Jagan letter to the CJI has exposed the political-judicial nexus to some extent
It was one beautifully drafted letter. Despite a few inherent flaws, it was one of its kind. And, it would serve its purpose – if not immediately, ultimately. At the outset, the letter Jagan Mohan Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh wrote to the Chief Justice of India levelling accusations on N V Ramana, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court and who may be on his way to becoming the next Chief Justice of India was the result of a superior brain that has calculated various repercussions on the way Indian Judiciary will function henceforth – and on the immediate situation of politics in the state of Andhra Pradesh, as well as at national politics.
Ever since Jagan Mohan Reddy assumed the office of Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, the state was in continuous turmoil. While Chandrababu Naidu, who was never a political maverick has committed various political mistakes during his stint as the Chief Minister from 2014 to 2019. Jagan has encashed the cumulative effect of all those mistakes in the election in which the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was almost decimated. Like many politicians in India, Chandrababu Naidu, who was highly respected for his administrative prowess, but was poor in playing politics has fallen prey to his own faults. His overtly close relationship with BJP and sudden separation was something that Andhra voters could not comprehend. Add to that Prashant Kishor’s electoral machinations and by the time Naidu realized what was happening, he was in the opposition.
One major decision that impacted the government was Jagan Mohan Reddy going back on his promise of continuing Amaravati as the capital for the new state.
Of course, it was not the first time Naidu was dislodged. When he was ruling the united Andhra earlier and was considered to be invincible, Raja Sekhara Reddy, father of the present chief minister had snatched power from him and kept in political oblivion. It was the dastardly act of bifurcating the state at midnight that has resulted in an avalanche of anger against the Congress, which catapulted TDP into power. Jagan’s Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) could not perform well in 2014 for two reasons – the first one being he was in jail for a considerable amount of time after being accused of unparalleled corruption. The second reason was a more regular one. Everyone thought TDP will be winning and so people vote for the winning party.
It was said Chandrababu Naidu and Rajasekhara Reddy were both friends for more than four decades – ever since both were ministerial colleagues in the Andhra cabinet in as early as 1980. And, it was the Congress that denied Jagan the coveted post of being the Chief Minister to united Andhra Pradesh after the untimely demise of his father in a helicopter crash. Not only he was denied the power, but he was jailed; all the while Rahul Gandhi was claiming the Prime Minister post just because he happened to born in one particular family. So, it was natural if Jagan has a grudge against Congress. Maybe he thought Congress is too insignificant to deserve his attention, Jaganmohan Reddy has trained all his guns targeting TDP. This was so uncharacteristic to Andhra politics. Maybe it was the guidance from his political advisor Prashant Kishor, or there was another reason that was not openly told. However, somehow Jagan conveyed a message to those who elected him with a huge majority that his first priority is consolidating political power. The general feeling is that administration was pushed to the second spot.
One major decision that impacted the government was Jagan Mohan Reddy going back on his promise of continuing Amaravati as the capital for the new state. Of course, the decision by Chandrababu Naidu to construct a greenfield capital was fundamentally against the recommendations of the Expert Committee constituted for the same purpose. Though the committee has identified eight possible zones for the capital, the popular choices were Mangalagiri and Donakonda. Here, one may be reminded that various other movements that have happened before 2014. There were many demands for even smaller states like Uttarandhra to Greater Rayalaseema. Every politician who aspires to get noticed has made so many demands claiming to represent people of various regions. That was the time when K Chandrasekhara Rao has already proven how easy it is to stroke regional fears and bifurcate a state. The bifurcation has so stunned people in the Coastal region they simply lost belief in any constitutional office. To some extent, the decision of selecting Amaravati was influenced by such fears of the cash-rich, politically powerful districts of the coastal region, Guntur and Krishna. Somehow Chandrababu Naidu, despite winning the assembly elections with a comfortable majority, could not convince and so Amaravati was born. The decision to construct a new capital in agriculture lands may not be correct on technical grounds. However, once the decision was taken by a government, it should be respected. In fact, decision making during bigger missions was critical more from the factor of time, rather than on being the perfectly correct one.
To his credit, Chandrababu Naidu was successful in pooling land and start construction. As YSRCP alleged there were many people who were close to power who have indulged in malpractices to benefit from the decision. And, they have bought land not only in the Mangalagiri zone but even in the Donakonda zone. However, as Donakonda failed to become the capital, real estate in this zone has crashed ever since, while it boomed in the Mangalagiri zone.
The letter Jagan has written to the Chief Justice of India has exposed the political-judicial nexus to some extent, his annexures detailing similar recommendations by Chandrababu Naidu and Justice N V Ramana being the crucial document of all.
However, Jagan has made a political blunder when he made the proposal to have three capitals. This decision has many intrinsic flaws. For example, one needs to see why only Mangalagiri and Donakonda regions were popular choices of all the identified zones. It was because both were close to the Centre of the new state. Now, Jagan has proposed Visakhapatnam to be the Executive capital and Kurnool to be the Judicial capital, while Amaravati remains the Legislative capital. If Visakhapatnam is almost at the Northern end of the state, Kurnool is a bit South from even Donakonda. In states like Tamilnadu, Maharashtra also capitals are at one end and are not so easily accessible to people from all areas of the state. But for a new state, when there is a chance to correct past errors, the proposal of three capitals was seen as an act governed by pure political vendetta.
