The charged campaign months ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, which are expected to be held concurrently in Andhra Pradesh, has become very murky indeed. Former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu has been arrested on allegations of major corruption in what has come to be known as the skill development scam. Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has wasted no time in mounting a counterattack, accusing Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) chief and CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy of siphoning off ₹2.50-lakh crore from the public exchequer.

“He shouldn’t gloat (at Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest). He should worry about his own disqualification from politics,” said TDP Polit Bureau member Yanamala Ramakrishnudu. Jagan, with 38 cases against him, is among the top three chief ministers in India with the longest list of cases against him, others being Telangana CM K Chandrashekara Rao with 64 cases and Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin with 47 cases. Reddy is also the richest CM in India with ₹510 crore of movable and immovable assets. He himself was in jail for 16 months between 2012-13 following CBI’s investigation of corruption charges related to investments made by various companies in his business, allegedly in return for favours granted to them during the tenure of his father, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy as CM. However, the charges against Naidu are equally serious. The Andhra Pradesh CID has alleged that Naidu is the primary beneficiary of a scam that involves ₹371 crore of government funds that were allegedly transferred to shell companies. The funds were meant for skill development centres for the unemployed.

The YSRCP’s hopes that this rather well-timed arrest would confuse the TDP cadre. Naidu had been attracting large crowds in his public meetings before his arrest, and the Jagan establishment was being weighed down by anti-incumbency. With Naidu’s incarceration, the YSRCP hopes that the Opposition’s campaign would lose steam. TDP, on its part, banks on the arrest generating sympathy for Naidu who has been extolling his “selfless service” and attacking politics of vendetta against him. Members of the national coalition, INDIA, have calculated that it might be an opportune moment to convert Naidu to their cause, although he has been eager to win the BJP’s favour. On Thursday, NDA partner Pawan Kalyan of the Jana Sena Party (JSP) announced an alliance with the TDP and hoped that the BJP too would join them. The BJP is simultaneously being courted by the YSRCP.

The State sends 25 MPs to the Lok Sabha and the BJP can take its pick between the two competing contenders. The cynical exploitation of the State’s resources and enforcement agencies by each of these players is obvious, but apparently of no political significance in the heat of the campaign. In this slugfest, institutions have been eroded everywhere.