Chandy needs to come clean

Three legal setbacks within the space of two weeks and a stinging snub from the Congress High Command would have proved too much for any other Congress chief minister. But not for Kerala CM Oommen Chandy, who heads a coalition government that has lurched from crisis to crisis during its more than three-year-old tenure. Obviously, he is made of sterner stuff, and clings to power like a limpet, fumes the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the BJP, borrowing an expression from the late PM Rajiv Gandhi himself!

The legal rebuffs came in the palmolein and titanium cases. In the palmolein case, a Supreme Court bench of Justice TS Thakur and R. Bhanumathi made scathing observations, frowning on the Chandy government’s decision to withdraw the 22-year-old case in which his role as the then finance minister had come under cloud.

‘The withdrawal order is in his (Chandy’s) own benefit. Withdrawal by the State will put an end to the case,’ observed the bench while hearing a petition by CPI(M) stalwart and leader of the Opposition, V. S. Achuthanandan, who has strongly opposed the decision to drop prosecution against seven accused including former CVC P J Thomas. How can the state police conduct a free and fair probe and bring out the truth in the palmolein case with the state having decided to withdraw prosecution? And how can the Kerala police go further unless the matter goes to the CBI? These were the pointed questions the SC bench asked the senior advocate who represented the Kerala Government.

A jubilant VS promptly sought the resignation of the CM following the SC’s observation. The apex court’s remarks vindicated what the opposition has all along been saying, said VS, adding that it has become the practice of the CM to cling to power, ignoring the adverse remarks from the courts of the country.

Even as the CM, the Congress and the party-led UDF reeled under the impact of the legal rebuff from the highest court of the country, came the order from the Thiruvananthapuram vigilance court, which directed the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to further probe the titanium corruption case by filing an FIR against CM Oommen Chandy, home minister Ramesh Chennithala and public works minister, V. K. Ibrahim Kunju, among others.

A shocked CM, his loyalists and the government’s legal adviser have been trying to take refuge behind the plea that prior sanction of the Governor was a pre-condition for further investigation against public servants, including ministers. The court order, however, says Chandy, Chennithala and Kunju were not eligible for the cover offered by Section 19 of the Prevention of the Corruption Act 1988 as they were not public servants when the petitions were filed. The vigilance court judge John K. Illikkadan has, however, cited an SC order in RS Nayak Vs AR Antulay case which held that if an accused was a public servant who had ceased to be a public servant, or was a public servant of a different category, then no sanction in terms of Section 19 was necessary. The alleged offence was committed when Chandy and Kunju were cabinet ministers during 2004-06 but the petitions were filed before the court after 2006.

It may be mentioned that it was a senior Congress leader and former minister, K. K. Ramachandran Nair who alleged corruption in the establishment of the pollution control mechanism at the titanium plant while Chandy was the CM and Kunju, the industries minister. Chennithala was the KPCC chief at that point of time. Nair had to face the axe for making the allegations.

The third legal reprimand came when the Kerala HC dismissed the state government’s appeal against a single bench’s order which criticized the state‘s decision to allot additional plus two batches on the basis of the opinion of MLAs, and not on the recommendations of the secondary education department.  The HC obviously found the government’s move dubious and directed that admissions be conducted on the basis of the interim order issued by the single bench and was convinced of the sinister design of the government to cater to the vested interests, and ruled that the final say in the matter should be the education department’s.

Last but not the least has been the royal snub by the Congress High Command. The CM and the excise minister undertook a mission to the national capital to brief the high command of the situation arising from the excise policy and the titanium verdict. The meeting with the Congress president never came, and the duo of Chandy and K. Babu had to return without meeting either Sonia or the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Further humiliation was in store for the CM when Rahul rejected his recommendation that KPCC vice-president, M. M. Hassan, a Chandy loyalist, be given the  berth which will fall vacant when Union Minister Vayalar Ravi’s term expires in April next year.  Chandy’s cup of misery is now literally overflowing.

In a clime when clinging to power at any cost is all that matters, it is futile to expect Chandy to step down. Hene, LDF’s decision to turn up the heat.  IPA
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