Ahead of the forthcoming assembly and Lok Sabha elections, Andhra Pradesh’s ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has landed in a controversy, after the Telangana Police started investigating the party-run Seva Mitra app for alleged data theft. In an interview, Nara Lokesh, Andhra Pradesh information technology (IT) minister and son of TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, defended the app. He also talked about the TDP’s development work since 2014 and its position on coalitions. Edited excerpts:
The Telangana Police claims that the software company hired by the TDP has illegally stolen government data on voters. What exactly is the data in question?
They (IT Grids) have stolen data from whom? The chief electoral officer (AP) has said on record that our data was fine. So, I don’t know what they are trying to prove. Since 1984, under the leadership of Mr. (Chandrababu) Naidu, we have done a lot of digitization, and have a lot of systems in place. We have been collecting cadre-related data since then, and that is how we build leadership in the party.
The electoral rolls have your name, voter ID number, father’s number, etc. We use software to put this information into an Excel file. We also do our membership drive, for which we have tabs. That is how we build our database. Then, we have the booth conveners and area in-charges. The organization structure of the party is pretty much defined by this.
So, why is the Telangana Police saying that the data acquired by IT Grids is unlawful or that it had stolen it?
We pump all our data to the ground level through the Seva Mitra app, which is now in question. In this app, the booth or area conveners have access to their territory data, and they talk to field workers to fill in the gaps (with regard to voter information). We use publicly available data and, as a political party, we have built a system and a process on it, but all the while ensuring the due legal process.
So what does the TDP plan to do now? Will you take legal action?
Yes, we will seek legal recourse. What surprises me is the Telangana government’s over-enthusiasm. The sad part of this is that we have got hold of a document from YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) MP (member of Parliament) V. Vijay Sai Reddy, which was given to the EC (Election Commission) on 19 February. It states the usual about the app, but the action items he wants the government to take have been accidentally included in it. The GoI (government of India) number pages, and pages 28 and 29, show that he used the word “establish" and not to probe (into the matter). So, the entire nexus (between the YSRCP and Telangana Rashtra Samithi) is well-established. The Telangana Police is doing exactly what he has written in it.
The case was believed to be an inter-state jurisdictional matter. But the Telangana Police has also claimed that IT Grids has data related to its state. Any comments?
Is the Telangana government admitting that there has been a data breach? Isn’t KTR (TRS working president K.T. Rama Rao) the former IT minister? Will he take responsibility for it? Now, if they go and plant data, I am not accountable for it. This is a well-planned game to demotivate, demoralize and also deactivate our app. This is high-handedness and strong-arming by the police, which should not depend on its political bosses for directions.
Unlike in 2014, the TDP seems to be on its own this time. Is there an alliance on the cards?
At this juncture, it seems to be quite clear that we are going to be independent. There isn’t enough time; this is how we will go forward.
Why do you think Kalyan withdrew support to the TDP and became critical of your father? Any chance for reconciliation?
He (Kalyan) brought a lot of issues to the notice of the chief minister. We don’t know why he took that turn, and for us, it is a mystery. We continue to respect him and have worked with him in resolving the issues he brought to our notice. Mr. Naidu is willing to work with anyone who wants to work on the development of AP.
Your party had won 102 out of 175 seats, as part of the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and support of Jana Sena Party (JSP) in 2014. How do you think you will fare on your own?
The TDP won on a strong welfare and development agenda last time. We have created the maximum number of jobs in south India, and AP has the highest foreign direct investment in India. Apart from that, we have done a very good job with welfare, too. Major commitments, which were not part of the state’s bifurcation, like (the new capital) Amavarati, have been kept, and we have done things in a very systematic way. Our mandate will be much bigger, more than two-thirds of the seats. There is no reason to not vote Mr. Naidu back, or there is no compelling reason to vote for Jagan Mohan Reddy (leader of YSRCP).