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Kerala solar scam: Vigilance case against former CM Oommen Chandy is Pinarayi Vijayan's revenge

Since the last week of September when the Solar Judicial Commission headed by Justice (Retired) G Sivarajan submitted its report on the solar scam, the writing was on the wall, in political graffiti-loving Kerala. The report had criticised the manner in which former chief minister Oommen Chandy's office was involved in helping an alleged fraud couple — Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan — amass money by cheating investors of Rs 7 crore by promising them a supply of solar panels. And perhaps that is why Pinarayi Vijayan's decision to file a vigilance case against Chandy on Wednesday was on expected lines. For it helps the Kerala chief minister hit several birds with one stone.

Oommen Chandy and Pinarayi Vijayan. PTI/Firstpost

Oommen Chandy and Pinarayi Vijayan. PTI/Firstpost

The Solar scam has kept Chandy under the spotlight since 2013 when it first exploded in his face. Three staff members in the then chief minister's office were found to have frequent contacts with Nair and Chandy had to move them out under severe political pressure. With allegations that several powerful UDF politicians had sexual relations with Nair, the solar scam case captured Kerala's imagination for it combined politics of the powerful with money, sex and sleaze. It also played its part in Chandy's defeat in the 2016 Kerala Assembly polls.

Vijayan has ordered a criminal case to be registered against former home minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan as well, for allegedly helping Chandy wriggle out of the case by influencing police officials. Cases are also to be filed against the officers.

With the Solar Commission taking the position that getting sexual favours will be treated as a case of bribery, several prominent leaders whose names figure in Nair's deposition before the Commission, will come under the radar. Nair had given the names in a "strictly confidential" sealed cover in February 2016, stating dramatically that this is the "truth about my illicit relations with politicians".

Vijayan has said that cases of sexual assault will be registered against the former ministers and even MPs and MLAs.

But the biggest name to have been impacted is Chandy. She had told The Indian Express that she had the freedom to walk into Chandy's home anytime. "I was that close," she had claimed, which the chief minister had rubbished. She had also claimed that hundreds of phone calls were made between her and Chandy's personal staff, both in Kerala and in Delhi.

Records showed that in 2012-13, Nair and Thomas Kuruvilla (Chandy's aide in New Delhi) had exchanged 205 telephonic calls. Chandy's gunman Salim Raj and Nair had spoken 416 times during the same period, clearly indicating her infiltration into Chandy's official space. Nair had also alleged that she paid a bribe of Rs 1.9 crore to Chandy through Kuruvilla.

Much is being made of Vijayan's decision to announce the probe on the day Vengara in Kerala's Malappuram district went to polls. This is a Muslim League seat, belonging to the larger UDF kitty. But Vijayan's sights are set on inflicting much greater damage to Congress in Kerala, than just in the Muslim League stronghold Vengara.

Chandy, despite his loss in the 2016 Assembly elections, remains the tallest Congress leader in Kerala. He finds himself in a tight spot because he was the one who had instituted the probe claiming he will prove his innocence. Now with the commission indicting him, if Chandy cries political witchhunt, it will not be convincing.

It will certainly push him to the backfoot and reduce his power to demand posts for his followers in the Kerala Congress apparatus. For the last one year, he has been resisting pressure to move out of Kerala and go national. Now, with this vigilance case, Chandy for the sake of his political survival will be forced to follow in his mentor AK Antony's footsteps and take the flight out of Thiruvananthapuram.

That would be music to the ears of several Congress leaders in Kerala, especially the Indira faction led by Ramesh Chennithala. For the record though, Chennithala has called the case against the UDF leaders "politically motivated".

But even as different groups play their own internal politics, Congress will find it difficult to play down the fact that a large number of its leaders have found their reputation sullied in terms of both financial as well as ethical corruption. A former chief minister coming under the cloud is dirt on the Congress hand.

Vijayan is also paying Chandy back in his coin. In the last cabinet meeting in 2006, just two months before Kerala went to polls that year, then chief minister Chandy had ordered a CBI probe into the SNC Lavalin case in connection with lapses in awarding contracts for the renovation of three hydroelectric power projects to the Canadian company when Vijayan was power minister in the 90s. It was only this year that the high court gave Vijayan a clean chit in the case.

It will be interesting to watch how this impacts the Congress-CPM 'dosti' in national politics. Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram Yechury have found themselves on the same side in their fight against BJP but the Kerala battle threatens to expose the fault lines.

Finally, more than a year after its electoral loss, Congress in Kerala is facing an acid test. In politically aware Kerala, perception matters and at a time when Vijayan has taken on the role of protecting Malayalee pride by taking on BJP, the solar scam threatens to eclipse Chandy and company from Kerala's political system.

Updated Date: Oct 12, 2017 06:43 AM

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