A K Saseendran avoided embarrassment to the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government by stepping down as Kerala's transport minister immediately after his alleged sex chat with a woman over the phone was aired by a television channel last week.
However, the ruling front, which cited the resignation as an example of the high moral standard it upholds in public life, seems to have compromised its moral plank while selecting his successor.
Supporters of LDF have taken the induction of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Thomas Chandy into the Pinarayi Vijayan ministry as Transport Minister with a pinch of salt. They resent Chandy's appointment because his track record does not conform with the self-professed moral values of the LDF.
They believe that his involvement in the Kuwait Indian school scam and the needle of suspicision raised against him in the Kiliroor sex scandal may undermine the LDF’s moral plank.
While Chandy was convicted along with two other Keralites in the school scam, he was given a clean chit by the Kerala police in the case related to the rape and impregnation of the teenage girl at Kiliroor in Kottayam district.
The school scam involved siphoning off of Rs 40 crore belonging to a school run by the Indian community in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation of the country. The money was allegedly looted by Chandy and three members of an ad hoc committee established to manage the school after the war.
The former school panel members involved in the scam are former Kuwait Times employee KP Mohanan, Mathew Philip, a Kuwait government employee, and SZ Shah, a Kuwait-based businessman. Chandy, who owns several schools in the Middle East, sold one of his properties to the Kuwait-Indian school at an inflated price.
Shah, who was arrested in 2000 along with Philip, was granted bail after he paid the school back Rs 60 lakh. While Mohanan and Philip were awarded eight years imprisonment each by the Kuwait First Instance Court, Chandy was let off with a fine of Rs 75,000.
“Chandy was punished for cheating Indians in Kuwait. It is immoral for such a person to be appointed as a minister,” says left-leaning writer and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer NS Madhavan.
Madhavan, who served as chief electoral officer in Bihar, said that the People’s Representation Act was silent about people convicted abroad. “But morality is not like that. The LDF should review Thomas Chandy’s appointment,” Madhavan tweeted.
Chandy was not available for comment. An aide close to him, however, said that Chandy was innocent and was implicated by the new school management as part of the case against the previous management.
The aide said that new management felt that Chandy had sold the building to previous management at an inflated price and and thus complained to the authorities. The aide pointed out that Chandy was let off with a fine as there were no serious criminal charges against him.
But Bhasurendra Babu, a fellow traveler of the Left, said this did not absolve Chandy as he was fined by the court after he being found guilty.
Babu claimed that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was against inducting Chandy into his ministry but was forced to do so by coalition compulsions. He said that Vijayan was left without any option as the NCP had only two legislators.
“Chandy staked his claim for a berth in the ministry after the election. But the chief minister rejected his claim considering his track record. Pinaryai became helpless after Saseendran was forced to quit the ministry and the NCP nominated Chandy as his successor,” Babu said.
However, political observers questioned the claim, pointing out many other instances of immoral acts by the Pinarayi government. A glaring case is the appointment of murder accused MM Mani as power minister in place of EP Jayarajan, who quit the ministry following a row over the appointment of his family members in public sector undertakings.
Mani, who is the second accused in the Anchery Baby murder case, is incidentally, the first serving minister in Kerala to face a trial in a criminal case. The Thodupuzha additional district and sessions court has commenced trial proceedings after rejecting his discharge petition.
Former chief minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader VS Achuthanandan questioned Mani’s appointment, pointing to serious ethical and moral questions. The veteran felt that the induction of Mani could be viewed by people as a dilution of the moral stand the LDF took during the election.
LDF supporters have also raised suspicion over the LDF not living up to its anti-corruption promises it made during the election following the sudden exit on Friday of Jacob Thomas, director of the government’s Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Jacob, who was projected by the LDF as a symbol of their war against corruption, had gone on leave the day the state secretariat of the CP(M) met. While official sources claimed Jacob had taken leave on personal grounds of his own accord, a minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity, clarified that he was asked to take time off.
The minister claimed that the repeated criticism of Jacob by a high court judge was the cause of his removal. While hearing a petition of former home minister Ramesh Chennithala on the appointment of Shanker Reddy as vigilance director during his term, the high court wondered 'if a vigilance raj' prevailed in the state.
The court later asked in another case related to the vigilance bureau, why the government was not removing the official and how it could go forward with him. When the opposition raised the criticism against the vigilance official, the chief minister accused them of trying to remove him from the post and warned that he would not succumb to any pressure.
The UDF has viewed the Pinarayi’s volte face on the vigilance chief as mysterious. Joseph Vazhakkan, a spokesman of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), believes that there is more to it than meets the eye.
He feels that the removal of the vigilance chief may have links with SNC Lavalin case pending against Pinarayi in the high court and the criticism of the vigilance official. The cases are being heard by the same judge, Justice P Ubaid.
The KPCC spokesman said that Pinarayi removed the vigilance chief on the advice of his counsel in order to keep Justice Ubaid in good humour. However, Bhasurendra Babu dismissed the allegation, terming it as nonsense.
“It is difficult to believe that the judge will pass an order in favour of Pinarayi if the official he criticised is removed. The allegation is a clear contempt of case. Those who are raising it are maligning the image of the judge,” he added.
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Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 10:58:28 IST