What is the Telangana cash-for-vote controversy?
On May 31, the TDP MLA from Kodungal in Mahbubnagar district of Telangana, A Revanth Reddy, was arrested by the Telangana Anti-Corruption Bureau while allegedly trying to bribe Elvis Stephenson, a nominated Anglo Indian MLA. According to ACB officers, Reddy reached Stephenson through the TDP’s Christian cell leader, and offered him Rs 5 crore to vote for the TDP candidate in Legislative Council election.
When was the election? What was the situation?
On June 1, for 6 vacant seats. There were 7 candidates: 5 of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), 1 Congress, 1 TDP. Each candidate needed at least 17 votes. TRS had won 63 seats in Telangana’s first election and, along with the support of Stephenson, and 5 TDP and 2 Congress MLAs who have joined it over the past few months, had the backing of 71 members in the 120-member assembly (119 elected and 1 nominated). It needed 68 votes to ensure 4 of its nominees went through comfortably.
And how was the TDP placed?
Telangana TDP leaders had hoped the TRS would field only 4 candidates, giving the TDP nominee a chance. But the TRS fielded a fifth candidate, and also mobilised the support of 3 YSR Congress Party and 7 MIM MLAs. This meant that the TDP, with its 10 MLAs, plus the support of its ally BJP’s 5, would still need to “manage” at least 2 other votes to take its tally to 17. And with CPI and CPI(M) indicating that they would abstain, the obvious targets appeared to be Stephenson and, maybe, a disgruntled Congress MLA.
How did A Revanth Reddy get involved?
He has been an aggressive critic of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao, has grown close to TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu in recent months, and is understood to have undertaken to get a TDP MLC into the House long before the election was announced. His confidant Vem Narender Reddy was nominated by the TDP, but falling short on votes meant Revanth Reddy needed at least “two or three” MLAs whose “support” he could seek. It is not clear who else — if anyone — he approached, but he allegedly offered Stephenson Rs 5 crore after the first round of negotiations on May 29. Revanth Reddy allegedly promised to pay him Rs 50 lakh in advance on May 31 and, to reassure Stephenson further, allegedly also requested Naidu to give him a call. According to ACB officials, Stephenson then filed a complaint. “We followed the procedure to catch them red-handed,” Ashok Kumar, Deputy SP of ACB, said.
So, what exactly happened on May 31?
That afternoon, Revanth Reddy, who was accompanied by two aides, allegedly reached the flat of Stephenson’s friend in Secunderabad to close the deal. The ACB had already set up half a dozen spy cameras covering the room from all angles. As Revanth Reddy’s aide was handing over the cash, the officers swooped. Video and audio put out by the ACB purportedly has Revanth Reddy boasting about being in touch with a couple of other MLAs, and referring frequently to the “Big Boss” which is being construed as a reference to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.
Where does Naidu come into this?
While the TDP cried foul over the “stage-managed” sting, an audio recording surfaced mysteriously, in which the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister was purportedly heard assuring Stephenson of all support, and promising to honour all the commitment that his people had made. The audio was given to the TRS-owned T News channel, and Sakshi TV of YSRCP chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. Several reporters also received it by WhatsApp on their phones. The audio was made widely available by ACB officials on Sunday.
What has happened after that?
Stung and embarrassed, Naidu has accused his Telangana counterpart of tapping phones and producing fake audios to settle political scores. The Legislative Council elections continue to hurt the TDP, which drew a blank, the TRS winning 5 seats, and the Congress 1. The TDP candidate got only 10 votes, and it is assumed that the 5 BJP MLAs abstained after the bribery expose. KCR’s son, IT Minister K T Rama Rao, has said Revanth Reddy was caught redhanded following Stephenson’s complaint. ACB got Revanth Reddy’s custody for four days, following which he is in judicial custody.