The arrest of N Chandrababu Naidu, the chief of the Telugu Desam Party, has left a leadership vacuum in the party ahead of the upcoming Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections. Naidu was taken into custody in connection with a corruption case involving several crores of rupees and has been remanded to judicial custody for 14 days. The arrest was made by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) court, and Naidu is currently being held at the Central Prison in Rajamahendravaram. He is implicated in a corruption case related to the Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Scam.
Despite his incarceration, Naidu has been granted certain privileges including home-cooked meals, medication, and a special room. These provisions have been made due to his status as a Z-plus category security protectee and the potential threat to his life.
The arrest comes at a critical time for the Telugu Desam Party as they prepare for the Andhra Pradesh assembly elections. The party had previously criticized Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy for being a state chief out on bail, a criticism that now seems to have backfired on Naidu himself.
With Naidu’s arrest, questions arise about who will lead the Telugu Desam Party. Potential successors include Atchen Naidu, president of the Andhra unit of the party and former education minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao. However, it remains to be seen if either of them can maintain the party’s appeal in the upcoming polls. Naidu’s son and TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh is also under investigation in the corruption case.
The legal proceedings could potentially tarnish the image of the TDP ahead of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly Elections scheduled for later this year and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This could also lead to internal confusion within the party about their ability to regain power in Andhra Pradesh without Naidu.
Despite these challenges, the Telugu Desam Party may choose to keep Naidu as their leader even while he is incarcerated. The party believes that targeting a leader in his 70s could generate sympathy votes for him, similar to a strategy used in 2003 when Naidu used an attack on himself by Naxalites as a campaign point.
The corruption case that led to Naidu’s arrest involves alleged irregularities in the establishment of Centers of Excellence (CoEs) in Andhra Pradesh, with an estimated project value of ₹300 crore. The alleged fraud has reportedly caused significant financial loss to the state government.
According to officials, before any expenditure by private entities, the then state government provided an advance of ₹371 crores, representing the entire 10% commitment by the government. Most of this money was allegedly diverted to shell companies through fake invoices, with no actual delivery or sale of items mentioned in these invoices.
The investigation so far has revealed that all funds spent by private entities on six skill development clusters came exclusively from funds advanced by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and AP Skill Development Center, totaling ₹371 crores.