Why isn't Pinarayi Vijayan sacking 'VIP' Thomas Chandy?
The political morality championed by the Left has taken a beating.
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Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Thomas Chandy isn't the typical Kerala politician, for there are not many Crorepati politicians in the state. The likes of EMS Namboodiripad won the hearts of Malayalis for leading a Spartan lifestyle and noble acts like donating their property for public good, and leading by example. But Pinarayi Vijayan is no EMS and the present-day Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala is more bourgeoisie than the social democratic parties in Europe despite their "Left" branding.
It all began when a TV channel, Asianet, brought out violations of the law by Chandy-owned Lake Palace resorts in the heart of Alappuzha backwaters on August 11 this year.
As a couple of young legislators from the Congress raised it in the Kerala Assembly, Vijayan was quick to dismiss the flouting of law by Chandy and ruled out an investigation. Chandy, on his part, got up, resorting to petty rhetoric, and thundered that he would quit not only as minister but also as MLA in the event that any evidence of his wrongdoing is established.
As reports of violations at the resort began tumbling out and more land grabbing allegations were levelled against Chandy, the revenue ministry under ally CPI (Communist Party of India) ordered an inquiry by the district magistrate into these allegations.
CPM veteran and former Kerala CM VS Achuthanandan called the tainted minister 'VIP' Chandy. Photo: Indiatoday
An interim report was submitted within a few days, but that was played down and the government wanted everyone to be patient till the final enquiry report was submitted. The government had to buy time as a crucial by poll in Vengara was only days away at the time.
On October 20, a final report was submitted to the additional chief secretary in-charge of revenue, PH Kurian by Alappuzha district collector TV Anupama. On November 6, the report was leaked to the media and it was established that the collector has pointed out half a dozen violations, including one that is non-cognisable and would, therefore, earn the minister a five-year jail term.
Even before the collector's report was leaked, the vibrant media and Asianet in particular brought out ample evidence against the minister, citing the violation of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008 and other laws.
But even after the district collector's report indicting the minister - technically the state's findings - was examined, it was not acted upon by the Kerala government.
Instead, it was sent to the advocate general of Kerala for legal opinion in a bid to buy time. It was assumed that since a Left Democratic Front (LDF) "Jan Jagratha Yatra" was underway, the report would embarrass the government into taking cognisance of Chandy's violations.
The march, which ended on November 2, brought considerable embarrassment to the LDF. What came as a rude shock to the LDF and its coalition partner CPI in particular was Thomas Chandy's declaration at the Alappuzha reception of "Jana Jagratha Yatra" that no investigative agency could so much as wag a finger at him.
It was made in the presence of CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran, who was leading the march from South Kerala.
A quick verification ordered by the vigilance court against Chandy on a petition filed by Alappuzha district president of Janata Dal (S) on November 4 accentuated the matter.
The CPM state secretariat that met on November 6 was supposed to take a call on Chandy's resignation, but Pinarayi's wish is Kerala CPM's command and Chandy still seems to enjoy the CM's backing.
So, what is preventing a "tough leader" like Pinarayi Vijayan from seeking the minister's resignation? Is it that Chandy's wealth that is preventing the CPM from taking action? It is a well-known fact that the CPM leader is a huge benefactor of the LDF and liberally loosened his purse strings to support the party in the 2016 Assembly elections. He also virtually bankrolls the state unit of the NCP.
It is another matter that more than a decade ago, Chandy was an acolyte of Congress veteran K Karunakaran and financed his Congress breakaway party Democratic Indira Congress (Karunakaran) in 2005, thereafter earning a party ticket from Kuttanad to contest in the next assembly election.
When DIC (Karunakaran) failed to ally with the LDF in the 2006 election after a section of the CPI (M) under VS Achuthananthan fiercely opposed any association with their long-term nemesis Karunakaran, the party had to contest as a UDF ally.
In the 2006 elections, Chandy defeated Dr KC Joseph of Kerala Congress, who had been the Kuttanad MLA for 25 years (Chandy was the lone DIC (K) candidate among 17 to win).
But in late 2006, Karunakaran managed to strike a deal with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to have his party merged with its Kerala unit in order to make his son K Muralidharan the party's state president.
At the time, NCP was an ally of the LDF and Karunakaran hoped it would earn him a backdoor entry into the front.
However, LDF chose to oust NCP from the front on account of the merger and Karunakaran's last-ditch effort to ally with the Left came to nought. After Muralidharan left NCP - following his father's death in late 2010 - the party got back its status as an LDF ally, and Thomas Chandy contested the 2011 Assembly election as an LDF candidate.
It has come as a surprise to many that the Opposition, UDF hasn't been as vocal on the Chandy issue as it should be.
Many commentators opine that a section of the Congress and the Alappuzha district Congress committee in particular (dominated by the "I" faction) continues to have links with Chandy.
When the Lake Palace resort became functional in 2001, it did so without paying taxes. Former AICC Secretary Shanimol Usman was the Alappuzha municipal chairperson at the time. Similarly, the Valiyakulam-Zero Jetty road, which was necessary for Chandy's resort to get last mile connectivity -even if it meant flouting multiple laws - became a reality when the then Congress MLA and former DCC President AA Shukoor wrote to PJ Kurien to allot funds from his MPLADS.
Even the leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala hails from the same district. Chennithala had written to the state Director General of Police (who also holds the charge of Vigilance) to investigate Chandy's encroachments, but the DGP instead sent it for legal opinion.
If the DGP's act can be construed as being politically influenced, the question as to why the Opposition leader didn't go to court - despite the DGP not acting on his complaint - has not been answered by Congress.
During the tenure of the previous government, the then-Opposition leader VS Achuthananthan's petition in the court led to the Vigilance Quick verification (QV) against KM Mani in the bar bribery scam.
In 2016, the CPI (M) had claimed the moral high ground after its state secretariat member EP Jayarajan was asked to resign as minister in the wake of nepotism charges. So, what has changed? A CPM leader who did not want to be identified had this to say: "If ministers keep resigning on the basis of media exposes, it will set a bad precedent. Even on EP Jayarajan, we felt that we gave in too easily and regret the decision now."
With the latest controversy, CPM's charge on the Congress following the tabling of the J Sivarajan commission report in the Kerala solar scam has lost its sting - and the political morality championed by the Left has taken a beating.
The people of Kerala are eagerly watching and just as they ousted the Oommen Chandy government in 2016, Pinarayi Vijayan too could face a similar fate if he waits for the courts to intervene, abandoning his assertiveness as chief minister.