Solar scam: How Pinarayi Vijayan turned the heat on Oommen Chandy
The CM announced a criminal and vigilance inquiry against his predecessor and other Congress leaders on Kerala by-poll day.
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As the Vengara by-poll was underway in Malappuram yesterday (October 11), Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan addressed a press conference at 10am rather uncharacteristically after the weekly cabinet meeting that lasted less than an hour.
Dropping a bombshell, the chief minister announced that criminal and vigilance inquiry would be ordered against a dozen Congress leaders and others on the basis of legal opinion received on the recommendations of the Justice G Sivarajan Commission inquiring the solar scam since October 2013.
Inference 5 in Justice Sivarajan Commission report quoted by the document released in the chief minister's press conference yesterday.
The report comprising 1,073 pages in four volumes was submitted to the chief minister on September 26. According to Vijayan, the government sought the advice of the advocate general and the director general of prosecution on October 3, and their recommendations came on October 10, a day before the weekly cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
The CM made sure he mentioned the fact that the inquiry commission itself was constituted by the previous government under Oommen Chandy and that the terms of reference were also decided by the Oommen Chandy government despite previously assuring the opposition that their suggestions would also figure.
It was a political masterstroke that Vijayan timed on the morning the bypoll was scheduled even though it may still not be enough to win them the election in this Muslim League stronghold.
Chandy aside, former ministers Aryadan Muhammad, Adoor Prakash, AP Anil Kumar, MLAs PC Vishnunath, Hibi Eden et al from his "A" faction would face criminal and vigilance inquiry on charges of corruption and sexual exploitation as Saritha Nair alleged in her 25-page letter written on July 19, 2013.
Ommen Chandy (Credit: PTI file photo)
KC Venugopal, the newly named Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, KC(M)’s Jose K Mani MP, former Congress MLA AP Abdullakkutty too face the same charges. Former home minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan will face a criminal inquiry for trying to influence the investigation and save his partymen while Chandy loyalist Benny Behanan, who was hoping to emerge as the new KPCC president, would be probed for trying to destroy evidence and protect the culprits.
According to the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1952, the Pinarayi Vijayan government is duty-bound to table the panel report within six months in the Assembly along with the action taken on it. Although the commission report is recommendatory in nature, the government is well within its rights to order criminal and vigilance inquiries based on it.
Of course, it goes without saying that the evidence gathered and the prosecution’s case in the court following the FIRs (to be filed immediately) and chargesheet would determine the course of the case that may last another four years.
Congress spokespersons are hoping to buy some time with the argument that the commission’s report is not in the public domain yet and the Vijayan government might have overstepped its brief.
On careful examination of the seven-page document released by the chief minister in the press conference, it has come to my notice (I sought legal opinion as well) that the commission hasn’t actually found any evidence to the explosive and scandalous allegations in the 25-page letter by Saritha S Nair, prime accused in the solar scam cases.
The panel has only reached the conclusion that the people named in the letter had contacted Nair or her lawyer on the phone, but there is no inference by the commission’s part on her allegations of sexual exploitation. It is actually the advocate general and director general of prosecution (political appointees as opposed to the law secretary) who come to that conclusion.
However, the government is still within its rights to order an inquiry on the allegations of sexual exploitation as the commission itself notes that the previous SIT probing the case did not conduct any specific inquiry into this matter.
This development comes as a jolt to Chandy, who was trying to consolidate his position in the party by getting his loyalist elected as the PCC chief even as the organisational elections are underway. It would certainly change group equations as most of the Congress leaders named in the report belong to Chandy’s faction with the exception of KC Venugopal.
With complaints of favouritism and factional allocation in the KPCC membership list finalised earlier, that list had been frozen and even a meeting in Delhi, attended by faction representatives along with the MPs who raised complaints, couldn’t sort out the issue.
The list that has got leaked revels that only 10 among the 282 nominees are aged below 45 and merely 15 women find a place. An even greater surprise is the absence of KPCC spokesperson Rajmohan Unnithan, who has kept the party afloat and salvaged perception during tough days with his dynamic presence on panel debates. This is just another instance of factionalism obstructing the chances of youth, women and meritorious candidates.
This presents a golden opportunity for the AICC leadership to cull those standing in the way of a generational change in the party. But it is unlikely that Rahul Gandhi would summon the courage to do it after the failed experiment with VM Sudheeran.