If and when YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of former Andhra Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, were to be back in the Congress, we would know why.
It would be in lieu of a deal allegedly proposed by him: that he would not be arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is probing an illegal assets case against him, and for possible links with the powerful Bellary brothers’ illegal ore mining businesses.
Jaganmohan Reddy, currently MP from Kadapa, is an important player in Andhra Pradesh politics for several reasons: he is the son of his late father, has huge wealth stemming from mining interests, and owns a large chain of newspapers and a television channel. He is also powerful for another simple reason: he can be a thorn in the Congress’ flesh come the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Realising the power of his perch, and the perceived support he may command due to his late father’s popularity, Jaganmohan Reddy has extended an olive branch to the Congress by finding its most vulnerable spot: its desire to be back in power at the centre with Rahul Gandhi in the prime ministerial chair by 2014. Manmohan Singh, after the nightmarish way UPA-2 has run, may not get yet another tenure.
Apparently, the arrest and detention of the Bellary brothers and the advances made in some cases under the supervision of the courts – the illegal assets case is one such – has unnerved Jaganmohan enough to send out feelers. No issue here, because politics in the country has been run on this basis for ever so long.
What is galling, however, is that Jaganmohan Reddy met Deepinder Hooda, a well-placed Congress MP and son of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda, during the winter session of Parliament when it was seized of the Lokpal issue. A key bone of contention in the Lokpal Bill is whether the CBI would be autonomous and independent of political interference.
Two other friendly MPs carried the Jaganmohan message to Ghulam Nabi Azad to be forwarded to the High Command – Sonia Gandhi – hoping she would bite and that the stakes for the Congress are too big to ignore the offer. After all, what is the advantage of having a regional political rival in lock-up when control of the country through one family is the prize? The Reddy math is structured on the premise that the Congress will opt for expediency rather than principle. He has watched his father in politics all his life and learnt his political lessons well — apparently.
The brazenness is in the timing of the move as well as in the assumption that the Lokayukta would not come to be a reality soon enough to mar the prospects of a deal. Also, the assumption is that if a Lokayukta did emerge soon, the CBI would not be autonomous. After all, during debates in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, all political parties had conceded that the CBI was manoeuvred, manipulated and misused by all political parties in power at the centre without exception.
Therefore, the deal offered, if true, is also true to political form. This is how deals have been fashioned in the past. However, it comes at an inconvenient moment when the country is looking to see if the CBI would be freed from executive political control. Who should or should not be arrested is sometimes decided in the politician’s backroom, it is believed.
Let us assume that in its greed to corner the top job for itself, the Congress were to fall prey and give Reddy his indemnity. In that case, all talk in Parliament and on news TV channels by anybody and everybody from the Congress about its determination to rid the country of corruption would be pure hot air.
The very fact that the CBI itself had been briefing journalists on a not-for-attribution basis that it feared losing its autonomy if it came under the Lokpal is laughable. What it meant was that CBI wanted to let things be so that it could carry on with business as usual – detain people, pretend to probe, let cases fail, and then be content with inflicting one serious damage to the persons accused: by denying them bail for a while. A Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, and a few bureaucrats in Tihar are testimony to this philosophy of pre-trial punitive detention.
The CBI has never been, despite its claims to being autonomous, a burnished example of a focused probe agency. Its conviction rate in 2010 was marginally higher than what it had notched up in the previous year: 70.8 percent in 2010 as compared to 64.4 percent in year 2009. That it takes months and years to probe a case ought to have secured better results. What this means is that it is only a tad better than most state police departments.
One has to note that in most high-profile cases, either involving huge sums of money, or big personalities, the Supreme Court has had to supervise the investigations by seeking regular inputs on the progress of cases. If it were really independent, the CBI would need no monitoring by the Supreme Court.
Little wonder, then, Jaganmohan Reddy is alleged to have made manipulation of the CBI the core of a proposed political deal.