Kerala bar bribery case has exposed deep-rooted adjustment politics being played by LDF, UDF, BJP
Narendra Modi had described the alternating rule of the UDF and the LDF in Kerala a new model of adjustment politics thriving in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described the alternating rule of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala a new model of adjustment politics thriving in the state.
His party men in the state have cited the move by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to give a clean chit to former finance minister KM Mani in the bar bribery case as the latest example of the politics of “compromise and corruption”.
The anti-graft agency has indicated its move to drop the case against Mani, who is leader of the Kerala Congress (M), a regional party with a deep root in the Christian belt, in a report submitted to the high court on 17 January. The agency has cited lack of sufficient evidence to implicate the regional satrap.
He was accused of taking a bribe of Rs 1 crore from liquor bar owners for facilitating the reopening of 418 bars closed on the eve of 2014 Lok Sabha election due to failure to meet the stipulated standards. An adverse remark from the high court had forced Mani to step down in November, 2015.
In its report to the high court, the VACB said they could not get sufficient scientific or circumstantial evidence to prove that either the bar owners had paid or Mani received the bribe. A CD containing the telephonic conversations produced by Biju Ramesh, the whistle blower in the case, to support his allegation was found to be edited.
Ramesh, who runs a chain of bar hotels in Thiruvananthapuram, had alleged that Mani was offered Rs 5 crore for reversing the government order closing down the bars. The high court has granted 45 days to the VACB to submit a final report in the case.
The agency is likely to file a closure report in the vigilance court next month, bringing an end to the case that the LDF used along with the solar scam to base their 2016 Assembly election campaign on an anti-corruption plank.
The CPM that heads the LDF had dubbed Mani as the most corrupt politician in Kerala. They had also accused him of selling the state budget for making money and even resorted to force in the Assembly to prevent him from presenting the budget in March 2015.
However, the party swallowed its own words after Mani led the party out of the UDF after the Assembly elections and has since been trying to woo it into the LDF camp. The CPM lent its hand to KC(M) to oust the UDF from power in the Kottayam district panchayat last year.
However, the party’s attempt to forge a state-level alliance with the KC(M) was resisted strongly by Communist Party of India (CPI), the second largest constituent of the LDF. The CPI had opposed the move, citing the bar bribery case pending against Mani.
Now that the VACB has decided to bury the case, CPI will have no ground to continue its resistance. That’s exactly what the CPM wanted.
But former KC(M) leader and Poonjar MLA, PC George, has come as a thaw. He said he had solid evidence with him to prove that Mani had taken the bribe and he would move the court if the VACB drops the case against his former leader.
The whistle blower in the case has expressed doubt about the VACB findings. He said he had produced sufficient evidence to prove his charge. The investigating team has sought to close the case without examining them.
“It shows the failure of the state government. It is unfortunate that that the LDF that came to power on an anti-corruption plank had allowed the investigating agency to bury one of the biggest corruption scams in the recent past without proper investigation,” Ramesh said.
The BJP is not surprised. V Muralitharan, member of the party’s national executive and former state president, is not ready to blame the VACB. He said the agency was pressured by the government to whitewash Mani to suit its political agenda of bringing his party into the LDF camp before the Lok Sabha election.
He said that the fate of most other corruption cases flagged by the LDF, while they were in Opposition, was the same. The Pinarayi government had assumed power in May 2016 with a promise to probe all corrupt deals of the previous regime.
A sub-committee set up by the cabinet at its first meeting scanned 816 orders issued by the Oomen Chandy government towards its fag end of the term and found corruption behind 140. But it has so far not initiated any action against anybody responsible for these corrupt deals so far.
BJP spokesman J Padmakumar termed this as the result of adjustment politics being played by the two fronts in the state. He told Firstpost that the Pinarayi government was not taking action against the guilty as they expect the same gesture when the UDF comes to power next time.
“Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is already grateful to the UDF for sparing him and other top leaders of his party from the probe into the conspiracy behind the brutal murder of Communist rebel leader TP Chandrashekharan. A compromise in the case was alleged by none else than young Congress MLA VT Balram,” he pointed out.
Padmakumar alleged that the two fronts were ruling the state as per a contract. The contract is to protect and save each other. This is why no political leader, barring one, has been convicted in any corruption case in the state so far. The BJP leader said the two dominant fronts were fooling the people.
The Congress also holds the BJP equally guilty of playing adjustment politics. Opposition leader Ramesh Chantal has cited the clean chit Pinarayi got in the SNC Lavalin case as an example of the tacit deal between the CPM and the BJP. He said that the CBI, which investigated the scam, was soft on the chief minister because of this deal.
“The CPI(M) is helping BJP to create a Congress-mukt India in return to its help to leave the field open for the former in Kerala. The CPM is challenging the BJP-RSS in the open and secretly providing all help to the saffron party to occupy the main opposition space in the state,” the senior Congress leader said.
Political analyst NM Pearson said adjustment politics had become part of democracy in the country. No party is free from this malaise. He told Firstpost that it was more so in Kerala because power alternates between the two fronts every five years in the state.
“The two fronts take this as a license to do whatever they like for five years. Both loot the state as they are assured of protection. They have nothing to fear as the people, who suffer from the adjustment politics, have no other alternatives before them. This is a very sad state of the democracy,” Pearson said.
“People had voted LDF to power believing their promise to end corruption. How can they end corruption by rubbing shoulders with leaders they themselves termed most corrupt? The CPI(M) is fooling the people,” Pearson said.
He said the CPM was wooing parties from the Opposition front in a bid to continue in power as they did in West Bengal till recently. The party has already succeeded in bringing Janata Dal (U) out of the UDF. It is waiting for the LDF nod for giving a formal entry to the JD(U).
“CPM’s next target is the KC(M). The VACB decision to drop the bar bribery charge against the party supremo will make the task easy,” the political analyst said.
The Kerala High Court also registered a suo motu case on crowding at COVID-19 vaccinations centres in the state, saying it can become a "super spreader", and sought a response from the state government regarding the same
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