Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu faces a formidable challenge in proving his innocence in the multi-crore corruption case that led to his arrest and subsequent 14-day judicial custody. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has presented what appears to be an airtight case, revealing a staggering loss of over Rs 370 crore to the state exchequer in what is now known as the Skill scam. At the time, Naidu was the chief minister, and reports suggest that the state had launched a skill development programme aimed at empowering young men and women to secure employment. This ambitious programme had been announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi shortly after his rise to power in 2014. Its objective was to address the issue of India not fully harnessing its demographic dividend due to the inadequate skills of its young population.
In their efforts to educate the youth, both the Central and state governments introduced numerous innovative schemes. Unfortunately, in many instances, these initiatives turned out to be scams. In Andhra Pradesh, within the skill development centre promotion scheme, funds were allocated to private agencies that misappropriated the money for personal gain. It's likely that individuals in positions of power may have also benefited from this scam. Naidu's primary argument is that he is being victimised for political reasons. His arrest could not have come at a more inconvenient time for the party, as it had been preparing for the upcoming Assembly polls, just a few months away. Nonetheless, the party also nurses a hope that Naidu’s arrest may garner sympathy from voters and the party can leverage this in the elections. While there have been cases of leaders like the late George Fernandes contesting and winning from jail, their charges were unrelated to defrauding the exchequer.
Being in jail is hardly an accolade for a politician, unlike during the freedom struggle when leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru spent approximately 10 years behind bars. It is unlikely that voters would be enthusiastic about supporting a person accused of misappropriating public funds meant to improve the employment prospects of the youth. For the septuagenarian leader, proving that the corruption case is politically motivated and asserting his innocence is an arduous task. Time may also not be on his side, especially considering that his son is also likely to be implicated as a co-accused.