Telangana & Andhra: A 'tap' that refuses to close, and sibling rivalry on steroids

Phone tapping, drug seizures, a liquor scam and an unresolved murder make for a deadly political slugfest in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh

The phone tapping in Telangana targeted then Opposition leaders such as chief minister Revanth Reddy (photo: @revanth_anumula/X)
The phone tapping in Telangana targeted then Opposition leaders such as chief minister Revanth Reddy (photo: @revanth_anumula/X)

Suresh Dharur

Phone tapping, drug seizures, a liquor scam and an unresolved high-profile murder case come together in a deadly political slugfest ahead of the general elections in the sibling states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

More skeletons keep tumbling out of the BRS (Bharat Rashtra Samithi) cupboard. New disclosures in the phone tapping case point to the involvement of senior party members in a ‘surveillance operation’ that targeted the Opposition Congress leaders.

Four senior police officers have been arrested in the case that involves illegally tapping the phones of political opponents, industrialists and others when the BRS was in power between 2014 and 2023.

“The Indian Telegraph Act allows tapping of telephones under certain clearly defined conditions like when there is a threat to national sovereignty and integrity and (to) friendly relations with foreign countries. There are clear-cut procedures to obtain permission from the home secretary to carry out tapping for a specific period,” said J.D. Lakshminarayana, former joint director of the CBI.

This is a clear case of illegal tapping, said Prof. K. Nageswar, former head of the journalism department at Osmania University and a political analyst: “Invasion of privacy amounts to violation of fundamental rights. The fact that the BRS leaders have been unable to counter the allegations shows that there was wrongdoing.”

This comes under ‘criminal activity’ and attracts imprisonment ranging from 3 to 15 years, said technology expert Nallamothu Sridhar. “High-end imported equipment and Israeli technology appear to have been used in this case.”

Those already arrested include former DCP P. Radhakishan Rao. He was chief security officer to the former chief minister and was later the Special Task Force chief. Former Telangana Intelligence Bureau chief T. Prabhakhar Rao, the main accused in the case, is currently in the US and expected to return ‘any time this week’, reports say.

The details that keep emerging have caused considerable embarrassment to the BRS, already grappling with a steady stream of desertions. Radhakishan Rao confessed his team had not only tapped the phones of opposition leaders and other individuals, but facilitated “transport of money bags in police vehicles” on behalf of BRS leaders during elections.

Three other officers — additional superintendents of police Bhujanga Rao and Thirupathanna and deputy SP Praneeth Rao — have also been arrested. They had admitted to monitoring private individuals illegally — and then destroying the evidence.

Amongst the list of individuals reportedly monitored was chief minister Revanth Reddy, then leader of the Opposition, various members of the BJP and Congress, as well as some leaders from BRS supremo K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s own party. It is reported that over 1 lakh phone calls were tuned into.


Stirring up a narc’s nest

The confiscation of 25,000 kg of suspected narcotics mixed with ‘cutting agents’ at Visakhapatnam Port stirred up another hornet’s nest in Andhra. Curiously, the consignment, shipped from Brazil, was meant for delivery to a shrimp feed manufacturing company’s plant in Kathipudi in West Godavari district. The seizure by the CBI as part of Operation Garuda has raised questions over the political affiliation of the company.

Will Andhra chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy's smile hold? (photo: @ysjagan/X)
Will Andhra chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy's smile hold? (photo: @ysjagan/X)

The container was booked from Santos for delivery to the Visakhapatnam-based private company. The shipper declared that the container held 1,000 bags of inactive dried yeast, each weighing 25 kg.

"However, on preliminary examination, it appears that the material contains narcotics mixed with the inactive dried yeast. The whole consignment was seized and an FIR has been registered against the consignee and unknown others," the CBI said. An international criminal network seems to be indicated.

The opposition Telugu Desam Party’s president N. Chandrababu Naidu and his alliance partner and Jana Sena Party president Pawan Kalyan claim the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) is involved in the alleged drugs racket.

YSRCP general secretary S. Ramakrishna Reddy called these “irresponsible statements” and threatened defamation suits against those making allegations.

Meanwhile, media sympathetic to the ruling party point to a close relative of BJP state president D. Purandeswari in Sandhya Aqua, the shrimp feed plant in question. BJP spokesperson Yamini Sadineni has said the promoter of Sandhya Aqua had in the past worked in one of the companies owned by Purandeswari’s relatives — and that was the extent of their involvement.

However, few can disagree with Chandrababu Nadu, who said, “The timing of such a huge consignment of drugs finding its way into Andhra is questionable.”


Murder in the family

More than five years after the brutal murder of Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the Andhra chief minister’s paternal uncle, the unresolved case has triggered new bitterness in the electioneering family.

Y.S. Sharmila on the campaign trail (photo: @realyssharmila/X)
Y.S. Sharmila on the campaign trail (photo: @realyssharmila/X)

The chief minister is increasingly under attack from some of his own family members for “protecting the murderers” and “obstructing justice”. It doesn’t help that his cousin Y.S. Avinash Reddy, also suspected of a role in the murder, has been fielded as the YSRCP candidate from Kadapa.

“Don’t vote for my brother’s party. Don’t bring him back to power” — this was the unusual appeal from Vivekananda Reddy’s daughter Dr Narreddy Sunitha. “I first reached out to Jagan, as he is my brother and also the chief minister of the state. He first promised me he would do everything possible to deliver justice. But what happened later is the obstruction of justice,” Dr Sunitha said.

The chief minister’s estranged younger sister Y.S. Sharmila — now the state Congress president — has also been unsparing in her attacks on her brother. She too is contesting for the Kadapa seat, against her cousin!

“The accused are able to get away without punishment even five years after the murder only due to the protection given by Jagan,” said Sharmila. “Everybody knows how Avinash and his followers sought to project the murder as a heart attack. Jagan’s own media house (Sakshi media group) said it was a natural death.”

Vivekanand Reddy was murdered on 15 March 2019 at his residence in Kadapa. The CBI has filed multiple chargesheets against eight accused. Both Avinash Reddy, the sitting MP from Kadapa, and his father Bhaskar Reddy are under the CBI scanner, having been named conspirators in the case.


'Unbranding' the BRS

The electoral drubbing and subsequent departure of several senior leaders has pushed the BRS into an existential crisis. Based on feedback from its cadre, the party is now pondering a return to its original name — Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) — in hopes of turning the ship around.

An internal survey by the party revealed that over 80 per cent of workers attributed the party’s defeat in the November 2023 Assembly polls to the name change. They argue that removing ‘Telangana’ from the name has deprived the party of its core identity. The TRS was founded in 2001 to fight for a separate Telangana state.

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