A cash-for-votes scam in Telangana has taken a dramatic turn with the emergence of a tape of a phone conversation in which Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is purportedly heard asking a legislator to back a TDP candidate in an election.
The Andhra Pradesh government has denied that it is Naidu's voice on the audio tape that was first played on Sunday on T News, a Telugu news channel owned by Telangana’s ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party, and later picked up by other channels.
The tape features a purported phone conversation between Naidu and nominated Telangana legislator Elvys Stephenson, and suggests that the chief minister gave an "assurance of all sorts" to the MLA if he votes for a Telugu Desam Party (TDP) nominee in the Telangana legislative council election.
During the conversation, Naidu purportedly said, "Our people briefed me. I am with you, don't bother. For everything I am with you. What all they spoke, we will honour."
Listen:Chandrababu Naidu's alleged telephone conversation that could throw Telangana in constitutional crisis
TDP legislator Revanth Reddy was arrested on May 31 for allegedly trying to bribe Stephenson to vote for a TDP nominee in the legislative council election. Telangana’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is in the process of questioning Reddy and two others who have been arrested in the cash-for-votes case.
Based on a complaint by Stephenson, ACB officials held Reddy, Sebastian Harry and Uday Simha after they were caught allegedly handing over Rs 50 lakh to Stephenson.
The audio tape became public three days after Telangana home minister N Narasimha Reddy said the government has proof that Naidu spoke to Stephenson and other MLAs of the TRS to lure them to vote for the TDP candidate in the legislative council elections.
The new controversy may create a constitutional crisis as Telangana’s ACB is planning to summon Naidu for questioning.
Reacting to the fresh twist, Andhra Pradesh government spokesman Parakala Prabhakar said the tape is fabricated but the state is taking the issue seriously.
Prabhakar alleged the Telangana government is trying to malign Naidu’s image and mislead the people of Andhra Pradesh by resorting to “cheap tactics”.
He wanted to know how the Telangana government got the audio tape. "If you have done telephone tapping, it is a crime and if you have recorded Mr Chandrababu Naidu's voice on different occasions, tampered it and presented to mislead people that it is his conversation," he said.
"It is not the chief minister's conversation. How come they are available outside? The Telangana government has to give answer to this. Telangana CM and home minister should give answers," Parakala said.
Andhra Pradesh's finance minister Y Ramakrishnudu, a senior leader of the TDP, said the tape is proof that the Telangana government is violating the law by tapping phones.
Hyderabad is the common capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The TRS government in Telangana and the TDP government in Andhra Pradesh have taken up the issue with ESL Narasimhan, the governor of both states.
In swift developments on Sunday night, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao met Narasimhan at the Raj Bhavan, while Naidu called a meeting with Andhra Pradesh police chief JV Ramudu and other officials to take stock of the situation.
Rao's meeting with the governor, the second in three days, came minutes after the release of the tape that emerged a few hours after the ACB questioned Reddy and two others for the second day in the cash-for-votes case.
A court had sent Reddy and the two others to the custody of the ACB for four days.