No Bets On Chandy

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Ooman Chandy is in deep trouble as the solar scam reveals. The Kerala chief minister is accused of sexual misconduct and his famous manipulative skills may not save him or the UDF. Corruption allegations surrounding senior minister KM Mani has added to the question marks about his leadership. By RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

The pseudo-sincere mask that the Kerala chief minister Ooman Chandy wore to mislead the people of the state for almost five years, is coming apart as the latest revelations in the ‘solar scam’ show him up to be a master crook who had a role in its sleazy operations.

Having come to power in 2009 with a wafer-thin majority, Chandy had enjoyed a relatively smooth ride in a state known for fierce political wrangles. With the Assembly elections less than six months away, the sex-and-bribery solar scam which surfaced in mid-2013, is threatening to blow up in the chief minister’s face.

Even after the two main accused, Biju Radhakrishnan and Sarita S Nair, along with two staff members of the chief minister’s office were arrested in connection with the scandal, Chandy pretended no knowledge about it, and claimed the state was pursuing the case with vigour.

But on December 2, deposing before a judicial commission, prime accused Biju Radhakrishnan claimed he had ‘video evidence’ to prove that Chandy and five others, including two ministers, AP Anil Kumar and Shibu Baby John, had “sexually used” his former partner and co-accused Sarita Nair. He said he would produce the evidence if the commission sought it.

Radhakrishnan, who is already serving a life sentence for murdering his wife Rashmi, also claimed that he had paid Rs 5.5 crore as bribe to the chief minister. He told the commission that while Rs 5.1 crore was directly handed over to Chandy, Rs 40 lakh was routed through the CM’s personal staff, Tenny Joppan and Jikkoman Jacob. The two staff members have been arrested and are under investigation.

The accused, through their company, Team Solar collected over Rs 40 crore from individual investors promising stakes in solar and wind energy projects. The duo lured many potential investors by flaunting their connections in the CM’s office and with influential ministers. The projects never took off. The company instituted what were dubiously named ‘Virgin Earth Golden Feather Environment Awards’ and distributed them to several prominent people in Kerala to gain media coverage and credibility. Even the chief minister allegedly entertained the accused in his office and praised their initiative to develop solar energy.

The Left parties launched an agitation and demanded Chandy’s resignation. “My life is an open book. Levelling charges without an iota of truth is a challenge to society, political system and the state,” Chandy told the state Assembly, which has hardly functioned ever since the fresh allegations cropped up.

LOCAL BODY POLLS

Chandy and his ministers coming under a cloud is yet another blow to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government which had suffered major setbacks in the recent local body elections. Perhaps indicating which way the wind was blowing, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) won 546 of the 941 gram panchayats and 89 of the 152 block panchayats, while the UDF was successful in only 367 gram panchayats and 62 block panchayats.

The BJP, which has never won an Assembly or a Lok Sabha seat in Kerala, surprised everyone by scoring in each of the 14 districts and emerging as the main opposition in one corporation and six municipalities. For the first time in Kerala, the BJP captured the Palakkad municipality, besides winning 35 of the 100 divisions in the Thiruvananthapuram corporation, pushing the Congress to third place with 21 seats.

Making a determined bid to find a foothold in Kerala, the BJP has struck an alliance with Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDPY), an organization representing the numerically strong Ezhava community. Though the alliance partners won only 14 of the nearly 2,000 local bodies, they garnered 18 per cent of the vote, which bodes ill for both the UDF and LDF alliances tht have ruled Kerala for decades.

KM MANI BRIBERY CASE

The Chandy government is already on shaky grounds with the powerful Kerala Congress chief and Finance Minister KM Mani, being forced to resign from the cabinet over allegations he demanded bribes for renewal of bar licences.

Chandy’s decision to introduce prohibition in a phased manner despite opposition from the powerful liquor lobbies, even getting approval from the courts, was seen as a game changer in Kerala politics. There is a strong anti-liquor movement in Kerala led by women, and Chandy with his prohibition policy, had almost assured the Congress-led coalition the support of half of the state’s electorate, until it became public that Mani himself was sabotaging it from within.

On 31 October 2014, Biju Ramesh, a hotelier and Ezhava youth leader, alleged that Mani had demanded Rs 5 crore to renew 418 licences of bars that were closed down in March 2014. He claimed the bar owners’ association had negotiated with Mani and even paid him a bribe of Rs 1 crore as advance. Given the intricacies of Kerala’s politics, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, who belongs to the Congress, directed the vigilance department to register a case and investigate the allegation. Mani knew that his days as a minister were numbered, but decided to fight back.

At 82, Mani with 12 consecutive terms in the Assembly, is the longest serving legislator in the country, saw Chandy’s hand behind the ‘conspiracy’ to oust him. He plotted to bring down Chandy’s government by withdrawing the support of eight Kerala Congress MLAs whom he controlled. But before he could strike, Chandy latched on to the High Court verdict upholding the vigilance judge’s order for reinvestigation of the bar bribery case, and asked Mani to resign. Chandy had also managed to win over a couple of Kerala Congress MLAs, ensuring Mani’s isolation and his quiet departure.

But the chief minister’s manipulative skills may not save him or the UDF government, as the solar scam revelations gather steam.

Summary

  • Ooman Chandy’s famous manipulative skills have not helped him overcome the stain of sleaze in the solar scam
  • He’s accused of sexual misconduct, of corruption and the word in Kerala is their chief minister is a master crook
  • It has not helped that Chandy’s cabinet minister had to quit over allegations he took bribes to renew bar licences
  • “My life is an open book. Levelling charges without an iota of truth is a challenge to society, political system and the state,” Chandy told the state Assembly, which has hardly functioned ever since the fresh allegations cropped up.

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