Telugu Desam Party supremo Nara Chandrababu Naidu. (Image: Twitter)
There is an unmistakable trace of schadenfreude in the public reaction to the arrest of any prominent political leader, especially one who has had a long stint in power, self-righteous overtones to his career’s narrative and never faced the brunt of the laws he himself must have helped carve.
Such an arrest, as in the recent case of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and the Telugu Desam Party supremo Nara Chandrababu Naidu, also predictably brings to the fore two major questions — was the arrest motivated solely by political considerations and is the result of a conspiracy or witch-hunt by rivals, and will it lead to a surge in sympathy for the arrested leader, perhaps ensure his win in the next election?
The series of events which led to the arrest of Mr Naidu began late last Friday night, another textbook tactic vis-a-vis its timing, and after much drama on the streets and in the media and social media space, has led to the court remand of 14 days, finally leading to his being incarcerated.
The scam, a Rs 371-crore one which allegedly took place in the Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Corporation (APSDC), was probed by the AP state CID, which also conducted the arrest. It has pushed the politics of AP into an overdrive several months before the next elections.
As per reports, the APSDC was set up by the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP government after coming to power in Andhra Pradesh in 2014. It was to train and impart skills to youth, with an expenditure outlay of around Rs 3,356 crores. Out of this, the state government had said that a private company, Siemens, would foot 90 per cent of the funding, while the state government would allocate 10 per cent of the expenditure as and when the German firm releases its funds.
Contrary to this plan, the TDP government released Rs 371 crores, including taxes, in one go towards its share of the 10 per cent contribution. However, the scam participants decided to siphon off even the tax component that was composed to be remitted to the government.
This error of judgment on their part unravelled the wrongdoing rather unintentionally, when the Goods and Service Tax (GST) intelligence unit found that the contracting company, which was fraudulently using its association with German tech major Siemens, had claimed CENVAT without paying service tax.
State investigative agencies have also alleged that several other procedural lapses, such as presenting a detailed project report (DPR) for the state Cabinet's approval bypassing the established government procedures, could be found.
Funds, according to file notings by the finance secretary, were released to Siemens based on the instructions of the then-CM Chandrababu Naidu. The file notings are a key to linking Mr Naidu with the scam which he claims ignorance about.
While both parties are accusing each other — the TDP alleges that chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy was pursuing a vendetta for his own arrest and incarceration for nearly 17 months in corruption cases — the YSRC is holding its ground, saying Mr Naidu is one of the most corrupt leaders in India who is finally getting his comeuppance.
In any event, it is a good reminder that no one is above the law.