By KA Antony
The resignation of Excise Minister K Babu in the bar bribery case is a heavy blow to the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala as it has come at a time when the state is gearing up for the Assembly elections to be held in a couple of months. The unexpected turn of events has also cast a shadow on the poll prospects of the Congress and the UDF.
This is the second resignation of a Kerala minister; Finance Minister KM Mani had stepped down three months ago in a similar case. What most appears to have shocked Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and the UDF is that Babu had to step down as minister on the same day Chandy had flagged off the Kochi Metro Rail, one of the major projects which the government wanted to project as a major achievement on the development front. The unexpected turn of events obviously took away the sheen as the prime news of the day suddenly became Babu's resignation following a vigilance court direction to the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to register an FIR against Babu in the bar bribery case against him.
Though Babu has described his resignation as an act of upholding highest democratic values, the dilly dallying on his part in following the steps of his cabinet colleague KM Mani, who became the first casuality of the bar bribery case requires more explanation. Some people even suspect that Babu did not wish to wait any longer as the court had asked the VACB why they did not go into the details of Babu's assets.
Even Oommen Chandy, who became gloomy all of a sudden after the court directive was reported to him, will have to do much explaining for protecting Babu all these days. Chandy's silence on the issue on Saturday explains how upset he is now.
Mani, who had complained about dual justice in the bar bribery case, might feel some comfort as Babu, whom Chandy had been protecting all these days, had to finally step down. But this solace will be short-lived as he has to fight the coming elections as a coalition partner in the UDF.
The UDF woes are not over as the same charges were levelled against state Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala. Now that two ministers have stepped down, the bar owners who were forced to shut down the bars following the new liquor policy of the UDF government may not sit quietly. They are sure to continue the hunt as they have lost a lucrative business. The Opposition Left Democratic Front and the BJP, which are going all out to to become a strong third front with the support of the new party launched by SNDP Yogam General Secretary Vellapally Natesan, are also not going to watch silently. oth the LDF and BJP leaders have already demanded the resignation of the Chandy government.
However, all is not lost for Chandy and his colleagues as there are cases pending against CPM leaders VS Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan. The VACB is going ahead with an inquiry about the involvement of VS in the appointment of a less qualified person as director of the Forest Research Institute at Peechi. Though the CBI court had earlier discharged Pinarayi in the SNC-Lavalin case, the Kerala High Court last week admitted a petition by the state government to speed up proceedings in a review petition filed by the CBI challenging the acquittal. Congress spokesman MM Hassan and Joseph Vazhakkan have already made it clear that the Congress and the UDF will be cashing in on the cases against VS and Pinarayi while upholding the morality shown by ministers Mani and Babu.