February 07, 2016

A Besmirched Chief Minister

THE spectacle of a chief minister steeped in a corruption scandal and brazenly refusing to resign is unfolding in Kerala. The Congress Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, has been embroiled in the solar panel scam, from the outset, since it was exposed two and a half years ago. The scamsters, Biju Radhakrishnan and his partner Saritha Nair, were found to be operating in collusion with the personal staff of the chief minister. When the scam was exposed, three of the personal staff were clearly seen to be involved. All three were removed from the office and two of them, Tenny Joppan and Salim Raj, the CM’s security guard were arrested. The personal staff are the political appointments made by the chief minister and notwithstanding all other circumstances relevant to the case, this alone should have led to the resignation of Oommen Chandy. But he refused to do so claiming that all the allegations are politically motivated. With Saritha Nair deposing before the judicial commission, that she had paid Rs1.9 crore to the chief minister, through an aide, and the Vigilance Court ordering an FIR be filed for investigating the matter, the only course left for Chandy was to step down from office, till the matter is investigated and settled. But not only did Chandy not resign, he got the support of the Congress leadership for not doing so. The Congress spokesperson stated that there is no need for Chandy to resign in the matter. By doing so, the Congress High Command has behaved true to form. Defending the corrupt in high places was the norm during the UPA government’s tenure. As far as the Congress leadership was concerned, there was no wrongdoing in the 2G spectrum allocations, or, the coal allocations. In the case of the solar panel scam, the paltry sum of Rs 7 crore swindled with the help of the chief minister and other Congress leaders, do not merit even being called corruption in the Congress lexicon. The Chandy government is using the stay given by the High Court on the Vigilance Court directive in the Chandy case and earlier in the Excise Minister K Babu’s case with regard to the bar bribery charge, to pose as if they have been exonerated from these charges. The chief minister has refused to accept the resignation of Babu and asked him to continue in office. Utilising a pliant Vigilance Department, a report has been submitted that there is no credible evidence of the bribe paid to the former Finance Minister, KM Mani. Chandy and the UDF have asked Mani to rejoin the cabinet, which he has not accepted so far. But daily evidence is mounting about the crude efforts at a cover-up in the solar scam. Audio tapes leaked in the media show how one of the general secretaries of the state Congress sought to tutor Saritha Nair on what to say before the Judicial Commission inquiring into the solar case. The sleazy role played by various Congress leaders in the Saritha affair is unfolding before the Commission. Both the solar scam and the bar bribery case refuse to go away; it is haunting the Congress and the UDF government. The longer Oommen Chandy refuses to quit, the more mortally damaged will be the UDF government which is sinking under the weight of its own venality and wrong-doing. In three months from now, the people of Kerala are going to inflict a strong punishment on them in the assembly elections. (February 2, 2016)