One of the first decisions taken by the Left Democratic Front-led government in Kerala after it assumed office on 25 May this year, was the cancellation of all the political appointments made by the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government.
The well-wishers of the ruling front had hailed it hoping that the appointments in the future will be based on merits. However, they were disappointed with many ministers making use of the opportunity to push their family members and friends into various government bodies.
Industries and Sports Minister EP Jayaran, who started his innings by questioning the appointments made by Olympian Anju Bobby George in the sports council headed by her during the UDF regime, led the pack of ministers, who are in the dock over the current appointment row.
Jayarajan started off by replacing the renowned athlete with a party man contrary to his own claim that he will free sports from politics. The appointment also appeared at variance with LDF's zero tolerance policy towards corruption as TP Dasan, who was appointed as sports council chief, was facing charges of financial misappropriation during his last term as the president of the sports body.
Though none pursued the appointment of Dasan seriously, some of the placements made by the minister in the industries department subsequently have stirred the hornet's nest. They related to the appointment of four members of his family and relatives of some of his party colleagues.
The appointment of Sudheer Nambiar, son of Jayaran's sister-in-law and party MP PK Sreemathi, as the managing director of Kerala State Industrial Enterprises (KSIE) raised eyebrows even in party circles as he did not possess any of the qualifications prescribed for the post.
While the minimum qualification prescribed for the post was either engineering degree or MBA with 15 years of experience, including five years as chief executive of a similar organisation, Sudheer was an ordinary graduate without relevant experience.
Though the minister cancelled the appointment following criticism, the opposition is not ready to spare him. The UDF and the Bharatiya Janata Party have moved the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) for action against him.
While opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has sought action against him under the prevention of corruption law, BJP general secretary K Surendran has made a case against violation of the oath of secrecy of office against Jayarajan in the complaints they have lodged with Vigilance Director Jacob Thomas.
They have also questioned the appointments given by the industries department to relatives of other party leaders, who include Sooraj Raveendran - grandson of the late former chief minister EK Nayanar, Jeeva Anand - son of party state secretary member Anathalavattom Anandan and Unnikrishnan, son of senior leader Koliakode Krishnan Nair.
While Sooraj was appointed as head of the Kinfra Film and Video Park, Jeeva Anand and Unnikrishnan have been appointed as managing director and general manager of Kinfra Apparel Park respectively.
The controversy has put the government and the party in serious trouble with none of the leaders coming forward to defend Jayarajan and the cadres in some places are even raising their voice against the acts of nepotism.
Veteran leader, VS Achuthanandan, who has been keeping mum on the issue, caused further embarrassment to the government by demanding stern action against those who are responsible for sullying the image of the party and the government.
Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan have promised to look into it at the government and the party level, leaders of the opposition parties and political observers do not expect anything tangible from the exercise.
"I do not think the chief minister will take any action against Jayarajan since he is his close confidant. It is difficult to believe that Jayarajan has given the appointments without the knowledge of the chief minister. Every copy of the appointments of senior officers are marked to the CM," says Rajmohan Unnithan, a spokesman of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).
He said Jayarajan was involved in several dubious financial deals before and Vijayan, who was the party secretary then, had backed him every time.
Though the party had found a serious lapse of Rs 2 crore which its mouthpiece Deshabhimani took from lottery mafia Santiago Matin; and the sale of the daily's land and building in the state capital to the controversial businessman VM Radhakrishnan under the stewardship of Jayarajan, he was let off with a mild warning.
"I don't expect anything more than this from Pinarayi and Kodiyeri. Jayarajan is now the number two in the cabinet. The party will face a big crisis if he is removed from the ministry," says CR Neelakandan, a social activist and chief of the Kerala unit of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Moreover, it is not Jayarajan alone who is involved in the current controversy. Like him, several other ministers have also appointed their family members to key posts in various PSUs. Even the chief minister is not free from the charge.
Pinarayi has found himself embroiled in the controversy after his sister-in-law’s son Naveen was appointed as the standing councillor of Kerala Pollution Control Board and legal advisor of State Beverages Corporation. Naveen has defended himself stating that he was eligible for the position as he was a High Court advocate for 14 years
Fisheries Minister Mercykkutty Amma is another minister who is in the dock over the appointments. She courted controversy by inducting two close family relatives and an acquaintance in three organisations under her ministry.
While her relatives TF Xavier and Lawrence Harold were appointed as Managing Director of Cashew Development Corporation and Fisheries Development Limited, Rajesh, who is a close associate of her husband has been appointed as Managing Director of Kerala State Cashew Workers Apex Industrial Cooperative Society.
The KPCC spokesman said two of these appointees were knee-deep in corruption. He said Xavier and Rajesh were accused in several vigilance cases.
NN Pearson, a political commentator with Left-leaning, said he was shocked by the appointment row rocking the government even before it has completed six months in office. He termed it as a big betrayal of the people, who had voted the LDF to power, with big hopes.
"Since the main poll plank of the LDF was the corruption in the UDF government, people had hoped that the LDF government will take strong steps to end corruption. But on the contrary, the members of the government themselves are indulging in corruption. This will lead to the ruin of the Left in Kerala," says Pearson.
Former MP Vijayaraghavan said it was too early to predict doom for the LDF. He said it was unfair to compare the two fronts since UDF had defended corruption while the LDF was trying to take action against it.
Vijaraghavan said that he was confident that the government under Pinarayi Vijayan will tolerate any sort of corruption. He said he had full faith in the chief minister's statement that he will view the matter seriously. He has urged the people to give the government time.