu’s official residence on the banks of the river Krishna.

Soon after coming to power, the YSRC regime demolished the Praja Vedika structure stating that it was an illegal structure on the river bank. Naidu was subsequently forced to leave the residence for good.

The demolished Praja Vedika
The demolished Praja Vedika
Photo credit: Sandhya Ravishankar

So is vengeance against Chandrababu Naidu and TDP a driving factor for Jagan and his party?

Mangalagiri MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy vehemently denies this. “In the past four months, he has done what no other Chief Minister in this country has been able to do – provide jobs for 4.5 lakh youngsters.

This is enough to show how hard Jagan gaaru (respectful term in Telugu for a male) has been working to help the people. The Amma Vodi scheme is a huge success and the government is focussing on education and healthcare.

Chandrababu Naidu is unable to digest this and he is spreading false rumours using media houses close to him,” he said.

“Our CM has given Rs 15,000 for schoolgoing children, Rs 10,000 for auto drivers, YSR Kanti Velugu scheme (free eyesight checks). He is busy implementing all the schemes he has promised.

So where is the time for revenge against Chandrababu Naidu? There is no need for revenge. He is going to be the CM for the next 30 years and he is working towards that,” said Ramakrishna Reddy.

Politics In The Guise Of Jobs?

What Chandrababu started unofficially and which was one of the reasons for his loss in the election, has been institutionalised by Jagan.

The Grama/Ward Volunteers scheme that is the YSRC’s panacea for unemployment, with a promise of 4.5 lakh jobs in the state, is being funded by the YSRC government for, largely, the YSRC cadre.

While there is no data to show that the majority of the beneficiaries of the Village Volunteers scheme have been YSRC party members, empirical evidence could be found in the visits by this journalist to the state.

The YSRC denies this allegation. “It is not true that only YSRC workers got these jobs,” said Mangalagiri MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy. “Whoever has got the knowledge, only they have got the jobs.”

Chandrababu Naidu had instituted what were called Janmabhoomi Committees, an unofficial team of TDP workers in every village, meant to help identify beneficiaries for welfare schemes and to put party roots in every village and ward.

“These Janmabhoomi Committees made all of us angry,” said a farmer in Velagapudi who did not wish to be named. “They would show us their power. They would only help the TDP people. If we were YSRC or Congress voters, they would know and they would refuse to help us with anything,” he said.

What was meant to be an exercise in fanning out the party’s presence all across the state, turned out instead to be its bane, with local goons flexing muscle and appropriating power.

But Jagan has taken this idea and made it better – for one, he has managed to legitimise his claim that he has fulfilled the promise of creating 4.5 lakh jobs. Secondly, he has made all of these Janmabhoomi-like Village Volunteers legitimate, by giving them salaried positions and government-approved power.

“One thing we can very clearly say is that they (YSRC government) have made appointments for nearly 2.5 lakh village secretaries. Within a very short period of time he has managed to fulfil the promise made in his manifesto,” said A Chandrasekhar, human rights activist.

But he is not very sure about whether Jagan has bitten off more than he can chew in terms of poll promises.

“When Jagan made his promises before the elections, the country’s and state’s economy was on an uptrend. Now it is in the doldrums. Whichever government has promised to do certain things in their manifesto, now it is almost impossible to implement it.

The budget which he has presented, he expected nearly Rs 1 lakh crore from the central government. So how is he going to implement his Navaratnalu when there is no money coming from the centre? I think he has promised too much in his manifesto. No one is sure now when the economy is going to turn.

The same is the case with Rythu Bharosa (scheme for farmers). That he will give Rs 12,000 for every farmer. But now when it comes to implementation, he is dependent upon the Centre for half the amount. He is forced to change it to three instalments,” said Chandrasekhar.

One thing that all political analysts agree upon is that Andhra is in the throes of political and economic power being transferred from the Kammas to the Reddys – and that not much has changed otherwise.

“Consolidation of the Reddys is taking place in Andhra,” said Chandrasekhar. “It was not expected actually, before the elections. When Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were divided, there was a feeling that the Reddys may not have a chance of getting back the power. Everyone thought power has been kicked out of their hands. But they are back in the saddle. It is politics of manipulation that has brought them so far,” he said.

Professor Venkatesu of HCU agrees. “The grabbing of the economic wealth of the state has not been properly exposed. The projects have all been given to people of Jagan’s own community. I am surprised that neither the TDP nor the BJP have picked up on this,” he said.

And Of Course, The Media

After appropriating political and thereby economic power, there is only one thing left for most governments to do – muzzle the media.

News channels ABN Andhra Jyoti and TV5 were blacked out in the state as soon as Jagan took charge.

Attacks on journalists have become frequent.

Andhra Jyoti reporter Sathyanarayana was hacked to death by unidentified assailants in East Godavari district three days ago. His family alleges that the hand of the local YSRC workers is involved in the murder.

In another instance, YSRC MLA from Nellore, Kotamreddy Sridhar Reddy allegedly threatened to kill journalist Dolendra Prasad, editor of Zameen Raithu, a weekly magazine, in August. Despite a complaint on the attack, no enquiry has been initiated so far.

In Chirala, Ongole, YSRCP leader Amanchi Krishna Mohan is under suspicion for having instigated an attack on journalist Nagarjuna Reddy who works for Telugu daily Neti Surya.

In Vizag, a YSRC leader warned journalists in a Journalist Union meeting that they would “face flak” in the days to come.

ETV, ABN and TV5 have been banned in the past five month from entering the Assembly premises.

A fresh communique has now been issued to all departments of the state government which authorises Secretaries of each department to file defamation suits against media houses for “baseless reports”.

The note allowing Secretaries to file defamation cases
The note allowing Secretaries to file defamation cases

"The aggression against the media is not peculiar to Andhra Pradesh. It is happening all over the country," said Uma Sudhir, senior journalist based in Hyderabad. "When Chandrababu Naidu was chief minister too, cases were filed against some individuals for 'malafide' cartoons.

Jaganmohan Reddy has now authorised Secretaries of all departments to file defamation cases against media houses for reports that they feel are malafide and intended to malign the reputation of the government.

Jaganmohan Reddy made this clear on the day he took oath and in fact mentioned some media houses that he said were openly indulging in maligning him and his party.

There is no denying that some media in Andhra and Telangana are highly polarised and take political stands. There is also no denying that some journalists themselves have political leanings.

But at the end of the day, unless they have done something illegal, why curb their right to criticise?

The fallout often is that journalists and media start indulging in self-censorship," she added.

It appears that the political history of Tamil Nadu is rapidly repeating itself in the young Andhra state. But Tamil Nadu’s leaders ensured development and worked hard to pull up socio-economic indicators of the state to becoming among the best in the country.

If Andhra is to progress in that regard, it will need its leaders to refocus on people and on how to empower them without falling into the trap of populism.