Hyderabad: Has the Chandrababu Naidu administration scored a self-goal in the ‘encounter killing’ of 20 woodcutters in Seshachalam forest? Have the Andhra Pradesh political and bureaucratic leadership failed to gauge the backlash in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu?
A practicing advocate Krishna Murthy, who hails from Tamil Nadu, raised the issue of the encounter in the court of the Chief Justice of India. The court directed him to file a petition so that it could take appropriate decision on the same.
N Chandrababu Naidu in a file photo. AFP
Krishna Murthy told the media on Thursday that he would seek a CBI probe, a judicial inquiry by a retired Supreme Court judge into the “encounter” and also booking of criminal cases against the officials responsible for the killings, if the encounter was proved to be fake in the inquiry.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has clandestinely called for an explanation from the Andhra government. Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had to do a lot of explaining, in “self-defence”, to Rajnath Singh over phone.
The Andhra Pradesh government fiercely defended the action of the Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Special Task Force (RSASTF) in killing 20 woodcutters in the encounter.
The Forest Minister of the State, a former Forest Minister, a government advisor, the DGP, and senior police officials and some MLAs, who were specially tasked to air the government’s standpoint, took up cudgels on behalf of the government and asserted that the encounter was just.
Although the top brass has been quick to come in defence of the ‘encounter killings’, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the neighbouring Tamil Nadu Government and the whole gamut of opposition parties and the Rights activists have not taken kindly to the killings.
Many commoners and politicos, other than those belonging to the ruling TDP, are reacting alike to the purported ‘encounter’, as they are seeing it only as a blatant state-sponsored massacre.
The slew of incidents in Tamil Nadu exposed how some Tamil groups are seething with rage. Buses belonging to the State-owned APSRTC were stoned at Koyambedu bus station soon after the incident forcing the corporation to stop the services between the two States in the last three days.
Country bombs were hurled at the Andhra Bank, Thoothukudi branch early on Thursday, while a Heritage Fresh retail store chain — a company promoted by the family of AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu – was attacked in Chennai.
Dharna by Vaiko, leader of MDMK, in Chittoor condemning the “encounter killings”; the announcement of ex-gratia to the kin of the victims by Tamil Nadu government; the first vitriolic reaction by DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi; and the “strongly-worded” missive dashed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvan to his Andhra Pradesh counterpart has an egg on the face of the AP Government.
Naidu went into a huddle on Thursday afternoon with senior bureaucrats, politicians, police officials, legal experts, including the Advocate-General, and discussed the issue threadbare. He wanted that the State should put up a very strong argument in defence of the encounter, as the High Court admitted a petition and directed the DGP to file his reply.
The government also is working on answers to pertinent queries raised by different rights organisations, opposition parties, Ministry of Home Affairs, High Court of Hyderabad and the public interest litigation – if at all the Supreme Court admits it.
The story published by Andhra Jyothy, a Telugu newspaper known to be close to the TDP, said surveillance cameras were placed at different places in the Seshachalam forest and the movement of the smugglers and woodcutters was recorded before the “action”, in fact, embarrassed the government.
Incidentally, another report published by Eenadu, which is also a TDP-friendly newspaper, with the eyewitness account on how the woodcutters were picked up by the police and were bumped off, too caused ample discomfort in the power corridors of Andhra Pradesh.
Now, the state government is working overtime to justify its action.
Though the Bharatiya Janata Party initially endorsed the action of the AP government, it slowly withdrew from that stand. While Venkaiah Naidu made a statement in favour of the encounter, it is learnt that the BJP unit of Tamil Nadu voiced its concern. Accordingly, the BJP is now playing it safe on the encounter in Andhra Pradesh.
This naturally irked the rank and file of the TDP.
Interestingly, the TDP, which always musters support for its acts of omission and commission, has pressed its social media brigade into service to create a positive discourse in favour of the State’s action. Many of those who have no role in the encounter or decision-making began making posts on how could any one defend smugglers and they tried to create a buzz spurning the critics of the TDP regime’s actions. A question they raised was what the “smugglers” or their “hires” were doing in the forest at the dead of the night.
But the eyewitness accounts published in different newspapers punched holes not only in the police story, but even the “positive discourse” being spread.