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It’s all politics: K’taka MLAs caught bribing might get away, as in Telangana

The Election Commission (EC)’s decision to not countermand the June 11 elections to four Rajya Sabha seats in Karnataka after four MLAs were allegedly taped negotiating bribes is surprising, but not without precedent.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2016 16:13 IST
Rajya Sabha elections,MLAs,Karnataka
The Election Commission has decided to let the Rajya Sabha elections go on unaffected despite four MLAs being taped allegedly negotiating bribes for votes(PTI File Photo)

The Election Commission (EC)’s decision to not countermand the June 11 elections to four Rajya Sabha seats in Karnataka after four MLAs were allegedly taped negotiating bribes is surprising, but not without precedent.

Last year, a legislator in Telangana was caught red-handed attempting to bribe another MLA in the run up to a Legislative Council election. The scandal ensnared top politicians and made national headlines, but no heads rolled. As in Karnataka now, the EC allowed the Telangana poll to go ahead then.

“The long arm of the law suddenly is amputated... when the politically powerful get away (with such misconduct),’’ said L Ravichander, a Hyderabad-based activist.

Read | Copy of ‘sting’ on Karnataka RS polls to be given to Election Commission

On May 31 last year, a senior MLA of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Revanth Reddy, was caught paying an alleged bribe of Rs 50 lakh by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

Reddy had approached Elvis Stephenson, a nominated MLA, to vote for TDP nominee V Narender Reddy in the election to the Telangana Legislative Council on June 1. He was caught after Stephenson informed the ACB of his offer.

An elaborate spy camera set-up ensured that Revanth was caught on tape, spreading wads of currency notes before Stephenson on the table. For the world, it was a view of the depravity in Indian politics.

Revanth was heard constantly repeating that he was acting on instructions from his “Boss”. Though there is no indication of who ‘Boss’ is, one presumption is that he is party president N Chandrababu Naidu, which would make the chief minister a co-conspirator.

To make matters worse, an audio recording of a phone conversation allegedly featured Naidu telling Stephenson that “everything will be taken care of”.

The expose jolted the TDP and it went on the offensive, alleging that the AP CM’s phone lines were being tapped. In a sense, the party confirmed it was indeed Naidu’s voice in the audio recordings. The ACB though did not name the chief minister as an accused in the chargesheet but mentioned his alleged role in great detail.

“It was an attempt to sully the image of Chandrababu Naidu, who is not just a CM but a leader with a national profile,” said K Rammohan Rao, a TDP leader.

Even though the EC was immediately informed on May 31 of the attempt, it did not countermand the election. It even allowed both Reddy and Stephenson to vote in the election on June 1. In fact, even though the attempted bribe was for an election, the EC allowed the ACB, that reports to the Telangana government, to take charge of the case.

According to political analyst, K Nageshwar, the EC had a reason not to countermand the election.

“The complaint was made by the MLA Stephenson who was sought to be bribed. He did not yield to the temptation which means the election process was not getting vitiated,” he reasoned.

In the 13 months since the case broke, forensic labs have analysed the phone conversations to establish the identity of the people involved. But the ACB suffered a setback with the quashing of the FIR against accused no. 4, Jerusalem Mathaiah, who argued that at no point had he spoke to Stephenson and the agency was not able to establish any link between him and Reddy. All the accused are out on bail.

The evidence available in the Telangana cash-for-vote case, prima facie, is far more incriminating and politically explosive, than in Karnataka. “The case has made slow progress only because the forensic labs took time to acquire sophisticated equipment to undertake voice analysis,” said a senior ACB officer.

The opposition has also alleged that an understanding at the highest political level has been worked out to let the big fish off the hook. It points to the fact that Naidu moved out of Hyderabad soon after the case and did not even campaign in the municipal elections in Hyderabad in January.

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) too has been mum on the matter, though it earlier loudly claimed it would get Revanth expelled from the Assembly.

“At one time, K Chandrasekhar Rao was talking of sending Naidu to jail. Now he is friendly with him,” said Congress president Uttam Kumar Reddy.

TRS leaders deny the charge. “The government has done its job in bringing the case to the court and now it is for the judicial process to take over,” argued Srinivas Goud, a TRS MLA.

In Karnataka, the story that unfolds could very well follow the same lines.

First Published: Jun 10, 2016 15:42 IST