It is an unfortunate reality of India that political power and corruption go hand in hand. Be it the numerous scams that have rocked India in the past few years or the numerous politicians that are going scot-free despite facing serious criminal charges, corruption seems to be everywhere in the political arena. Its prevalence is so widespread that it has become normalised to the extent that a phrase such as ‘honest politician’ sounds like a hilarious oxymoron.
One of the biggest political corruption scandals to have broken out in the recent past is Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s disproportionate assets case. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2012 found that he had acquired a staggering 43,000 crore during his father, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s tenure as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (between 2004 and 2009).
Reddy, however, claimed that he was being framed for political vendetta by the Congress, which he had left only recently. The Congress, in turn, denied his claims implying that it was political disgruntlement and jealousy that made Jagan make these false claims. It is difficult to establish whose narrative is authentic, but one must admit that Jagan could not have pulled off a feat like this without some administrative and political complicity.
Who is Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy?
As of July 2019, Yedugiri Sandinti Jagan Mohan Reddy is the current Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. He is the son of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajashekhara Reddy (1949-2009). After his father’s death, he broke away from the Congress to found the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) to honour his legacy.
He has been a member of the Lok Sabha too, having been elected from Kadapa on an Indian Nation Congress (INC) ticket. In May 2019, his YSRCP swept the Andhra Pradesh Assembly polls, and he was elected Chief Minister of the state.
Jagan’s Split from the Congress
Y. S. Rajashekhara Reddy’s sudden and untimely death in a helicopter crash in September 2009 was a rude shock to everyone in the country and especially the Indian polity. He was a core member of the Congress and had won it an immense following in Andhra Pradesh.
His premature demise left a huge void in the party. Since he had been occupying the Chief Ministerial position at the time of his death, someone from the Congress had to step in and take over as his successor. Jagan, his son and a figure who was equally beloved by the people of Andhra Pradesh as his father was, had hoped that he would be asked to do so.
Although a large section of the state Congress was also in favour of this, party supremos Sonia and Rahul Gandhi chose to ignore their sentiments, probably because they feared that the Reddy family had already amassed too much power. To Jagan’s disappointment, Konijeti Rosaiah was picked over him. This caused him no end of displeasure but he was careful not to voice it publicly.
In the aftermath of his father’s death, Jagan started investing more time and effort into the workings of the Andhra Pradesh Congress. A few weeks later, he announced that he would be undertaking a condolence tour, the Odarpu Yatra, to meet with the families of the people who had died of shock or committed suicide on hearing about his father’s passing.
This was a clever move which was sure to gain him a lot of followers and it would seem to the people that he was stepping into his father’s shoes. However, Sonia Gandhi heavily disapproved of this and asked him to call it off.
She was aware of the enormous response that it would garner and was afraid that Jagan would use this as an opportunity to mobilise the masses into supporting him. Therefore, she directed his mother and YSR’s widow, Vijayalakshmi, to control her son’s actions but both refused, stating that this was a personal affair.
The final straw, it seemed, was the airing on 19th November 2010 of a television special on the history of Congress called Hastagatam (“The Hand is History’) on the Jagan-owned Sakshi channel. The programme was extremely critical of the Congress and raised the ire of a quite a few top Congress politicians. Jagan was attacked for going against the Congress leadership and for airing out his grievances in such a public manner.
In response, Jagan protested his innocence, saying that though he owned the Sakshi media group, it functioned independent of him and he had no control over the content broadcast. However, sources close to Jagan revealed that he had already expressed a desire to leave the Congress and this was simply a ploy with which he could kill two birds with one stone – the party would denounce him, thus giving him an excuse to quit, as well as making it seem to the people of Andhra that the party was being unfaithful to YSR’s legacy.
At this time, the Congress had also inducted Jagan’s uncle, Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy into the Andhra Pradesh cabinet whilst overlooking Jagan. He perceived this as an attempt to foster familial discord and consequently, divide and weaken their family.
On 29th November 2010, Jagan resigned from the Congress through an open resignation letter. He alleged that the Congress high command was actively trying to side-line him and tarnish his reputation. He claimed that he had suffered patiently long enough and he was being forced to resign due to Congress’ continued and blatant incivility.
On 7th December 2010, he announced at Pulivendula that he would be constituting a new political party within forty five days. In March 2011, he revealed that he would name it Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, which translates to ‘Youth, Labour and Farmer’s Congress Party’.
Jagan’s Disproportionate Assets Case
In 2011, Andhra Pradesh cabinet minister P Shankar Rao accused Jagan of having illegally acquired 43,000 crores of assets in the five years that his father was in power. Following a court petition, the Andhra High Court, in August 2011, directed that the CBI be placed in charge of the investigation.
Soon after, the CBI charged Jagan and 74 other individuals of having illicitly laundered money through official channels, cheating and falsification of records under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The CBI found that Jagan had received a large amount of capital inflow from foreign sources. He had investments in companies through which money was being re-routed and diverted. It was also alleged that he had created fictitious transactions with other businesses.
A few of these firms merged and one of Jagan’s companies immediately took over them. Jagan’s Sakshi media group and Bharati Cements had been acquiring money from various suspicious sources. In return, it is said that Jagan helped his so-called investors with obtaining prestigious and extremely profitable government contracts, easing bureaucratic procedures for them, and giving them very advantageously-situated plots of land.
Jagan was charged of violating constitutional norms by engaging in quid pro quo arrangements by providing government favours for investments in his firms. Basically, companies were bribing him to get their work done quickly.
Jagan and his associates descried this and raised vehement objections. He called this a conspiracy on part of the Congress to vilify him and his sterling reputation. He defended himself by saying that all of his dealings were above board and the CBI could not verify their claims of corruption.
Moreover, most of the investments were made when his rival, N. Chandrababu Naidu was heading the Andhra government. He tried to deflect attention from him, saying that all of the projects were sanctioned by the finance department, therefore, the CBI should be investigating them instead of putting him in their cross hairs.
However, the CBI was not impressed with his defence. He was arrested and remanded to judicial custody, with his plea for release repeatedly getting deferred or rejected. Judicial custody for him was extended numerous times too, a rare occurrence for big shot politicos like him.
Additionally, six state ministers and eight bureaucrats were investigated and one arrested in connection to this. Finally, after sixteen months of imprisonment, he was released after being acquitted by the CBI on eight out of ten charges.
By this time, the people of Andhra had started sympathising and rallying behind him, believing that the Congress had arrested him on trumped charges due to his rising popularity. The main opposition to the Congress at the centre, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also fuelled the flame by accusing Congress of political vendetta and of exploiting the CBI’s powers. In response, the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) asked the CBI to present a report on these imputations.
As mentioned previously, it is not possible to ascertain who is speaking the truth. It does seem like that the Congress dropped Jagan, as soon as they realised that he would be of no use to them. They also understood that since he had been privy to insider information while in the Congress, he might try to capitalise on it during his own election campaign. So, they sought to discredit him.
Conversely, though YSR ultimately became a beloved figure in Andhra Pradesh, he initially had a very shady past. The public perceived him as a goon and an upstart and it was reported that YSR used to strong-arm the voters in his constituent into voting for him.
He also conducted underhand dealings with criminals and his name cropped up frequently in mining scams. As such, Jagan, being the heir of such a criminally-inclined dynasty, it is understandable that he would have also participated in his own share of corrupt activities. However, no one expected the vigour with which he would be prosecuted.
Therefore, neither of the two entities can be declared to be the morally upright side in this case. Anyhow, it does not even matter as Jagan has now been elected the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Congress, on the other hand, has suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hand of the BJP. Besides, corruption is rampant and widespread as ever before.