Had Jagan ordered a judicial inquiry in the land dealings of 2014 by a sitting judge or a CBI inquiry by the Supreme Court, but continued with Amaravati as the new capital, his political capital would have risen manifold. Instead, whoever his advisers were, they could not rise to the occasion and reduced the faith of voters in Jagan to just a brute majority in the Assembly. For Chandrababu Naidu, who wanted to get etched in the annals of Telugu History as the creator of Amaravati, this decision was beyond his tolerance. Thus reducing the stature of Amaravati will provide ample personal satisfaction to Jagan, despite affecting his political image, because, after Jagan’s act, the people of Andhra will not believe in any political leader. From the voters’ perspective, Chandrasekhar Rao accused them of depriving locals of Telangana and snatched Hyderabad, the city that has the contribution of many people from the Coastal and Rayalaseema regions. Narendra Modi has denied special status to the state that was guaranteed to it in the bifurcation bill. Chandrababu Naidu gave in to the powerful lobby of Guntur-Vijayawada by ignoring Donakonda. Now, Jagan is partially moving the capital out of Amaravati – after everyone accepted it as the new capital.
As Jagan enjoyed a huge majority in the Assembly, TDP has taken the judicial route to question the government. Frankly speaking, it was Jagan who has given this chance to TDP. About 70% of decisions have lots of nuisance value. For example, the decision to transform government schools to English medium schools. Some decisions were opposed by YSRCP earlier when they were in opposition. With so many cases in the High Court, the image of the government in its subjects was not so good; for it was the courts that still enjoy some dignity in our constitutional pillars.
To reclaim the honour of his government, Jagan Mohan Reddy finally struck at the very core of the judiciary. And, this attack on the judiciary was a highly calibrated move. One can say that Jagan was forced to take out the Brahmastra. And, in this attack, he may have the backing of the Prime Minister and the Union Government. It was only last week Jagan Mohan Reddy met Narendra Modi and the news was ripe with the speculations of YSRCP joining NDA. For BJP, Chandrababu Naidu is a spent force. With no clear second rung leadership, TDP may not come to power unless Jagan continued to commit political blunders. But, the letter Jagan has written to the Chief Justice of India has exposed the political-judicial nexus to some extent, his annexures detailing similar recommendations by Chandrababu Naidu and Justice N V Ramana being the crucial document of all.
With one stroke, Jagan has pushed the judiciary to the wall. Rival media may say that he had the audacity of attacking the revered judiciary, but legally, administratively, and politically, this was a masterstroke. The Chief Justice cannot ignore a letter from a Chief Minister. He will have to take some action and consulting the Union Government is amongst one of his next actions. In all probability, contents of Jagan’s letter that will be converted into an affidavit itself by then will be seconded by the Union Government. After all, how the Union Government and the CJI can say anything without some inquiry. During the preliminary inquiry, it will be established that there is a ground for conducting a detailed inquiry because this was already taken care of – even before writing the letter.
And, any inquiry means applying brakes to the career progress of Justice Ramana. The detailed inquiry may perhaps not being so critical of Justice Ramana, as there are some technical flaws in the allegations. To start with, Ramana may claim he has taken the then State Government into his confidence while giving his opinion on those elevations. Then, there is the case of Mr. Somayajulu who was not recommended by Chandrababu Naidu and Ramana but has stayed inquiry into the land dealings as accused by the present Chief Minister. I failed to understand the logic of citing such contradicting examples in the letter. Nevertheless, Justice Ramana may not get any reprieve in the form of faster inquiry because both the Union and State Governments will oppose such a move. Jagan will immediately remind the CJI that he is still fighting cases that were filed against him about a decade ago. Can the CJI fast track so Justice Ramana may be exonerated? Well, it doesn’t appear so.
As the case is now openly a fight between the polity and judiciary, one may wonder whether this was the result of the internal politics of the judiciary. People still remember four Supreme Court Judges holding a press conference against the CJI. While the move may be a boost to Jagan in the immediate future, he needs to have some good advisors in his team. He needs good counsellors in administration as much as Chandrababu Naidu needs political counsellors. Meanwhile, if YSRCP chooses to join BJP, it signals a major shift in the way BJP will be practicing politics in the states of Andhra Pradesh. BJP may be going slow in the state till TDP is out of the race and may take on YSRCP in the future. For Chandrababu Naidu, the after-effects of the letter will have no impact because he already is in opposition.
The only person who really has a headache is the CJI because he is now forced to deal with something none of his predecessors had to deal with. And, his actions will be a defining moment for the Indian Judiciary. The aftermath of this letter will relegate the press conference by four judges to a mere trailer, for now, CJI will be dealing with institutionalized symptoms that allegedly plague higher echelons of the judiciary.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.