Sunday / January 20.




By P. Sreekumaran


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has survived a scare. Thus reads the headline in a prominent English daily. But has he really weathered the political storm?


Significant straws in the wind proclaim, loud and clear, that he has not. True, he has managed to secure short-term legal relief. But the price, both in political and electoral terms, the Congress and the party-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Government may be called upon to pay will be prohibitively high. That is for sure.


As for the UDF politics, it is stinking to the high heavens. It cannot get any worse than this. The only question is: how long can a thoroughly discredited Government brazen it out?


The legal relief for Chandy and Power Minister Aryadan Mohammed has come in the form of a High Court order staying the Thrissur Vigilance Court’s order to register an FIR against the CM and the Power Minister following the sensational revelations made by the prime accused in the solar scam, Saritha Nair. The order says that courts of law cannot be carried away by the ‘revelations’ or complaints based on such complaints. The court further observed that a preliminary inquiry on a complaint filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act is an essential prerequisite for forwarding the complaint for investigation as per many Supreme Court decisions. The HC has stayed the vigilance court order against Excise Minister K. Babu as well on similar grounds.


The Chief Minister and his close aides are breathing easy in the wake of the High Court order. But their relief will, in all probability, prove short-lived.


That much is clear from the rumblings from within the Congress. There are strong indications that the I group led by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala will go for the kill, the Congress High Command’s support to Oommen Chandy for his ‘clean record’(What gumption?) notwithstanding.


The first salvo has been fired by R Chandrashekharan, a close confidant of Ramesh. The INTUC state president has openly demanded removal of Oommen Chandy from the CM’s post.


Another I group leader and spokesman of the Congress, Ajay Tharayil has lamented, in a Facebook post: “Where have all the men of principles gone?” The comment is nothing but a searing indictment of the CM;’s refusal to step down even in the face of highly damaging disclosures made by the solar scam accused.


As for the Congress High Command’s support to Chandy, the less said the better. Its public support to the CM and the decision to, simultaneously, have an informal ‘internal probe’ to get at the gravity of the allegations against Chandy and Aryadan Mohammed is a strong contender for the joke of the year! It only exemplifies the plight of a high command which is anything but high these days. Damned if it kicks the CM out, damned if it does not. That is the Hamletian dilemma faced by the central leadership.


A close look into the sensational revelations made by Saritha against the CM is in order before concluding. She told the Solar Inquiry Commission on Wednesday that she paid a bribe of Rs 1.90 crore to the CM. While deposing before the Commission, Saritha said the money was handed over to Thomas Kuruvila, a Delhi-based aide of the Chief Minister in two instalments. This was, Saritha said, after the CM’s personal assistant Jikkumon Jacob instructed her that the CM had demanded Rs 7 crore for promoting her solar business interests.


Of course, the CM has denied having accepted any bribe from Saritha. But a leaked conversation between his loyalist Thampanoor Ravi and Saritha has knocked the stuffing out of the CM’s contention. In the conversation, Ravi is heard beseeching Saritha not to contradict the CM’s marathon 14-hour-long deposition before the Solar Inquiry Commission. However, everything Saritha told the Commission was at odds with what Chandy had given it in a sworn testimony. Just one example would illustrate the point. The CM had deposed that he had met Saritha only on three occasions. But Saritha said she had met the CM more than thrice! Again, Saritha offered to undergo a lie detector test, if needed. But the CM refused to undergo such a test!


The Commission is set to continue hearing Saritha for two more days – on Monday and Tuesday. And she has threatened to hand over proof of her meetings with the CM!


The whole episode and the dramatic developments over the last two days have divested the CM and the Congress of whatever shred of credibility they were left with. The only honourable option for him is to quit. But the CM is unlikely to put in his papers.


The million dollar question is: What will be the next step of the I group, which feels it would be political hara-kiri to face the assembly elections under the leadership of Oommen Chandy? Kerala is waiting with bated breath for the next episode in the highly surcharged political soap. Meanwhile, the Congress and its partners in the UDF continue to reel under the telling blows being administered by Saritha to its solar plexus. The Chandy Government has well and truly been singed by the solar shock. When will the electrocution come? (IPA Service)