Friday, 15 November 2019

Koda-Cola Spills Over

Updated: December 19, 2009 12:31 pm

It was perhaps two months ago that an IAS officer from Ranchi revealed a secret to his journalist friends in the national capital: several Jharkhand minister’s daily income ran into crores and many of them have got a currency note counting machine installed at their home! The “secret” was out in open in no time.

Income Tax sleuths and Enforcement Directorate officials have seized four currency notes counting machines from the official residence of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, an independent MP, who is now under scanner of several investigating agencies for having amassed wealth disproportionate to his known source of income. A large amount of this illgotten money is now said to have been invested abroad and also in profitable business endeavours in various parts of the country.

Officer investigating the cases against Madhu Koda and Co claim the Rs5000 crore figure could just be the tip of an iceberg and the scam could have its root deeper than it appears on the face. The investigators are yet to lay hands on many other associates of the former CM who have somehow managed to escape the grilling by the IT and ED officials.

This is just one of many scams that the picturesque Jharkhand has witnessed. It has been in news for wrong reasons, the very first being the JMM bribery scandal of 1993. This was perhaps one of the first political scandals of independent India, when investigating agencies reached so close to establishing the money trail to save a government at centre.

            From novice JMM leaders who parked the ill-gotten money in saving bank accounts, to smart Madhu Koda, who invested the illicit money abroad through hawala channel, the influence of money power in Indian politics has grown stronger and stronger. From Jharkhand to Andhra, from Maharashtra to Karnataka, from Haryana to Rajasthan and from Punjab to Tamil Nadu, politicians have started to learn the art of flourishing and risk of perishing for money power.

When Madhu Koda was trying to avoid interrogation by getting himself admitted to a hospital on the outskirts of Ranchi, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa was confabulating with BJP’s central leadership to work out a compromise formula to survive a crisis to his government after the influential mine-owning Reddy brothers from Bellary raised the banner of revolt against him.

The brothers Gali Karunakar Reddy, Gali Janardhan Reddy and Gali Somashekhar Reddy, sons of a former police constable, had given on a platter to the party leaders at least four district of Karnataka in the 2008 elections and left no stone unturned when the party fell short of a few MLAs to form the government.

The mining lords, who owe their growth within the BJP and in the state political arena to their proximity to senior leader Sushma Swaraj, had arranged for most of the independent MLAs whose support was crucial to BS Yeddyurappa. In return, they got officers of their choice posted in and around Bellary—their fortress. The chinks started to develop within months when the business interest of the Reddy brothers started taking a beating under Yeddyurappa who refused to accept the armtwisting beyond a point.

With several thousand crores in their pocket, the Reddy brothers succeeded in purchasing the loyalty of over four dozen MLAs and left the Yeddyurappa government to deal with the worst crisis of his tenure as a Chief Minister. The matter was sorted out only after the BJP leadership acceded to the demands of the mining lords whose money power will continue to give new turns and twists to the state politics.

Those who have known Reddy brothers from close quarters say they and Congress MP Jagan Reddy have the same business interest and in fact were silent partners in many joint business endeavours. In Januay this year, a Lokayukta team from Karnataka found that Obalapuram Mining Company (OMC), based in Andhra Pradesh and owned by Minister for Tourism and Infrastructure Development G Janardhan Reddy, tampered with the border markings between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It also detected encroachment of forest land in Karnataka.

The team found that OMC also built connecting roads across the border into Karnataka in order to access ore from mines it had contracted. The border area holds rich deposits of high-grade iron ore. While the Karnataka government has distributed leases to three companies in the border area, Andhra Pradesh has given a mining lease to OMC.

Jagan is the son of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister the late YSR Reddy— undoubtedly the Congress’ biggest and most succesful fund-manager. After YSR’s death, there was a sustained campaign by business lobbies—most of whom were in the good books of YSR— to instal Jagan as the next Chief Minister of the state, notwithstanding that he enetered politics by contesting this year’s parliamentary election.

The caretaker K Rosaiah government was virtually held to ransom as party workers spilled on to the streets burning effigies of central leaders who were coming in the way of Jagan being elevated as the chief minister. Hyderabad—or for that matter entire Andhra Pradesh—is that part of the country, which has always attracted the business houses from real estate to IT, media to entertainment and is often considered the powerhouse of the Congress party. There are many multi-million projects in the pipeline and the next Chief Minister of the state would give a go-ahead to them. The reason for being so anxious about the top job is quite obvious.

It is altogether a different matter that Andhra Pradesh has produced the maximum number of millionaire politicians, whose entry in the Parliament and its different committees has raised many an eyebrow. V Kishore Chandra Deo, a Congress MP from Andhra and Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts, recently sought a clarification from at least three members of the panel, who incidentally were from Andhra Pradesh, if their membership amounted to clash of interest.

All of them have multi-million interest in the road construction business and being members of Public Accounts Committee have the authority to grill the officers of the National Highway Authority of India, which was locked into a dispute worth several crores with a company run directly by these MPs—T Subbirami Reddy, Lagadapati Rajagopal and Nama Nageswara Rao—or by their close blood relations.

The Congress not only fought against the power-brokers and the gods of wealth from Andhra, it finally had to succumb to their wishes in Maharashtra as well. Many within the Congress had propped up the idea of cutting to size the NCP, whose growth in the western state was coming at the cost of the Congress. The big brother of the alliance was not willing to oblige the junior partner by doling out important portfolios to it. As the alliance seemed on the rocks, power-brokers and crisis managers, who had generously donated into the kitty to these parties swung into action to save the alliance and also their business interest. The deal was done at last.

It is not ironical that a large number of politicians from Maharashtra have direct interest in several business schemes. President Pratibha Patil’s alleged role in mismanagement of funds by a cooperative managed by her family made headlines for so many weeks during the presidential election. In fact, most of the Maharashtra’s influential politicians are connected to one or the other cooperative and have business interest in the sugar, textiles, construction and other industries.

            The last word is yet to be said on what BJP aptly described as the biggest scam of independent India—the dubious auction of the 2G spectrum, which is said to have incurred a loss to the state exchequer of more than Rs 60,000 crore. As the CBI prepares to interrogate Telecom Minister A Raja, several reports have come close to establishing the deal between certain real estate companies, which managed to procure licences even without having any experience to operate in the telecom sector. Raja’s home state— Tamil Nadu—is, otherwise, infamous for the kind of influence cash wields over politics. Leaders admit in private that average cost of contesting an assembly election in the southern-most state of the country is any thing between Rs 5 crore and 10 crore. Recoveries made in raids during the election period would substantiate it.

By Nupur Priyadarshini

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