Ruling YSR Congress blames SEC Ramesh Kumar for playing into the hands of opposition TDP.
The ongoing poll process for around 21,800 gram panchayats in Andhra Pradesh has assumed more significance in the wake of a never-ending tussle between SEC (State Election Commissioner) Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government in the state. Ruling YSR Congress attacked SEC Ramesh Kumar playing into the hands of opposition TDP.
The elections which would be held on a non-party basis are scheduled in four phases—9, 13, 17 and 21 February—but the results are keenly watched by all in view of the political heat they generated. The government has gone three times to the Supreme Court seeking to stop elections under Ramesh Kumar’s supervision, but the top court gave a green light to the poll process.
Ramesh Kumar, a retired IAS officer of 1982 batch, was appointed the SEC of AP during the previous N. Chandrababu Naidu led TDP government. Originally, the poll process to the local bodies began last January-February, but Ramesh Kumar put the process on hold in view of the spread of Covid-19 at the time. In fact, Ramesh Kumar and Jagan’s government never got along well. The ruling party at the time alleged that the SEC had postponed the polls as he was not happy with the winning prospects of YSR Congress candidates across the State. However, Ramesh Kumar justified his decision on the ground that the situation was serious at the time.
After that, the Jagan government has promulgated an ordinance removing Ramesh Kumar from the post and appointing a retired High Court judge from Chennai, Justice Kangana Raj, as SEC. This triggered a prolonged legal battle between Ramesh Kumar and the Jagan government–first at the HC and then at the SC. Finally, Ramesh Kumar won the battle and was reinstated as the SEC.
After he came back to office, Ramesh Kumar wanted to hold the elections, but ironically, CM Jagan and his ministers were not ready for the same on the ground that the Covid situation was still serious and that the government employees who have to conduct the polls were busy with the vaccination drive launched from the third week of January.
Again, another round of legal battle took place between the two sides and finally the SC gave the green light to hold the polls now. Finally, the state government has agreed to cooperate with the SEC and facilitate the elections to the Gram Panchayats as decided by the former. Now the election process is in motion, but the bitter fight between the two sides hasn’t subsided.
Currently, the Andhra political theatre is full of barbs and verbal attacks between the government and SEC, also involving Opposition TDP leaders mostly. The ruling party has given a call to all villagers to prefer unanimous elections to the village panchayats, but the TDP alleges that this was a ploy to threaten and force people to accept YSR Congress candidates as sarpanches and ward members.
As some of the coastal villages in AP are rich with natural resources and industrial parks, the fights to head the gram panchayats have become too expensive, in some villages the election expenditure touching Rs 10 crore. As both YSR Congress and TDP are leaving no stone unturned to prove their grip over villages, the contests turned fierce.
Of course, BJP and Power Star Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena, which are in an alliance, too are in the race, but they are expected to finish third, followed by Congress and other Left parties, which are a marginal force in AP now. Acting on the complaints lodged by TDP over the forced unanimous elections in some villages, SEC Ramesh Kumar ordered transfer of some senior officials.
Ramesh Kumar also wrote to Chief Secretary Adityanath Das to censure two senior IAS officers and even lodged a complaint with Governor Biswabhushan Harichandan against two senior ministers–Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy (panchayat raj) and Botsa Satyanarayana (municipal administration) for publicly abusing him.
Now, the ruling party plans to summon SEC Ramesh Kumar to the Assembly and punish him for levelling charges against the ministers who have brought the issue to the notice of Legislative Privileges Committee led by YSR Congress MLA K. Govardhan Reddy.
For this, the Jagan government is referring to a similar precedent in Maharashtra in 2008.
Ramesh Kumar, who will step down as SEC after his tenure on 31 March 2021, meanwhile made it clear that he was not acting on behalf of the TDP as was alleged by the ministers but an “officer close to late CM Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy”, Jagan’s father. This hasn’t calmed the fight between the ministers and SEC, thus turning on heat on the poll process till the last day.