Jagan Mohan Reddy, chief of the YSR Congress, emerged smiling from the Dilkusha Guest House in Hyderabad after nearly eight hours of questioning by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday in connection with a disproportionate assets case against him. He has been asked to return for more questioning at 10.30 am today.
Mr Reddy, who was on a hectic campaign tour ahead of by-elections to 18 assembly and one Lok Sabha seat on June 12, had returned to his Lotus Pond residence in Hyderabad on Thursday night. Friday morning he was given a send-off by his mother Vijayamma, wife Bharathi and sister Sharmila even as senior party leaders and supporters raised slogans as he left home.
Mr Reddy has been denied anticipatory bail and his supporters fear that he could be arrested. As he left home on Friday morning, Mr Reddy's mother, Vijaylakshmi, kissed and blessed him. He arrived at the CBI camp in a black SUV, smiled and greeted people who had gathered to show their support. He also asked supporters to stay calm.
The entire area around his home and the route from his home to the CBI camp office was sanitised of Mr Reddy's supporters and traffic, to avert any possible law and order trouble. The road from his Banjara Hills residence to the place of interrogation was fortified, lined with policemen. Personnel from the city police, Andhra Pradesh Special Police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) were deployed around the guest house and surrounding localities. Police kept water cannons and tear gas ready.
Prohibitory orders banning the assembly of five or more people have been imposed in the city and other parts of the state.
On Tuesday, Mr Reddy said in a letter to the Prime Minister that the Congress, the opposition Telugu Desam Party, and the CBI were conspiring to have him arrested ahead of by-elections in the state, scheduled for June 12. Mr Reddy's party is fielding candidates for all 18 constituencies which will vote. The Congress and the TDP are watching closely and anxiously how the YSR Congress fares in these by-elections.
There is a reason. When the 40-year-old MP arrived at the guest house, dressed in an off-white shirt, he was accompanied by Congress MP Sabbam Hari, and MLA Alla Nani. They face disciplinary action for being seen with him, but there are indications that at least half a dozen more Congress MLAs are ready to jump into the Jagan camp. Senior TDP leader Mysoora Reddy who contested against Jagan Reddy in May 2011, had breakfast him. He was immediately suspended by the TDP and immediately joined the YSR Congress party.
When the CBI asked him to make himself available for questioning on Friday, Mr Reddy had asked the High Court to defer the appointment to June 15. Till then, he argued, he would be busy with by-elections. But the court refused his request. "If the CBI had waited for nine months, what is the hurry now? Why couldn't it wait for 20 more days," Mr Reddy told NDTV while campaigning in Guntur district. "I told them that after June 15, I will be available whenever they say. But the CBI did not approve this. I wanted this crucial time for campaigning," he added.
Mr Reddy has admitted that if he is arrested it could become an emotive issue. A couple of hours after he appeared before the CBI, unidentified persons set afire a bus of state-owned Road Transport Corporation (RTC) at NGOs colony in Vanasthalipuram in Hyderabad.
Dozens of Jagan supporters were arrested in various districts since Thursday night while heading for the state capital. Jagan supporter Konda Murali was taken into preventive custody in Warangal.
The police have also imposed prohibitory orders in Jagan's native district Kadapa and several places in the state.
Mr Reddy is the son of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who died in a helicopter crash in 2009. After his father's death he split with the Congress and formed his own party, the YSR Congress.
The CBI alleges that while YSR was in office, he conspired with other ministers to influence entrepreneurs to invest in his son's companies; in return, they were granted licences and other permissions required for their businesses.
The CBI inquiry into Mr Reddy's business empire and the source of its funds was ordered by the Andhra Pradesh High Court in August 2011.
The corruption case against Mr Reddy could affect not just his political fortunes, but that of several other leaders from the party he quit in a huff, the Congress. One of those leaders, a minister named M Venkatramana, was arrested after seven hours of interrogation on Wednesday. Mr Venkatramana has been remanded to judicial custody till June 7. He resigned soon after from the Congress government. Five other Congress ministers are also being studied for possible collusion.
Violence erupted on Thursday evening in his constituency of Repalle with his supporters attacking public buses. Mr Venkataramana was till Thursday the Excise Minister. But he has been arrested for allegedly violating rules to give land to industrialists when he was the Infrastructure Minister while YSR was Chief Minister.