The fall of Rama Mohan Rao

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 29, 2016 09:28 hrs
Rama Mohana Rao

It has been a turbulent time for politics in Tamil Nadu since the death of AIADMK’s leader and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Just fortnight after her death, the Income Tax department raided an AIADMK functionary, Sekhar Reddy. An influential sand mining baron and Thirupathi Devasthanam Board member, the raids reportedly revealed a wider circle of corruption. And so it was the turn of Rama Mohan Rao, Chief Secretary to the government who is believed to have links with Reddy.

An IT official quoted in Scroll said – Reddy had direct access to both Rao and a senior politician of the ruling party. We couldn’t raid the politician as we don’t have enough evidence to link him to the illegal transactions.

Interestingly both are known to have close ties with the late AIADMK supremo and Rao is said have been handpicked by the heir apparent Sasikala.

According to News18 Rama Mohana Rao, a 1985 batch IAS officer from Andhra Pradesh began his career as an Assistant Collector and went on to work in Agri Production, Housing and Urban Development, Industries, Backward Classes Welfare and Khadi and Village Industries Board. He was appointed as Jayalalithaa’s secretary in 2011 and took charge as Chief Secretary in June 2016 when AIADMK was voted back into power and was reportedly calling the shots in the administration when Jayalithaa was hospitalised.

The raids took place on 21st December and the same reports suggest that Rs 136 crore in old and new currency notes and gold worth Rs 177 crore from Rao and his brother Srinivasasalu in Chennai and Vellore.

The very next day he was replaced as Chief Secretary by senior IAS officer Girija Vaidyanathan.

DT Next provides a timeline of events here and breaks down the claims made by Rao during his dramatic press conference which he held after being discharged from hospital. During his impassioned address to the media, he denied all allegations against him and called the raids, politically motivated and an assault on his constitutional authority.

According to Rao, the warrant for the raids did not contain his name and therefore the IT Department had no right to enter his residence and offices at the Secretariat.

Where is the state government? What role or business does the Government of India and CRPF have to enter a Chief Secretary’s chamber? Did they get the chief minister’s permission? If madam [former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa] had been alive, would this happen in Tamil Nadu?

However, according to legal experts interviewed by The Hindu

Section 132 of the I-T Act empowers the officials to enter and search any building, place, vessel, vehicle or aircraft if they have reason to suspect that unaccounted money, gold, jewellery, other valuable articles or documents have been stashed away. The place subjected to search need not necessarily be that owned by the suspected tax evader since he/she could have stashed ill-gotten wealth in other safe places too.

Rao’s comments about his proximity to Jayalalithaa drew flak from many. S.Gurumuthy who was interviewed by Economic Times said,

He has spoken like an AIADMK worker and Jaya fan. Not like a civil servant and CEO of TN State. In Tamil Nadu corruption has been rising with the two Dravidian parties deepening their control over the states and becoming the only alternative to each other, with the national parties being relegated to being their minor partners — to just accept their corruption for a few seats.

According to T. Ramakrishnan in The Hindu, senior and retired bureaucrats also felt that much of what Rao had to say was inappropriate.

One officer described Mr. Rao’s comments as an outburst and did not agree with the latter on some of his observations, which, according to him, were political in nature. Mr. Devesahayam criticised Mr. Rao for seeking to exhibit his personal loyalty to former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

BJP’s Venkiah Naidu echoed a similar reaction and urging Rao not to politicise the issue and claimed that the centre did not have any role to play in his ouster.

I do not want to react to irresponsible statements [made by Rao]. He is known to me as well. I advise him not to make any unnecessary political statements and further complicate the issue

BJP’s leader in Tamil Nadu, Pon Radhakrishnan had harsher words. Malaimalar quotes Radhakrishnan as saying that Rao has brought disrepute to Jayalalithaa and that when he says that no action can be taken against a constitutional authority, he is questioning the constitution itself.

Rao’s claims of innocence do not seem to hold water. Despite denying allegations of corruption, it is hard to ignore evidence available to suggest that companies connected to his son Vivek received several Central and state government contracts. A Times Now investigation revealed that- the son of former Chief Secretary P Rama Mohana Rao, who evaded Income Tax summons in connection with a tax evasion probe, used his father's influence to bag multi-crore contracts from not just the State government but also the Centre. At the Centre of this investigation is Padmavati Hospitality & Facilities Management Service. This company has managed obtain over Rs 500 crore worth of government projects.

The flipside of the issue is the fact that the Tamil Nadu government, apart from sacking him, has not made any statement on the matter. Sruthisagar Yamunan reminds us that the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had a very different reaction when his Principal Secretary was raided. The lack of any reaction is especially stark when Tamil Nadu has always been a fierce proponent of federal rights. Yamunan writes in The Scroll -

Political analysts feel if Panneerselvam had really wanted to assert himself as the chief minister, the IT raids were a golden chance. Had he condemned the IT department’s move to search the chief secretary’s office at Fort St George, the seat of power in Tamil Nadu, it could have boosted his image. Instead, Panneerselvam chose to silently change the chief secretary and leave matters to rest. The searches also came a day after he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, raising questions on whether he was informed of the move and still let the sleuths move into the secretariat.

DMK’s M.K Stalin, however, did raise the issue and tweeted –

While the central government minister’s claim that the raids were carried out based on credible grounds, they must respond to the allegations made by Rama Mohan Rao

MDMK’s Vaiko was also quoted as saying that while the IT Department has the power to conduct raids without informing the state government and using the state the fact that it was done in that manner was not good for democracy. He did say that Rao had overstepped his boundaries during his press conference.

Others who have come out against the raids include West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee.

Despite the demand for clarifications, the Tamil Nadu government remains silent raising serious doubts if there is turbulence within the ruling party.

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