Hyderabad: The case relating to "disproportionate assets" of YSR Congress party leader Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy continues to haunt the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) naming yet another minister for suspected corruption.
Home Minister Sabitha Indra Reddy is the third minister of the Kiran Kumar Reddy cabinet to be in the dock for allegedly showing undue favours to a cement company which invested in the business of Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of then chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.
In the fifth chargesheet filed by the CBI in the case this week, the investigating agency has charged the home minister with cheating, criminal conspiracy and criminal breach of trust for allocating limestone mines to Dalmiya Cements in her capacity as minister for mines and geology in the YSR cabinet.
Though Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and his cabinet colleagues defended Sabitha Reddy and dissuaded her from resigning, the chargesheet has landed the government in an awkward situation and provided ammunition to the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) for its attack on the government ahead of the next year's assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
The TDP and other opposition parties were quick to seek immediate resignation of Sabitha Reddy, who was treated as 'chelamma' or younger sister by the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who also made her the state's first woman home minister after the Congress retained power in 2009.
Though Jagan, as the MP from Kadapa is popularly known, has remained behind bars since May last year, the latest chargesheet shows that the worries of the ruling party are far from over. With the role of some more ministers in quid pro quo deals under the CBI scanner, the Congress party may not find it easy to get rid of the allegations that it is protecting tainted ministers who were part of the YSR cabinet during 2004-09.
Even before Jagan's arrest, the CBI had put then excise minister Mopidevi Venkatramna behind bars. As minister for infrastructure and investment in the YSR cabinet, he had allegedly allotted huge chunks of land to VANPIC, whose promoter industrialist Nimmagadda Prasad had pumped big money into Jagan's companies.
Last August, the CBI, along with Venktramna named roads and buildings minister Dharmana Prasada Rao as an accused. Rao, who was revenue minister in YSR's cabinet, submitted his resignation, which was rejected by the chief minister, who also refused to grant permission to the CBI to prosecute him.
With Sabitha Reddy figuring in the latest chargesheet, the ruling party has received another jolt at a time when it was gearing up for the 2014 elections. TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, who is on a 'padyatra' for six months, grabbed the opportunity to target both the YSR Congress and the ruling party for corruption.
The TDP and the other opposition parties are demanding that the government drop all the tainted ministers from the cabinet. "It looks as if the entire state cabinet will go to jail," said TDP leader Revant Reddy.
The government is defending the ministers named in the chargesheets on the ground that they acted in accordance with the rules while issuing government orders and had no knowledge of what was happening behind the scenes and who the real beneficiaries were.
The CBI believes that the then YSR government allotted limestone mines and land and granted other favours to companies and individuals who invested in Jagan's businesses as a quid pro quo. Besides the ministers, several IAS and other officers have been named in the case by the CBI.
The Congress party is also facing trouble from within, with a section of ministers and leaders who were unhappy with YSR demanding that the leadership drop all the tainted ministers. Their continuance in the cabinet, the section feels, would negatively impact the party's prospects in next year's elections.It questions the stand taken by the government on the issue and wonders how it can defend ministers named by the CBI while accusing Jagan of wrongdoing. "We can't have different standards for people named as accused in the same case," said a senior party leader.