A constitutional crisis in Kerala has been averted with Transport Minister Thomas Chandy resigning from the 18-month-old Pinarayi Vijayan government, but the issue may continue to haunt the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) for a long time.
The LDF that came to power in May 2016 with the promise to provide a corruption-free government took around two months to take a decision on a district collector’s report that confirmed land grab charges against a backwater resort Chandy co-owned with his wife. Chandy belongs to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar.
Pinarayi took only two days to seek the resignation of his colleague EP Jayarajan, then the number two in the government, after a charge of nepotism was levelled against him.
Pinarayi sought the resignation of Chandy’s predecessor AK Saseendran immediately after a television channel aired his alleged sex chat with a woman.
Pinarayi sought to shield Chandy, who replaced Saseendran in May, even after receiving Alappuzha district collector’s report in September 2017 over alleged encroachment of part of a lake by Lake Palace resort, which he owned, and a vigilance court ordering a preliminary inquiry into the charges.
Pinarayi also sat on the LDF state committee’s recommendation to take an appropriate decision on Chandy's fate for nearly a week. He also gave Chandy and his party a day even after the Kerala High Court dismissed Chandy’s petition against the report of district collector TV Anupama with questions over the collective responsibility of his ministry.
The resignation came only after four ministers belonging to the Communist Party of India (CPI), the second largest constituent of the LDF, boycotted the Cabinet meeting citing Chandy's presence. The action against Chandy was initiated by the revenue department, which is controlled by the CPI.
Curiously, Chandy, who is the richest legislator in Kerala, did not even have the courtesy to hand in his resignation to Pinarayi. He left the letter in the hands of his party’s state president TP Peethambaran Master and reportedly left for his constituency Kuttanad.
It is learnt that he submitted the resignation on the condition that he will be reinstated if his move to challenge the high court order in Supreme Court succeeds. Obliging him, Pinarayi has reportedly decided to keep the slot vacant till either Saseendran is exonerated or Chandy gets a clean chit from Supreme Court.
A division bench of the high court had questioned the propriety of a minister approaching the court against the actions of the government of which he is a part. The bench dismissed the petition saying that the action was against the constitutional principle of collective responsibility of the Cabinet.
Pinarayi dismissed the high court’s observation as unfounded. He said the government could not agree with the observation. “The delay in seeking the resignation of the NRI-turned politician was because of coalition compulsions and legal issues involved in the matter,” he added.
Pinarayi, however, viewed the CPI’s decision to boycott the Cabinet meeting as serious. He said that the party had no right to question the presence of the minister at the meeting as long as he continued in his ministry.
“The CPI ministers’ decision to keep off the Cabinet meeting is unusual. It should have never happened. Cabinet is a forum to discuss all issues. The CPI could have come to the Cabinet and aired their concerns,” he added.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress has described the CPI action as a further vindication of the high court’s observation that the Pinarayi government had abandoned its collective responsibility. He demanded the immediate resignation of Pinarayi and the dissolution of the LDF.
“A party boycotting the Cabinet meeting is an unprecedented development in Kerala. It is an open expression of the lack of faith of the party’s ministers in the chief minister. Pinarayi, who has failed to conduct a Cabinet meeting properly, has no moral and legal right to continue,” he said.
The Opposition has expressed suspicion over the Pinarayi’s 'overzealousness' in shielding the minister. Congress spokesman TN Prathapan said that Pinarayi may have gone out of way to shield the minister because of some "unholy deals". He said that the people of Kerala had a right to know what is going on.
Former Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president VM Sudheeran said that Pinarayi may have bowed to the financial power of Chandy, who owns a resort and a travel firm in Kerala and three schools in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
According to an affidavit filed before the Election Commission, Chandy's assets in Kerala are worth Rs 97.23 crore. Chandy, who entered politics through a party worker of Kerala Student Union (KSU) and then in Youth Congress, went to Kuwait in search of greener pastures, following in the footsteps of many Keralites. He took the plunge into politics after he returned from Kuwait flush with cash.
However, suspicion over his riches were raised in political circles after he was convicted in the Kuwait Indian School Scam, which involved siphoning off the funds of the Indian school by Chandy and his associates in the wake of Iraq's attack on Kuwait in the 1990s. Chandy, along with two fellow Keralites, was convicted in the scam.
Meanwhile, Chandy's resignation has come as a big morale booster to the CPI, which locked horns with Pinarayi and his party over encroachments in the tourist hot spot of Munnar in Idukki district.
The relation between Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan and Pinarayi soured after Devikulam sub-collector Sriram Ventakaraman was shunted out after he, with Chandrashekharan's backing, took on the powerful real estate and resort mafia.
Political observers believe that Pinarayi and his party acted against Chandy because of the steadfast position taken by the CPI.
Published Date: Nov 16, 2017 06:41 am | Updated Date: Nov 16, 2017 06:41 am